Today I did a talk on “How to reignite your confidence after a career break” for the Really Helpful Club. One of the points of discussion was the inner critic – the voice in our head that stops us from taking risks, putting ourselves forward or moving out of our comfort zone.

We all have an inner critic but some of us have allowed her (mine is a she so for the purposes of this article that’s what she’ll be) to become the dominant voice. As I explained to the seminar participants, the inner critic is like the risk aversion committee – they want to keep us safe. Rather than simply telling us not to do something (which I’m sure we wouldn’t listen to) they do it craftily – hitting it where it really hurts – playing on our deepest fears and insecurities – you’re not good enough, who’s going to listen to you.. I could go on.

The inner critic is not concerned with our fulfilment or career progression. In order to progress and get to where we want to, particularly for those of us returning to work after a career break, we need to turn down the volume on this critic. I gave them various strategies on how to do this, including distancing ourselves from the message – it’s just a voice, it’s not the core you. I recommend creating a persona for this voice – give him or her a name, what does she look like, what’s her voice like? What’s she wearing? And come up with a phrase that you calmly say when he or she turns up: “Thank you Brenda I can handle this” is mine. I encouraged the ladies to nurture instead an inner mentor and work on letting her become the dominant voice. It can be helpful to visualise this mentor as an older, wiser, future self. This future self has perspective, wisdom and compassion and she will calmly tell you what you need to hear.

I had the opportunity – if you can call it that – to put all of this into practice today. I was about 10 minutes into my talk when I realised we had missed out the first exercise in the worksheet. Upon closer inspection I realised for some inexplicable reason my printer had only printed out every other page of my presentation notes and as a result I had missed out some of the early part of the presentation. Whilst I went back and covered most of this ground I had missed I would be lying if I said this didn’t put me off my stride. As you can imagine, Brenda had quite the field day – how could you not have checked? Why did you wait until this morning to print it out? It was meant to be perfect! I had to dig deep and call on the voice of reason and self-compassion and what she told me was this: we are living in extraordinary times, it is not normal to prepare for a seminar with three children around your feet shouting your name in unison. The women on the seminar still got the same content and the feedback was great. You did your best and that was enough.

And you know what, she was right. Progress not perfection.