I was about 5 years old when my father put me on a horse for the first time. My memory of exactly where it was is hazy, the field with horse boxes and vehicles, people milling about is blurry, but the experience of my first ride is crystal clear and has stayed with me all these years.
The pony was jet black, short and stout, its thick mane unkempt and fuzzy. My father lifted me into the saddle, put the reins in my hands and said without hesitation "Off you go!" The next part is so vivid, I am transported there as I write this, I took full control of this portly pony, sat upright in the saddle, kicked with my little legs and trotted off around the field, weaving in and out of people, as happy and assured as could be. I had an unwavering belief that I could ride this pony, I didn't question or think for a moment I could fall off, I hadn't lived long enough to be swayed by fear or doubt, I had total confidence and belief that I could do this all by myself. I remember the feeling of pride when I returned back to my father, it was certainly a milestone in my young life.
This self-confidence some would say was naivety, a lack of understanding together with the fearlessness that comes with being so young. Yes, it is true, I hadn't fallen off a horse, nor did I know how powerful and unpredictable some ponies can be, and I felt no fear or doubt as I had no previous experience to relate to. But what strikes me to this day is the 'can-do' attitude I had at 5 years old, and it is this that has stayed with me throughout my life.
It was this attitude that gave me boldness to write for our local newspaper at 13, to leave home for a summer and live in France at 19, to apply to be a Nanny in San Francisco at 22, and now to write this blog. Please understand, I am not fearless, I have my fair share of anxieties and doubts - more so now than ever before, especially being a parent, but there has always been that little girl on the pony in the middle of a field saying, 'I can do this!'
There is also another voice I hear, that of a very efficient and effective inner critic that speaks to me daily, and this inner critic comes in all manner of meaningful, protective guises. It asks me gentle, well-meaning questions such as 'Are you sure you're up to this?' or 'Do you think you should do this, haven't you got enough on your plate already?' - it also has an excellent memory and says 'Remember when you didn't finish/follow through/do what you said you would do? So why start in the first place?' and 'You know how this played out before, it'll be exactly like that again. Why not spare yourself the fear/disappointment/humiliation?' My inner critic is at its most disruptive when it doesn't ask a question, it simply makes statements such as 'It has to be perfect', 'They are better than you' or 'You are afraid of this' and worse still 'You are in danger, seek safety now!' This voice is powerful and serves to keep me in check, out of danger and discomfort. Whilst protection is important, and fear has its place in our lives as a healthy don't-die-by-stepping-out-in-front-of-a-car mechanism, when fear is the only voice you hear, drowning out all truth and perspective, then it has the power to stop you from living a full and enjoyable life.
So, in light of all this, how do I live with my inner critic? Well, I am learning to turn down the volume on this negative voice - just like I do when there is a stream of bad news on the radio. I thank it for its contribution and remind it of previous experiences that prove it wrong - speaking truth and love to myself. Switching it off is not an option, fear is a healthy part of life, but I am learning when and where to listen to it. The inner critic does not like input from others, it is possessive and selfish, and so I ask for help, support and perspective from those people I know and trust. That usually shuts down my inner critic pretty quickly, it goes off to sulk and doesn't bother me for a while.
And what of the little girl on the black pony in a field somewhere? Well, she is a bigger part of me now than ever before. She has never left me, although there have been times in the past where she has been difficult to find and for a few years I felt I had lost her completely. But she has always been there waiting for me, brave and bold, ready to take my hand and lead me out into a new adventure.
How about you? Do you have a part of yourself that is bold? What about your inner critic? I'd love to know more about how you have been fearless, determined or brave and also what silences your inner critic? Please let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @iamsarahalexcarter If you know of others that would like to read this post and my blog, please send them a link and invite them to subscribe for weekly reading.