To My Harshest Critic (My Inner Voice)

Written by Megan Baxter

We need to talk about our success criteria. It’s gonna be corny and clinical, but we need this, so here we go. For too long we have judged our worth against a litany of #goals that have no relation to real outcomes we want in our life. Your vision of success is boundless in scope, but also capricious. Those parameters set me up for a life of constant personal critique and numerous false failures.

It. Is. Not. Sustainable.

Here, I’ll make my case chronologically:

  1. We’re in college: I pass my Junior review (hooray) but we decided to measure ourselves against a single typo a professor found in the review.

  2. We’re at our first real design job: I’m functioning as a one woman design/photography/marketing team (and overall badass) but we measure ourselves against the jobs and titles my peers have (“ugh, why can’t I have an unpaid internship at a hip boutique agency?!”).

  3. We grew our career: From being an individual contributor at a teeny tiny consultancy to leading teams on global brands at an agency, we only saw the designs that weren’t approved.

  4. We moved our family across the country: planted roots, started a new job, bought land, and started building a house but we continue to focus on how long it took us to get here.

  5. We wrote, illustrated and self published a children’s book: spending countless nights bringing an idea to a bookshelf but only to focus on how long it took to launch and pick up steam.

What will a few years add to this list? No more! I want us to celebrate our wins and not tally up imaginary losses. I want forgiveness and I want freedom.

Think about our day job, before starting a new project, we consistently answer one big question, “What does success look like?”. It’s an exercise in talking about goals and aligning on what the team is truly trying to accomplish. You and I love doing this at work and we are damn good at it.

Defining success forces us and our colleagues to prioritize our efforts.

But for it to work, it requires a metric, things that our progress can be objectively measured against. The hidden benefit of clearly articulating what success looks like is that it releases the team from the mirage of utopian perfection. The freedom is in the structure. It’s a decision making framework that takes off the mental load and physical burden of having to “fix all the things all of the time”.

Uh, “yes, please!”

From my perspective, that’s where we are now, stuck in a cycle of comparison because we don’t understand our success criteria. I bet if we sit down and honestly list the things we beat ourself up about because of your overloaded, unfocused definition of success we would… well let’s just try it.

Your current success criteria includes:

  1. eating a proper breakfast in the morning

  2. responding to emails in a timely manner

  3. remembering people’s birthdays

  4. working out regularly

  5. getting a toddler to eat vegetables

  6. going on exotic vacations

  7. remembering to wear sunscreen

  8. paying credit card bills on time

  9. eating only organic foods

  10. the list goes on

  11. and on

Can we be real here? These are not the successes we want in our life. You won’t gain fulfillment if we accomplish all this and I’m going to be exhausted. At best, this is just a list of good habits, at worst it’s a bunch of goals we saw other people on Instagram doing. This sets us up for routine and ongoing failure by comparison. Without clarity in what we’re trying to accomplish, we allow for continual fluctuation. The target is always moving so we can never count the win.

This has to end.

Say it out loud with me:

Today, I, Megan Baxter, measure my success by

  • Spending two hours of focused, phone-free time with my children each evening.

  • Writing for 30 minutes, three times a week.

  • Fostering one new work relationship each month.

Now breathe.

Going forward, when I’m sitting down after the kids are asleep, deciding how to spend my evening, I’ll know that if I haven’t written 3 times this week then I need to do that instead of trying to work out. I’ll know that if I get to work and remember I didn’t put on sunscreen, while that is a bummer, it doesn’t measure my worth. It doesn’t deserve my worry or your critique.

I chose these metrics because I believe they will help us grow the parts of me we love the most. But they aren’t chiseled in stone. If they don’t yield the desired outcome, we can always adjust. They are our success criteria and ours alone. We decide when, how and if they change.

I know this exercise may feel too cold or corporate, I mean, we aren’t some marketing website or piece of software. But honestly, without a healthy dose of objectivity, you just run wild. You hold us to an impossible standard.

Please, let’s try it my way for a while. We are pretty good at our job.

Love always,
Your Biggest Advocate (and secret admirer)

Megan Baxter lives in Austin, TX. She constantly succeeds and fails! at maintaining a healthy work life balance between her day job as a UX Design lead at IBM, being an author, illustrator and publisher of her children’s book, Pat on the Back, building her family’s dream home in the hills, and raising two children on tacos and queso. Until well into her twenties she believed turtles could come out of their shells, because c’mon, it’s in all the cartoons. Thankfully she was sanctimoniously schooled by a random teenager at the Shedd Aquarium and set straight. Failure is just education in a bad band t shirt!

Chelsea Francis