My Nasty Inner Critic
Friday was a weird day. The kids were sick all week and by Friday, I was, too. Feverish and out of it, I spent most of the day in a daze. I felt like I was living outside of myself, watching what I was doing with a sort of detached judgment. I wish I could say curiosity but nope, judgment. The students’ incessant questions about an activity (with no attempts to problem-solve beforehand) became a, “what am I doing with my life?” internal narrative. That narrative spun out of control in the midst of preparing an activity for yoga. I sat in the dark in my basement classroom, alone, cutting out yoga postures and taping the cutouts to index cards. It took a while, at least a half hour, to prepare the activity, which will take the kids about 5 minutes to complete (then probably complain about).
That half hour was completely miserable.
Snip… “why am I doing this.”
Tape… “is this all there is to life?”
Cut cut cut…”I cannot believe at one point I was a fully funded PhD student and now I teach health for a living, a subject that feels like a joke in public high school education.”
Oof. The last one is the refrain that comes up every single time I feel a swell of discontent. It’s the nasty voice that berates me for not being more quote-unquote, “successful.” I don’t hate teaching - as a whole, I feel very satisfied with how I spend my days. I’m up and around, talking to kids and colleagues, exploring ideas, solving problems, learning, and pivoting on a dime. I have a lot of autonomy. I like the kids, I think they like me. What the nasty voice picks at, I think, is…it’s hard to describe. It's a manufactured discontent. It’s the worry that I’ve settled or that I “could be doing more” although I’m not sure what more is. It’s the feeling that the only way to succeed is to be a doctor or lawyer or Ph.D. or CEO, not a lowly high school teacher. It’s rage at the system that chooses to pay people in “business” way more than people in public service or construction or caregiving or farming and thus gives these business people power because money is power, isn’t it?
These feelings are so deep and true and real that they come across as trite, superficial, and insignificant. The truest things always do. They become cliched so that we don’t have to dig too deep to try to describe them - the description is there for us.
I’ve found the only way to quell the nasty voice is by action or getting outside of myself. A good talk with a friend, a walk, or shopping, which is what I did on Friday. I got out of my classroom as soon as I could and went to a store I really like that is out of my way and therefore a special trip. I walked around and thought about things that were not deep or existential, like do I actually like this shirt and want to buy it or is this an impulse? You can criticize this as capitalistic but I think of it as a mindfulness practice. Here I am, walking through the store, feeling fabric, hearing hangers rustling, looking at people going by. Here I am in what is happening right now, not in the problem I’ve made up.