We can often approach our work with a lot of pushing and striving and aggressive evaluations of our performance. And no one can be a harsher commentator and fear-based motivator than that critical inner voice we all have. Personally, I used to have a tiny dictator in my mind giving me marching orders to work harder, try harder, and when my performance wasn’t up to my own standards it would deliver some very unnecessarily brutal commentary.
And I thought I needed that voice to push me and that without it I wouldn’t be successful. In my work as a career coach, I’ve found this kind of thinking is actually quite common.
But what if it isn’t quite right? What if it’s actually the other way around? What if, instead of a biting critic, the cultivation of a kind and loving inner voice is a much more powerful force to help us get where we want and create the career and life we want? Does it not make more sense that a nurturing and encouraging voice would help us be all that we can and want to be?
Taking a kinder approach of self-love can help to more easily navigate day-to-day work challenges and open more doors to your career potential than a pushing, prodding and overly critical mind.
Below are three ways that taking an approach of self-love can greatly benefit your career (and health, sanity and happiness!). But first, what does it mean to cultivate a more loving inner voice?
American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, in her book When Things Fall Apart, writes of “Maitri”- a Sanskrit word meaning “loving-kindness and an unconditional friendship with ourselves.” We can draw from this concept and think of developing a voice that speaks to you gently and compassionately as you would to a dear friend you care deeply about. Often when we are speaking with others we are kinder and offer perspectives that are much wiser and closer to the truth. We want to practice turning that same warmth toward ourselves.
Here are three things that change for the best when you’re practicing self-love:
1. You’re open to taking more risks – because they’ll feel less “risky”
Part of practicing self-love is seeing your worth as inherent and not dependent on external circumstances being a particular way. Self-love helps you know and feel you are ok, worthy, good enough no matter what happens. In turn, risks tend to feel a lot less “risky” as much of the fear comes from what we tell ourselves it means about us – all the things that inner critic would say – if the outcome isn’t what we had hoped. As author Byron Katie says, “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.”
If you see your worth as separate from potential outcomes, there’s less riding on what happens if you take a risk – failure is no longer a high-stakes blow and catalyst for an abusive inner dialogue.
This is tremendously freeing. It shifts how you approach your life and the choices you make. You will find more ease in opening a lot of doors you have previously been too afraid to – be it starting that new business, making that career change or taking on that project you’ve been sitting on.
Think of how a young child needs lots of loving encouragement to feel safe to explore the world. Children are taking many risks every day in order to learn and grow. You wouldn’t speak to a child the way you speak to yourself when you’re also trying your best to find your way and succeed. Give yourself the same nurturing, patient, accepting and loving presence and there’s nothing you can’t do.
2. You will care less about what other people think and get to shine by being you
When our only source of love is outside of ourselves, we become beholden to doing and being what we think is required to attain and maintain that love. Often we are afraid to be our true selves in the world because we’re trying to please or be accepted by others. We can make career choices that we feel are safe or appease others. But what you’re really appeasing is your fear of rejection if you took a path that feels more true and authentic to you. When you begin to give yourself the love and unconditional acceptance you seek, you will be less concerned with what others think and more free to make career/job choices that are in alignment with what you genuinely want. And that’s where you’ll hit your stride – we excel when we’re honoring our unique talents and doing what we love.
3. You’re less likely to experience career burnout or illness
We can get so caught up in taking everything so seriously – work demands and hitting performance markers always seem so important – we can forget that most things in life are actually the small things. The big things are things like your health, wellness and happiness or enjoyment of life.
The challenge is that no one is going to value and advocate for those things for you. It’s up to you to be aware how you’re taking care of yourself. While it may be required occasionally, we can often find ourselves consistently putting work ahead of our own needs and making choices that aren’t loving and supportive of our wellbeing. If you’re not mindful of the importance of valuing and tending to your needs you’ll have a high chance of career burnout and/or illness.
If you’re more cognizant of what’s really important and the path of self-love, you’re less likely to stay long-term in a situation that’s deteriorating your mental, emotional, or physical health. Self-love will help you speak up for your needs or take the leap to leave that job and find one where you can thrive – even if there are commentaries from your inner critic telling you scary things about what it will mean if you leave or how you should “stick it out.”
And that’s the thing: despite your best efforts, your mind is likely going to continue be full of all that unhelpful and harsh commentary. Your critical voice has had years and years of practice and may continue to be very strong. The best we can do is try to be aware of when it’s speaking, what it’s telling us and at the same time be aware of what the more loving and kind perspective in that moment or situation is. It’s great if you can quiet down that critical voice, but it’s not entirely necessary to begin to make a shift and practice more self-love.