22 | Growing Without Grimacing

Since early 2021, I’ve been haunted by a tweet I read: “If you’re not grimacing every time you look at old work, then you aren’t growing.”

I decided that I needed to put the icky feeling to use. So I’m using it as inspiration for an exploratory journey into creative growth and self-compassion. Because I don’t want to live in a world where people grimace every time they look at their “old work”. That sounds like hell.

So in this episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast, I want to explore how we might enjoy, rather than belittle, the bravery that gave rise to “old work”. We will think about the difference between casting and using judgement to develop, mature and grow as people and in our creativity. And open up space for healthy foundational growth that doesn’t follow a one-dimensional linear path.

Creative Growth WITHOUT Grimace | 1:38

When I internalise this grimace, it’s not just about my relationship with my old work. It’s about how I hold myself and other people. It’s about how I relate to EVERYTHING. So, for example, if I was doing the best I could and still grimace when I look back at it, what am I doing with other people who are doing the best they can where they are?

What sort of world does this approach create in the long run?

Grimace-Growth is Imbalanced | 7:5

It’s tough to grow from a healthy foundation when we feel the grimace looking at us. It evokes shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. It can leave us in a spirit of urgency and desperation.

What Does Creative Growth Look Like? | 12:46

In The Burnout Society, Byung-Chul Han writes about the rate of acceleration in the world and what is happening to a culture that erodes “intervals, betweens, and interruptions”, replacing them with restlessness, hyperactivity and mental exhaustion.

Positivisation pedals the idea that action makes us free, yet we see it doing the opposite. In the name of “growth” and “progress”, we are becoming automatic performance machines rather than subjective beings with the power “not to do”.

Growth isn’t endless. It hits limits all the time.

We reach a point where we won’t get taller, our capacity for physical strength peaks, and our hair gets thin.

How do you know you’re moving in the right direction? What does it mean to keep growing as people? Is this a trap that separates us from ourselves?

There Are Different Grimaces | 16:21

Not all grimaces are the same. The same facial expression can communicate different aspects of personal and creative growth.

The “Last Big Push” Grimace: a facial contortion that shows you put every ounce of energy into striving towards the end (e.g. getting down the home stretch and over the finish line).

The “Something’s Wrong” Grimace: reacting to a disturbance in the anticipated flow (e.g. a wrong note, weird flash, bad smell, or strange taste).

The “I Couldn’t Do That” Grimace: a reaction to seeing someone do something scary or out of reach and imagining yourself doing it yourself (e.g. the idea of public speaking).

The “Embarrassed For You” Grimace: cringing at something someone else has done – perhaps a relatable failure (“I know the feeling, and I’m glad it’s you, not me”) or a judgement (“what were you thinking!?”)

The “Wish I was You” Grimace: seeing someone in a position you wish you were in and being unable to hide envy or resentment.

The “Wish I Wasn’t Me” Grimace: seeing yourself through a critical lens and feeling embarrassed (e.g. looking at old work and cringing).

Using vs Casting Judgement | 20:55

There is a difference between using and casting judgement.

We USE judgement through critical thinking. It helps us assess how well something matches specific criteria, standards, or expectations. “Judges” use this when weighing or scoring.

We CAST judgement when we assess something or someone without a measurable framework. Those we might think of as “judgemental” have something to say about everything and everyone, holding them to an unknowable set of standards.

When building a healthy relationship with ourselves, it’s helpful to recognise the difference between using and casting judgement.

We might be like a judge who scores the dancer zero simply because they didn’t take a shine to them. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t help us grow because it gives us nothing of use to help us raise our standards. There is nothing we can do to improve.

Judgement as Shame (“I should be better”) | 23:36

Casting judgement is a gateway to shame because it separates the criticism from anything concrete. It can mean that no matter what we do we will never feel good enough. This story is internalised through the judgemental grimace that we are compelled to view all old work with.

Shame leads to perfectionism and an inability to let go for fear of what people will think of us (not the work). Creative growth is only possible through being brave and letting go. But letting go gets more challenging when we know people are judging us. The irony of the tweet is that it makes us painfully aware of this kind of judgement. Yet it’s coming from within.

In other words, if you’re grimacing every time you look at old work, you’re making it hard to grow.

Judgement of Project (“this could be improved”) | 25:22

Rather than judging at the level of being, we can view ourselves as separate from our projects. It starts by separating our self-worth from our personal and creative projects.

We might look at a relationship, a creative project, a business, a work situation etc. and use judgement to say, “this isn’t working as I’d like it to” we can take an objective look at it and say, “what can I do to help improve it?” rather than “why am I such an idiot?”

The sense that “this could be improved” has criteria attached. We know what we are improving and where we are taking that process. If we can’t define improvement, we are casting judgement rather than using it.

If we don’t know what “better”, “successful”, and “growing” means, we are setting ourselves up to fail from the start.

Judgement of Opportunities and Desires | 29:35

We can use judgement to make decisions in service of the bigger picture. For example, we can use criteria that make it easier to say no to the opportunity or request rather than the person behind it. Our measures provide a filter that we can respond through.

Sensitive people can find it hard to say no. It might feel like a rejection of the other person. So this is a helpful way to respond to requests that don’t fit our plans.

We can use questions to probe more deeply if we’re unsure whether something is a good fit for us. This is a great way to uncover awareness about what we want more of in life. I talk about this in more depth in the episode.

Using Feelings of Inferiority | 42:52

We are currently reading The Courage To Be Disliked in The Haven. The book unpacks the difference between feelings of inferiority and inferiority complexes. And it describes the pursuit of superiority as something positive and healthy.

Feelings of inferiority underpin desire, through which we enjoy what we don’t have (the journey/process). Desire gives life meaning because it allows us to see where we are and consider how we can improve and grow in ourselves and the world around us.

This pursuit of superiority is not striving to be better than others. But we desire to grow, improve, and advance our situation. It is not a linear pathway either. It’s relative, and we can only define it for ourselves.

  • How can we hold and relate to our past (including old work, choices, experiences etc.) compassionately and gracefully?
  • Can we integrate and absorb rather than separate and disown?
  • How can who I was, be both in the past and the present without it defining or limiting me?
  • How can it be a chapter in the story that I can hold, not with critical judgement, but with joy, laughter, and humour?

Superiority Complex is an Inferiority Complex | 44:43

A complex grows when we hold our feelings of inferiority and pursuit of superiority within a competitive frame. In other words, we allow our self-concept to be influenced and defined by comparison with others. As a result, we are either in the shadow of others or trying to overshadow them.

The book uses an example of harbouring an inferiority complex about education, where we might think we can’t succeed because we’re not well educated. This is also a superiority complex because it implies that if we were well educated, we would be better than we are.

A complex places us as the victim of the conditions in the world around us. It’s perpetually disempowering.

Victim Mindset | 47:06

The book says, “if we ask ourselves who is the strongest person in our culture, the logical answer would be the baby. The baby rules and cannot be dominated.’ The baby rules over the adults with his weakness. And because of this weakness, no one can control him.”

This mentality is one of superiority because it rejects the connection. Instead of seeking to hear and empathise, the person declares, “you can’t understand what it’s like to be me”. And while “completely understanding the feelings of the person who is suffering is something that no one is capable of”, we might encounter people who define themselves that way, making it impossible to connect and relate.

Demands For The External World To Change | 48:24

When we say “you wouldn’t understand”, we are shutting the door to the kind of connection that creates change. Instead, we enjoy the story we can use to separate us from others and maintain the status quo.

Willing Others To Fail | 49:06

This mindset might turn our attention and energy towards willing others to fail. Rather than pursuing superiority on our journey, we might become preoccupied with what the other person is doing and determined to beat them.

Replace The Disowning Grimace | 53:54

Self-worth cannot be earned. It can only be realised when we replace the grimace with internal acceptance, grace, and compassion.

This requires us to reject the grimace and greet our old work with a more generous spirit.

Make Peace With Past Efforts (Equal But Not The Same) | 55:00

How might we make peace with past efforts? We don’t need to scoff, belittle, and disown those moments in the story. What if we can celebrate the bravery and enjoy how far we’ve come together?

Handing Over: A Bridge From Somewhere to Elsewhere | 56:11

I am starting to practice this on Patreon as I go through some of my old musical work. I want to learn how to do this with graceful acceptance and joy.

How can I look at old work with self-compassion and gentleness? What can I learn from that past self? What am I grateful for and appreciative of?

I want this to be a project that supports, encourages, and inspires others. It’s an opportunity to reflect on our story so far and to consider the possibilities for what comes next.

So if you feel the scorn and shame of self-judgement holding you back from letting creative play flow, this is an opportunity to explore some of this together.

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