It’s 10.30am and this morning I have chastised myself no fewer than 11 times. Once, for turning off my alarm for an extra snooze. Then, for failing to brush my hair before I got on the Tube. Then, for not going running last weekend. Then, for not being as pretty as my colleague (what), for wearing (stylish) tracksuit bottoms to work, for having a cigarette four days ago. The list goes on. And I’m exhausted.
I was talking to my colleague about this constant self-criticism (I know it’s not just me, you’re all at it too) and she said something that kind of blew my mind: Would you be that judgemental about anyone else? I thought about it. Would I be horrified by someone snoozing for an extra 10 minutes? Would I look down on a co-worker for dressing comfortably? Absolutely not. In fact, these kind of laissez-faire "transgressions" from others are appealing to me. And yet, for some reason, I can’t forgive them in myself.
It’s as though we have one set of standards for all seven billion people in the world, and another, much higher set of standards for ourselves. Which really isn’t fair. Because unless you’re some kind of perfect, otherworldly being (as I suspect Janelle Monáe may be), you’re just a human. Like all the others. And human beings are a bit crap sometimes.
In fact, our relationship with our failings is so confused that we’re fine to talk about how crap we are. "Oh, you left that presentation to Monday night? Yeah, well, I’m still working on that presentation and it’s Wednesday and the meeting was yesterday."
Being flawed is a relatable human trait, it’s something that makes us fit in. And so we boast about it. Hell, we’ve got a whole viral meme culture because of it. Yet no matter how many memes about being socially awkward your friend posts along with the caption "lol, so me", you're still left thinking that you're the one who is the worst at talking to other people.
I’ve got a theory about all of this. About why we can't escape the crippling inner self-criticism over things we barely notice in others. And I'm going to explain it in terms that we all understand: Instagram.
We all like it when Instagrammers "get real" and explain what went into getting the perfect picture of their Saturday morning quinoa bowl (what). "Not pictured," they’ll say, "a countertop covered in beetroot and the three other bowls I discarded because the avocado looked wonky." Or they’ll "open up" about that stunning travel picture on a white sand beach and let you in on the secret that it took a full day and 13 outfit changes to achieve (welcome to holiday time with the Jenners). What I mean is, they’ll happily write about the bits of their life that are less than "perfect", but will they post the picture of beetroot armageddon? Nah, because that’s a step too far.
This is where the theory kicks in: Because you're in your own head, you’ve got access to your whole self. You’re seeing the "real" comment and a picture of the beetroot mess on the Instagram account that is your life. But for everyone else, they’re just seeing your comment about the beetroot mess, alongside the finished picture of the quinoa bowl. Which gives them a lot less to judge. This, of course, works the other way around too.
What I’m trying to say is that everyone is a muddling-through-life-not-knowing-what-they’re doing-disastrous-mess (and I mean that in the most loving of ways). No one is doing 100% – it’s just that you’re only seeing half the story of others and you're measuring it up to the whole story of yourself. So of course you feel like you don't live up to them. Of course you feel like you've got to give yourself a talking-to about how late you stayed up last night watching Netflix – because you've got no evidence that you weren't the only one.
It's easier said than done, but learn to give yourself a break. Next time you catch sight of your schlubby top in the mirror at work and get angry at yourself for not trying to look more professional, take a look around the office and see just how many similarly dressed colleagues you haven't even clocked. If you didn't even notice the state of their dress until now, then why should you get all the critique?
It comes back to remembering that no one is perfect all the time. But that what you are isn't half bad. Look at you here, existing on your own like a real adult. That, along with many other things, is something to be proud of. So rather than chip away at yourself, celebrate the little bits because, if you start looking hard enough, there's plenty there – even if it's just that you managed to eat a banana with your Coco Pops this morning.
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