One of my yoga teachers begins every practice by telling us that “for the next hour, tell the committee that lives inside your head to be quiet and just be present in this room, on your mat.”
I love the metaphor of the committee that lives inside my head. In all my years working in colleges and universities, I spent a lot of time on committees. For better (mostly) or worse (sometimes), most aspects of the academic operations in higher education are governed by committees of faculty and academic staff. And there are certain types of people who are usually present on committees.
There’s the Pollyanna, the excessively optimistic person who is ready to embrace every new suggestion or innovation in a gung-ho fashion, convinced that whatever the innovation is, it will transform the university. There’s the person who insists that “we’ve always done it this way” and no change is necessary. Usually there’s a perpetual pessimist who greets each new idea with some variation on, “Well sure, that idea worked at elite university in another state, but it will never work here because. . . “ and offer a litany of reasons the new strategy won’t work at our institution. Disaster will ensue if these changes are made. (I once had a boss who nicknamed this person The Voice of Gloom and Doom.”) There’s the nitpicker who insists that a new course syllabus or a grant proposal must be rejected because it has two misplaced commas and a typo.
Fortunately, most committees also include at least a couple of folks who come prepared to think critically but openly about the changes or innovations the committee is considering. There’s also usually a cheerleader or two who know how to rally the rest of the committee around a proposal. These folks are prepared to take action even in the face of the Pollyanna’s reckless enthusiasm and the Voice of Gloom and Doom’s relentless pessimism. And thanks to them, innovations happen, problems get solved, and the work of the university proceeds.
University committees are not unlike the voices that live inside my head. There’s the Voice of Gloom and Doom, who predicts dire consequences of anything new that I do. There’s the nitpicker who insists that I can’t do something because I haven’t gotten every detail perfect. There’s the person who insists that I can’t do something because I’m not smart enough, hard-working enough, clever enough, or ambitious enough. There’s the one who says “you’ve always done it this way, and that’s good enough.” There’s the Pollyanna who is prepared to embrace something new with uncritical enthusiasm.
Thankfully, the committee that lives inside my head also includes the person who says, “You’ve taken on great challenges in the past, and you’ve succeeded, so I know you can do it again.” And the cheerleader who says, “Melissa, you’ve got this.”
Years ago, I learned that successfully working in committees meant finding ways to quieten the voices of the naysayers and amplify the voices of the thoughtful, positive people on the committee. And that’s key to living with the committee inside my head as well.
How do you quiet the limiting voices in the committee that lives inside your head?