Photo credit: Ben White,

On my journey to peace, head and heart integration was crucial. Here is what happened when I consciously confronted my inner critic (the “I’m not important” voice), head and heart on.

To set the stage, a fairly serious conflict between me and one of my senior colleagues had arisen. Basically, the colleague seemed to have disrespected an agreement we had reached – the two of us – months earlier.

My first email to raise the issue to my colleague, as well as the department chair, reflected a desperate attempt on the part of my head trying to sound curious about how this could happen – but the underlying “WTF” tone was unmistakably shining through.

Worse than that, I sent a separate email to the chair alone, urging him to attend the meeting because “after two miscarriages and two burnouts over the past two years” I refused to expose myself to any further abuse. That was Friday.

Talk about a victimhood mindset! Understandable, maybe, productive… not really.

Over the weekend, and especially on Monday with my coach, I dug deeper into the issue. What was it, really, that was bringing up these feelings of betrayal, powerlessness, and fear?

At the time, the department was basically divided into two groups and things were not going well – a stressful environment for any junior professor to find themselves in, no doubt.

Yet, in my mind, I was secretly hoping to connect with one of the leaders of the other group, namely that very colleague. In my dreams, we would unite and together save the department. I wanted to come out of this as the superhero that saved the day! That’s when my ego would finally be satisfied and happy. Sounds like a noble cause, right?

But where did this superhero urge come from? Letting out anger and frustration – first at “them” then at myself? During my coaching session, I got to the bottom of it. Underneath it all, I wanted to calm my “I’m not important” inner critic. And my belief was that I needed my colleagues to do x, y, and z for me to be important.

As my coach pressed on the release suddenly happened and I said:

“I don’t need anyone to do anything to be important. I AM IMPORTANT!”

Having tied a bow on that new belief, I went to the meeting on Tuesday. The department chair seemed a bit uncomfortable as to how to start the meeting without immediately offending either of us.

So, I gently interrupted and announced that I had something to say that might surprise them. Slightly startled, they let me speak.

I first took responsibility for feeling disappointed and angry. When my colleague expressed hurt for being judged, also feeling we had a shot at working well together, I acknowledged that sentiment, validated the feeling, and apologized. With this compassion, I moved the conversation toward the future.

Without having faced my inner critic, I would have been emotionally attached to the collaboration with my colleague, to save the department, and be the superhero. Now, I was calm, objective, and pragmatic in my nonetheless heartfelt vision for the future.

The meeting ended “relaxed” with goodwill offerings on both sides and a few opportunities beyond what we deemed possible.

The chair, whose jaw had finally come back from its drop, thanked us both for opening up and expressing how we felt as well as for our focus on the future.

My leadership in that meeting did not go unnoticed. And if I still feel invisible at times, I know my inner critic needs more attention and work. Rather than desperately looking for validation outside, I turn inward to find answers.

I may not be home free but I am free to be home and at peace if I choose to.

Where do you feel betrayed, powerless, and/or fearful? What’s the message your inner critic uses to ascertain its hold on you? Let’s connect!

Credit: The concepts inherent in this article are the author’s interpretation of materials issued by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).