Why Self-Criticism Is Terrible Motivation

by Melissa Kirsch
Originally Published: 

For The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything (Workman, new edition 2015), I asked hundreds of women what they know now that they wish they’d known when they graduated from college that would have spared them heartache, eased their transitions and made their life a heck of a lot easier in their 20s and 30s. Here’s one of their responses.


Davita Scarlett



Where do you live?

Los Angeles

What do you do?

I’m a TV writer.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known earlier?

I’m still working on this now, but I wish I learned earlier to be kinder to myself.

When you’re starting out, you put so much pressure on yourself to excel. Not just succeed, but excel. I’ve certainly always been my toughest judge, and taking a compliment has been like pulling teeth in the past. But I think it’s important to treat ourselves with as much compassion as we often treat our friends. I’d never talk to my friends the way I’ve talked to myself at times!

Life is a lot easier when you’re not making self-deprecating remarks, comparing yourself to other women you think might be smarter/prettier/thinner, or holding yourself to unachievable standards. In my years out of college I’ve learned time and time again that self-criticism is terrible motivation. It starts you down a terrible spiral of anxiety that actually hinders your progress. You’re so much in your own head, you can’t see yourself the way other people do, and a tiny mistake becomes the end of the world!

When I first graduated from college, I was convinced any misstep would be the end of my career and future happiness. Everything I did was about trying NOT to mess up, as opposed to embracing the learning process that is doing and (sometimes) failing. Once I recognized that I needed to take some of the pressure off of myself (though it still creeps in every once in awhile), it became crystal clear that I produce my best results, and I’m much happier overall, when I’m actually nice to myself, and focus on all of my great qualities, and not the negative. It makes a huge difference!

Photo: Getty

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