“So let me get this straight… when it’s someone on your team that messes up or procrastinates and blows a deadline, you remind them that it’s OK to be human, and that you have faith in them. But if YOU mess up and procrastinate and don’t hit one of your personal goals… you beat yourself up?”

My life coach stunned me into silence with that one.

For probably the third or fourth time in as many months, we were trying to unpack why I set super ambitious goals for how much I’d write and publish, and then ultimately never make time to brainstorm, write, or pitch my work to media outlets.

First, let me back up and tell you how we got here.

It’d been a long week. I run a team of writers for a high-level marketing agency, and ordinarily things run pretty smoothly. That’s the power of great systems.

For a variety of reasons, this particular week was rough (and that’s putting it mildly). One client had an urgent project and repeatedly requested a “quick call” that would take more time to schedule than to actually have. Another massive project was running behind. And then the kicker – one of my writers had one of those weeks where the words just weren’t coming.

Quick aside: I normally think of writer’s block as something that’s entirely in your head. Being a writer requires discipline, like any other field of expertise. That means sometimes you sit your behind in a chair and produce, even if you’re not feeling inspired. But for as much as I rail against it, I also get what it’s like when you’re trying to produce something good and your brain keeps yelling, “you suck! Everyone will hate this! They’re going to wonder why they ever hired you in the first place!” That kind of anxiety has a way of permeating the words, sneaking into the subtext.

Anyway, because my writer (let’s call them Sam) was struggling, I had to step in and do a lot of rewriting… and I had to do it in a serious time crunch. Afterward, we set up a Zoom call to discuss.

I could see it all over Sam’s face: they were 5,000% convinced I was about to fire them.

In reality, I was 5,000% convinced Sam had everything it takes to be an amazing writer, if only they could get a handle on what was happening in between their ears.

I kicked off the call by pointing out (and celebrating) all of Sam’s recent wins… massive projects that would have buried other writers, amazing sales results, and a long list of happy clients. “I know you’ve got the skills,” I said. “I’ve seen you pull off near-impossible projects on very tight deadlines. Now we need to figure out what happened here, and come up with a plan for how to prevent it from happening again. Let’s talk about your writing habits.”

From there, we got into a super productive conversation. We identified the stumbling blocks that led to this project falling flat. We talked about getting great sleep as a foundation to great work (vs the common writerly myth of needing to stay up all night to hit a deadline). We discussed the importance of reaching out to ask for help, and of raising the red flag as early as possible when something is starting to run behind. And we came up with a recovery plan to get lagging projects back on track.

At the end of our video call, Sam was smiling and looked full of hope – exactly the outcome I wanted when we first started talking. In under an hour, Sam had gone from freaking out, convinced they were failing and letting me down… to understanding we all have less than stellar moments, and that doesn’t mean your career is over (so long as you pick yourself up, learn what you can, and keep moving forward).

Fast forward to my call with my life coach, later that week.

“I’ve been a writer for over a decade. The idea that I can’t write a few articles a week is ridiculous. I just don’t understand why I can’t hit such a simple goal. What on earth is wrong with me? I should be better than this. I feel like such a failure.”

“Angie, is this how you talk to yourself when you let yourself down?” he asked.

“Yeah…” I trailed off.

“So let me get this straight… when it’s someone on your team that messes up or procrastinates and blows a deadline, you remind them that it’s OK to be human, and that you have faith in them. But if YOU mess up and procrastinate and don’t hit one of your personal goals… you beat yourself up?”

After a couple beats I chuckled and said, “ugh, you jerk. I don’t like when you point out my irrational side.”

In that moment I realized I had two sets of rules; one for my team (and really everyone around me), and one for myself.

My personal governing rules for interacting with others? I’m flexible, accommodating, non-judgmental… even supportive. I want them to feel OK with being human and making human mistakes.

On the other hand, my rules for handling my own shortcomings? Shame. Blame. Put on the gloves ’cause someone’s about to become a human punching bag. (Hint: it’s me. I’m the punching bag.)

“Would you be open to trying something?” he asked, pulling me out of my reverie.

I hesitated a beat, because that’s how he sneaks in the surprisingly hard stuff – couched in a simple question.

“Shoot,” I said.

“What if, next time you don’t hit your goals, you pictured yourself talking to Sam? How would your approach be different, if you were coaching someone through a letdown vs beating yourself up?”

“I imagine I’d feel a lot better…” I said.

“How so?” he persisted.

“Well, maybe I’d remember it’s OK to be human. I could stop treating myself like I have to be perfect while everyone else around me is allowed to be human.”

“Right…” he said, trailing off. I knew my coach was smiling. He’d caught me in my own web. I adore him precisely because he calls me on my BS in such a kind and caring (and brutally direct) way.

In the silence, I had another realization: I already had a rule like that in place in my personal life.

For the last decade, my best friend and I had a rule: I can’t talk to myself in a way my best friend wouldn’t talk to me.

The reason is pretty simple – usually when I reach out to my bestie in a moment of crisis, what I really need is reassurance. I don’t go to my best friend with my problems because I know they’ll beat me up and make me feel worse. I go to them precisely because I know I’ll get some perspective, support, and maybe even a game plan to make me feel empowered again.

For the longest time, when I was alone in my head, I had no problem telling myself I was human garbage, stupid, and that I brought about my own suffering.

I would NEVER say that to my best friend in a challenging time (at least, not if I expect our relationship to survive)… yet I have no problem being that mean to myself?

How are you supposed to love yourself when you’re meaner to yourself than you’d ever be to someone else?

At any rate, I’d had some version of this rule in my personal life for the better part of a decade, but for some reason I had this dividing line between “personal” and “professional”. I had my two lives compartmentalized, and Angie the businesswoman didn’t get the same grace as Angie the person.

With my coach’s help, I suddenly saw the gap. And here I am, with my behind in a chair, writing it all down in the hopes that it’ll help you as much as it helped me.

I issue this challenge to you today:

The next time you find yourself in a situation where the emotions and stress are high, picture someone you love. Maybe even a child.

When you feel the temptation to start wailing on yourself, telling yourself you’re a failure and never get anything right… sub in that person you love, in place of you-the-human-punching-bag. Look at their face, their tears. Give that person a big ol’ hug, remind them of their worth, help them muster up the faith to try again.

Treat yourself like you’d treat someone you care deeply about. You might be surprised at the results.