Battling the inner critic – Miss Batten

When was the last time you felt you weren’t good enough? It is a feeling every one of us can empathise with. In our busy lives, it is all too easy for expectations to weigh heavy on us. Now, more than ever, there is a sense we are constantly being measured as we go through our lives. At school, you are repeatedly tested and examined across your studies. Your sporting, musical and artistic ability is put on display for all to see and even outside of class, you are not free from prying eyes. What you achieve outside of lessons and how you spend your free time can too come to feel like a further source of assessment and judgement. Nor does it end there. Your popularity can even be “measured”: how many people follow you; how many virtual “friends” do you have; how many people liked your post? A distorted, twisted calculation of your social success: all of which, in reality, mean nothing at all. What, then, about how you look? Surrounded by a media swarm, how far do you match up to the models of conventional “beauty”? Are you fit enough? Are you “beach body” ready? A profit-making, commercial concept worthy only of our contempt.

Amid such an array of pressures, it is no wonder that we sometimes doubt ourselves, that we tell ourselves “I can’t do it”. That desire to escape, to turn our backs on the world, can be all too real. Yet, giving up can never be the answer. So how do we get through? How do we prevail? How can we embrace self-improvement without feeling bad about ourselves? We are told, time and again, that resilience is the answer: that we must never let set-backs faze us, that instead we should dust ourselves off and stand up in the face of failure. Exactly how, though, are we supposed to do that?

Perhaps now, I should tell you why I am doing this speech. You may be surprised to hear that this speech is a personal one. Despite my academic success, growing up, my tendency towards self-doubt was a Batten family “in-joke”. They have lost count of the number of times I told them in, in panic-stricken tones, I had messed up, that I was probably going to fail. Studying at Cambridge, one of my supervisors once told me I lacked the necessary self-confidence to ever achieve a first-class degree. The day I graduated with my first was the day I proved two people wrong: both that supervisor and myself. You see, doubting yourself is not the same as giving up. So like everyone in this chapel, I know what it is to feel pressure. I also understand what it is to be driven by perfectionism: a quest to be the best version of yourself, and how hard that can be when you feel you can’t ever quite reach it. Some of the toughest battles I have ever had to fight have been with myself: that niggling feeling that I can’t do it, that I am just not good enough to meet the world’s expectations. But while I do not and cannot profess to be wise, let me tell you something I have learned along my way. Perhaps you already know what I am about to say, but perhaps just maybe it will help some of you a little, in the way it has helped me.

You do not have to be perfect to be successful. You do not have to have the best grades, or earn the most money, or run a marathon, or speak seven languages, or look like a model, or play three instruments, or have the most likes on Instagram. A truly successful life is one where you are happy. This may seem obvious, but it is a fact which can easily become lost in our hectic lives. 2500 years ago, however, “happiness” or “eudaimonia” was at the forefront of ancient Greek philosophy. Different, competing philosophical schools proposed theory after theory in a bid to find the answer to happiness. The theory I find most compelling is that of the Epicureans. They proposed that you only need two things to be happy: good physical health and more importantly a healthy mind, a so-called mind free from anxiety. The importance they placed on mental health may seem to us like a modern concept, making the Epicureans far ahead of their time, thousands of years in fact. In the 21st century, there has been much media coverage on “the anxiety epidemic”, with that fear of inadequacy, that fear of not being good enough, as a key underlying factor.

So, then, to my little nugget of wisdom. It is not your grades, your awards or your CV; it is not your social media likes or what you look like; it is not how much money you will earn or where you’ve been on holiday or what possessions you have that makes you good enough. It is every time you make someone smile, every time you show someone kindness, every time you make someone laugh, every time you brighten someone’s day, just by being you: that is what makes you good enough. If ever you feel overwhelmed or like the pressures of the world are closing in on you, take a step back and remember what really matters. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Have a really happy day!

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