Q: I am involved in a creative-writing project that will also help my career grow. I am very interested in my topic and I could write quite a bit about it. Nevertheless, I am constantly criticizing my work, even though others have liked it and see it as a valuable contribution. I feel stifled and stuck by my own critic.
A: It is exciting and stimulating to be pursuing a writing project. Writing and other creative endeavors help us deepen our knowledge of the subject and challenge us to face limiting aspects of our personalities. The critic is a difficult one because it relates to how we felt judged and criticized as children, our fear of rejection, our desire to be special, comparing our work with others, and the need for our work to be perfect. If our project has flaws or isn’t superb, we can even feel shameful.
Start by inquiring into what you are most critical of—the content, style, topic. Do you feel that you deserve to be doing this project and that you have something valuable to say? We often undervalue our own voice and knowledge. Get to know your critic more fully by exploring when it started, whose voice (parent, teacher, priest) it is, and what it is constantly saying to you. Most of us were brought up in a home and educational system that taught by criticism and even shame, rather than encouragement and appreciation.
To respect your own work and find your own voice, it’s important to learn to quiet the critic by asking it to take a break while you are writing. You can make fun of it or even tell it to take a hike. It begins to lose its power when you start standing up for your creative self. Staying inspired by reading what you like, and joining a positive writing group, will also free you.
Q: I find that I have so many interests: reading, tennis, volleyball, yoga, decorating, politics, gardening, cooking, teaching, and taking various classes. But after the initial excitement, I get confused and exhausted about what I want to pursue. I get so quickly overwhelmed that I then do almost nothing. I don’t know how to focus myself.
A: This is both a blessing and a curse. It is exciting to simply think and plan all the wonderful things we can do in life. It gets us out of boredom and even depression. It makes us feel powerful and full of possibilities. The loss in deciding is that we have to limit ourselves because we truly can’t do everything. But if you do a few things wholeheartedly, it is very satisfying. Then you don’t have to do everything. Pick two or three interests and for about six months make them a priority. Let yourself know that you can then try other things in the following six months. If you break it down, get started, and pace yourself, you won’t feel overwhelmed and the rewards will come rapidly. Enjoy!
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (650) 325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com