My dog Einstein approaches me, eyes bright with excitement, a toy dangling from his mouth. He’s inviting me to play tug-of-war, his favorite game. His toy is an offer. He tosses it onto my lap and waits expectantly for me to engage with him.
I’m in the middle of working. I don’t take him up on his offer. I put the toy on the floor, and return to my work.
What does Einstein do?
Does he sit there, rejected and sad? Does he feel shame that his invitation was turned down? Does he promise himself that he’ll never invite me to play with him again? Does he swear off tug-of-war for the rest of his days to avoid facing the shame of rejection?
Einstein picks up the toy, with excitement still in his eyes, he goes to the other side of the room to play by himself.
Here’s what’s striking about Einstein’s behavior.
He doesn’t connect rejection to his identity. He never associates rejection with something he did wrong, or the notion that he isn’t good enough. He doesn’t let rejection infect the pleasure and joy he gets out of the activity.
Humans are different.
Humans internalize rejection, bring it into our identity and wrap it in shame.
I remember stepping out of my comfort zone in high school. I was a freshman, with nervous butterflies in my stomach, I built up the courage to ask a sophomore to the homecoming dance.
He said no.
Did I happily trot off from this rejection, excited to ask the next person? No. Instead I contemplated crawling into a hole and hiding for the next 4 years of high school. While I didn’t turn into a hermit, I never asked another person to a high school dance.
Watching Einstein provides perspective. I didn’t turn down his offer because I don’t like him. I didn’t turn down his offer because I don’t like tug-of-war. I turned down his offer for reasons he’s not aware of. And my rejection this time doesn’t mean I’ll reject him the next time.
But as humans, our inner critic creates reasons for rejection. The inner critic never gives you the benefit of the doubt. You didn’t get the job offer? That means you aren’t good enough. That person doesn’t want to date you? That means you are undatable.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all given the inner critic the power to rob us of joy and self worth.
Einstein teaches an incredible lesson. In every situation, we choose the way we respond. We choose the way we internalize events. We choose the narrative we tell ourselves.
Next time you feel your inner critic taking over the narrative, pause. Look at the story the inner critic is creating and ask yourself these two questions.
First, “What are the things I might not be seeing?”
For the job offer you didn’t get, there are countless elements at play beyond how well you performed in the interview. They might have already chosen who they were going to hire before your interview. You don’t know the connections to the hiring team that other candidates in the interview pool had.
The only thing you can control is how prepared you are going into the interview. Take an honest look, are you proud of the effort you put in? If you are, then you did everything in your power to land that job. You should be proud of yourself. The rest is out of your hands.
Second, “What do I get for believing this narrative?”
Honestly ask yourself what pay-off comes from believing you aren't good enough. Does it take you off the hook, giving you permission to shrink yourself and lower the bar on what you’ll go after?
The narratives we tell ourselves can either self-sabotage or they can open the door to possibility.
Our beliefs put a ceiling on our potential.
The inner critic is there for a reason. By understanding your inner critic you’ll be able to uncover the belief systems it’s operating off of. Once identified, these belief systems can be changed to ones that serve you.
This intentional curiosity into what’s driving our thoughts sets the foundation for transformative change. Internal inquiry helps us remove limiting beliefs and brings us closer to the pure existence that Einstein embodies: unabashed joy, not dependent on anyone else’s approval or participation.