It’s remarkable, but the feeling “I’m not doing enough” can survive and thrive even in a pandemic. Your inner-critic might be starting to kick in just about now, perhaps asking, have you been doing that fabulous yoga teacher’s classes online? Enrolling in classes through Princeton, Columbia and all the other amazing schools that are now free? How about taking advantage of the Broadway performances or Metropolitan Opera free sessions? Meditating more (since you have so much time), listening to wonderful spiritual masters, taking sound baths—happy-houring with friends? Oh, and are you tuning into the incredible musical artists giving concerts? Participating in virtual, guided walking tours through the great museums of the world? Spinning with free Peloton classes or working out with Gold’s gym? At the very least, are you cleaning every bathroom, organizing every closet, and scrubbing every floor?
With some time under our belt now in this pandemic, you may be feeling the distinct sense of a should starting to arise: you should be making use of this time, should be appreciating the little things, should be grateful, should be using this time to remember what really matters, to dive into your soul, become your best self, should be learning, growing, expanding, stretching, donating, stepping up, becoming, becoming and then becoming more… something.
Your inner-critic, the voice in your head that says you’re not doing this right, that you should be doing this better, can indeed flourish in any environment. It can use any soil to grow its roots of self-criticism and not-enoughness.
I myself recently wrote a piece for Psychology Today about the opportunities that avail themselves in adversity, and how we should not miss out on them when they’re here. But I’ve become aware of how the idea of making use of this moment is also at high risk for being kidnapped by our inner-critic: our inner-shoulder.
We live in a society that values acquisition—getting more, doing more, becoming more. We are supposed to go out and grab life, make use of every possibility. The more we do and accomplish, the more valid, likable, important, fabulous, and desirable we are. The more we have going on, the more we’re living life to the fullest, living the dream. The belief in the shadows of our psyche is that with enough things, experiences, and accomplishments, at last, we will be enough. At last, we will be who we should be.
But you might ask yourself (in between the online art gallery tours): if you were to finally arrive at that destination, were to finally become the person you should be, then what? Then you’ll never be criticized or blamed? Never be ashamed? Never feel inadequate? Never suffer? Then you’ll be valid, lovable, wanted? It’s worth investigating—what will this imaginary you, the you who’s done everything she should do, finally bring? What is the experience awaiting you at this elusive destination?
Your inner-critic tricks you into thinking that there is an “enough” point — a point at which you will have done everything you should do to be free from its criticism. In a voice barely audible, it whispers in the background of your mind … after that yoga class, meditation session, Met concert, class at Princeton, Peloton spin, and John Legend concert, then, you will be who you should be—then you will be someone you can like.
This is a ruse. There is no real enough point for the inner critic. The inner-critic rejects who you are, no matter what you’ve been busy doing, acquiring, or learning. A Pelotoned, Ivy-educated, Broadway-streamed, meditated, five-language-fluent you is still you. That’s the problem—you—which doesn’t go away no matter what ingredients you add to it or fill it up with.
There’s no right way to do a pandemic. For some people, it’s exciting to be able to dip into the vast array of offerings that human ingenuity and generosity are now making possible. Other people feel as uninterested in these opportunities as they did when these events and classes cost money or were live in person. “Free opera? Let me know when they start paying you to watch,” was how one friend explained her level of interest in that particular opportunity. The point is, it doesn’t matter how many events and classes you partake in. You will not be receiving a pandemic grade, a score for how well you walked through this or took advantage of this time. How you do this pandemic need not be a commentary on your value as a person, another test of your worth.
The real opportunity in this collective pause is not about what more you can do. It’s about whether you can walk through this experience on your own side. Don’t fall for your inner-shoulder’s premise and promise; namely, that there is a way to do, use, or experience this time that would be fabulous. There isn’t.
More than anything else, this is a moment to give yourself permission to do this pandemic however you can do it. You don’t have to get anything, learn anything, experience anything profound, change from it, become a new person from it—nothing. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking one breath and then another, making one lunch and then another, and then do it all over again.
If you use this time for anything, use it to get off your own case, to turn away from the inner-critic that tells you that even the way you’re doing a damn pandemic is not good enough. Use this collective pause as a pause from your inner-shoulder, and an invitation to be in this however you want to and can be in it. The real opportunity here, now, is to let yourself be.
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