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A friend recently introduced me to a fabulous talk Brené Brown gave at a conference for creatives.

In it, she uses the metaphor of a coliseum-type arena as the place where we display our work, art, ourselves. The place where we must be vulnerable and put it out there. Whatever “it” happens to be. In the audience of the arena are many people, including the critics.

Brown says there are always four internal critics present in our arena:

  1. Scarcity – which asks, “What am I doing that’s original?”
  2. Shame – which says, “You’re not enough. Who do you think you are, trying to act like you belong here?”
  3. Comparison – Does this one even need an explanation?
  4. Fill in the blank

Only you know who occupies seat number four, and I think the critic in this seat rotates depending on what you’re up to in the arena.

My 12th-grade math teacher will, on occasion, occupy that fourth seat.

I went to a small Episcopalian high school and one of its (many) traditions was The Senior Chapel Talk. The entire school attended chapel every day at 10 a.m., and at some point during the year, instead of our chaplain speaking, a senior would get up and give a 15-minute speech.

I was very nervous about my chapel talk.

I liked theater and choir and performing, but when it came to being on stage and acting like myself, I was terrified and had little to no experience.

I remember my dad sat down with me at our kitchen table and helped me plan out what I was going to say. Then, I practiced saying it aloud in front my mirror about 17 times. When the day came to give my talk, my mouth was dry and my hands were shaking, but I stood up at the podium anyway, and I got through it.

I sat back down in my seat, feeling pretty proud of myself and very relieved.

After chapel, I went to math class, and the first thing my teacher said when she saw me was, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone give a speech so fast!” I was mortified. I was so nervous I didn’t even know I had talked fast and flown through my speech. I looked around the classroom at my friends with questioning eyes. They averted my gaze. I decided this meant they must agree with her and slunk down into my seat.

Her comment echoed in my head for a long time.

Since that day I’ve always told people I hate public speaking, and I’m terrible at it. “My mouth gets dry and I talk too fast,” I tell them.

We have so many voices like this don’t we?

Maybe we have some we’re not even aware of that are taunting us from the nosebleed section, and we’re listening to them even though they’re mean. In her talk, Brown suggests replacing these voices with kind, trusted ones.

Listen to the people who love you and cheer for you, no matter what, and have a picture of the strong person you know you’re becoming.

Listen to the people who love you and cheer for you, no matter what, and have a picture of the strong person you know you’re becoming.

One way of conquering my math teacher’s voice was volunteering to do chapel for the company I used to work for. I had 15 minutes (again) and the crowd would be 20-30 people. It sounds small but it was a really big deal for me.

And you know what? I was ok.

I received kind feedback, and I even enjoyed the experience.

Sometimes you have to do the thing that one person told you weren’t good at in order to kick them out of your arena.

They don’t belong there. Don’t let them have a seat.

This post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission. 

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