Dealing with The Peanut Gallery That Is Your Inner Critic

Let’s start off this article with a conversation about that voice in your head. You know the one.  The voice that keeps coming back with the warning, “don’t say that idea out loud because people will think you are stupid or crazy.” Or, another favorite, “you have to be kidding me, you know you can’t speak in front of an audience – you will look like a fool.”  You know that voice… and it has a lot more to say on any number things – and none of it is good.  This is the voice of your inner critic.  

So what exactly is an inner critic?  According to the Good Therapy Blog, the inner critic is “an inner voice that judges, criticizes, or demeans a person whether or not the self-criticism is objectively justified”. A highly active inner critic can be paralyzing – it can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being, self-esteem – and in some cases, it can cause individuals to seek help from a therapist or counselor to help balance thought patterns and change their mindset.

Jerry Seinfeld has done a standup routine where he joked that people’s number one fear is public speaking. Their number two fear is death. So, they would rather be in a casket than giving the eulogy.

And it’s true. Chapman University conducted a recent survey that uncovered America’s top fears. Among those were: corrupt government officials, pollution of oceans, rivers, and lakes, and cyber-terrorism. However, at the top of personal anxieties is the fear of public speaking, well above the fear of death, as Seinfeld joked.

THE RELIABLE INNER CRITIC

That inner critic of yours never goes on vacation – it’s there continually giving opinions on anything and everything you do. In speaking, the closer you get to the time you have to present, the louder and more incessant the critic becomes. For many people, they can get sick from the stress that the critic brings their way.  Whether you are in front of an audience or sharing thoughts during a meeting, all you can see or think about are all those eyeballs leveled at you. While at the same time, your inner critic is constantly telling you how you are going to fail. So what can you do? How do you overcome this fear and silence the inner critic?

Improvisation!!!  Yes! And by employing the principles of improvisation, you will overcome the fear, and silence the critic every time! 

Improv will help you change the conversation in your head and start programming your brain to use “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…”. Why does this matter? Think about the difference between “but” vs. “and”. Using “but” introduces a contrasting thought and stops the other in its tracks. Using “And” instead, connects one idea with the other – allowing both to be considered jointly. So, for instance, you could be saying to yourself, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, but you’ll do awful.” Or, you could turn it into the following, “yes, you have been asked to give this presentation, and you can do it.” Just a slight change in words and tone from “but” to “and” has an immediate and positive impact on your confidence, self-esteem and self- worth.

For example, consider the classic children’s story, “The Little Engine That Could”.  It teaches this very principle. Each of the different locomotives in the story could be considered inner critics – each pointing out why the little engine couldn’t accomplish the task at hand. Eventually, the little engine, which had been told she wasn’t fast enough, big enough, or powerful enough, was the best locomotive for an important job. Despite the doubts and criticism, the train, as we all know, repeatedly chanted to herself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And she did.

“You’re not fast enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” “You’re not interesting enough.”  “You’re NOT ENOUGH”!  The inner critic needs to be reprimanded and corrected for this. And guess what? You have the power to do it. Tell yourself, “I can do this,” and the more times you repeat it, the more you will believe it. This positive programming of the brain is real and can be used to overcome your immediate fears. The more you say it, the more you will silence that droning voice of doom that cycles through all your fears: “You can’t do this, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re a fraud, you’re going to fail, something will go wrong…” STOP!

THE PERFECT INNER CRITIC

This last part of the inner critic’s diatribe, “something will go wrong…” is very likely to come true, however.  Why? Because we expect ourselves to be perfect.  But there is no such thing as perfection.  Of course you will make a mistake, probably more than one.  Remember however, that most of the time, unless it’s a real blooper, the only person who knows about it is you. Your listeners and audiences won’t see it or hear it – only you and your inner critic.

When you’re overly focused on perfection, you can go into a downhill spiral if you make even a minor mistake, such as forgetting to make one of your less important points. If you maintain your confidence, something like that won’t trip you up. It would be best if you accepted the fact that you will make some slips. Think of them as opportunities to learn to do even better and roll with them… this is what keeps us interesting and interested.

Also, keep in mind, a certain amount of vulnerability goes a long way in winning over your audience. An excellent example of this is a TED talk given by Megan Washington, a premier Australian singer/songwriter. When she opens her speech, you are immediately aware that she has a speech impediment or stutter. She says that, while she has no qualms about singing in front of people, she has a mortal dread of public speaking. Throughout the presentation, the audience watches her struggle from time to time to get certain words out, but it doesn’t matter. Her vulnerability warmed the audience to her, keeping them engaged up until the moment she disclosed a deeply personal fact: you can’t stutter when you sing. At this point, she plays and sings a beautiful song superbly, ending with a roaring applause from the audience.

While we may not have the opportunity to leverage a vulnerability like this, it’s important to remember:  the inner critic will tell you far more than you need to know, and it is not true. You will hear what you cannot do or how you will screw up. And here is what you can tell that naysayer: “Yes, I know I will make mistakes, And they will not hamper me. Yes, I will not be perfect, And that means I can only get better.” Even today, whenever I get up in front of an audience, I get butterflies, AND I can control them now and make them flutter in the direction of my choice.

REASONING WITH INNER CRITIC

With all this bad-mouthing of the inner critic – it does serve a purpose. If I were to consider delivering a speech on nuclear physics, I would hope that my inner critic would start screaming at me long before I stood at the podium. However, the critic doesn’t know when to shut up; that’s where you need to train it. You might know enough about a topic to deliver a decent speech, but the critic keeps nagging: “Your nose hair is showing. Your tie is crooked. What a nitwit.” If you pay too much attention, the prophecies of failure could come true. You get hung up on your shortcomings rather than focusing on your strengths.

Sometimes the key is just to confront it: “Shut up! Shut up!” You can accomplish this through the “yes, and…” approach of improv. “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, And I’m going to do it anyway.” The critic may still try to undermine you but not as loudly. You’ll build up self-esteem. You’ll feel confident. Now go and do it!

If you would like to know more and /or discuss on ways to silence your inner critic and become more confident in your presentations and meetings, please email me at peter@petermargaritis.com.

Staying Ahead of Technology: Trends You Need to Know & What You Can Do to Protect Yourself with Byron Patrick, CPA, CITP

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Just like so many other instances in life, sometimes IT security comes down to trusting your gut. 

That’s one of the biggest lessons we took away from our session with Byron Patrick, CPA, CITP. He’s brilliant when it comes to keeping your business safe and secure from attempted security breaches, which are, of course, becoming ever more prevalent in today’s world. 

“Seventy-five percent of data breaches occur because of the human element,” Byron said.

Whether you run a large business, or you’re just interested in internet security for your personal use, the same principles apply. 

First, according to Byron, you’ve got to listen to your gut. If you get a suspicious email that you already feel like you need to forward onto the IT department to see if it’s a hacking attempt or something malicious, then you probably already know the answer! Go ahead and delete it. 

Second, if something is trying to inspire urgency or fear when you read it, that’s likely a malicious attempt, too. 

Sometimes, employees need a little practice in making these decisions — click or delete can maybe feel a little like “fight or flight,” so it’s all about honing that instinct. 

“We do security tests where we send phishing emails to our clients and see who clicks,” Byron said. “We’re helping to teach them what to look for, and put the fear of God that they’re going to fail the test and get in trouble with the boss, which protects them. … The other benefit is it enrolls them in a short 5- to 10-minute training that they then have to complete because they failed the test.” 

Plenty of these phishing attempts are getting more sophisticated as technology evolves. However, it’s not just your business; you have to worry about: It’s also essential to think about IT security when you’re at home. 

Who else owns some device — like an Amazon Alexa or a baby monitor — that hooks up to your home WiFi? These devices are incredibly popular, but unfortunately, we’re still not sure about how secure they are.

“There have been stories of crooks gaining unauthorized access to things such as baby monitors, watching the home, and learning the behaviors and activities, and they can figure out when the home is empty and go right in,” Byron said. “So that’s where you need to make sure that devices you’re putting on the WiFi network are segregated, isolated, and they require additional authentication. You want to make sure it requires additional authentication, passwords, or something.” 

In this day and age, there’s plenty of these conversations to be had: the risk vs. reward of convenience vs. giving up a certain level of security. 

However, as long as you’re using extra authentication, and protecting yourself against the human element of phishing attempts (training your employees to make sure they understand what *not* to click), Byron talked a lot about the benefits of running your business in the cloud. 

Cloud-based systems are enormous right now — this is where you don’t have to log in to multiple apps on your local computers. Instead, everything is browser-based, so your workforce can work outside of the office. 

“Organizations are now adopting all of these browser-based applications,” Byron said. “They’re adding multiple logins to all their staff. They’ve got data all over the place. Also, talking about how to gain control of that browser-based computing platform for your business, and how to do it efficiently, effectively, and securely.” 

So what are a few must-have apps that Byron suggests every CPA have to run their business? 

  • Some form of online accounting, whether this is Quickbooks or something else
  • Zoom (for communication with remote employees)
  • Office Lines (for taking photos and converting them into different file types, like a PDF or JPEG)

However, remember: The convenience of all these apps comes with an inherent risk. That’s why it’s essential to stay up to date on security risks. Above all, train your employees on how to minimize that risk and work safely and securely. Also, that’s exactly what Byron encourages through his work. 

“It is an ever-changing world,” he said. “And, you know, we’re trying to pivot and stay up to date to make sure that we can keep bringing that value to the industry and keep everybody relevant.” 

Listen to the full podcast episode by clicking here.

Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer

If your firm or department has struggled with employee turnover, my latest podcast will be of particular interest.

My guest, Cara Silletto, whose mother was actually a corporate accountant, is now a workforce retention guru. Her company, Crescendo Strategies, works with companies to reduce their employee turnover, and to bridge the generational gap within the workplace. (You can listen to our full conversation here (https://petermargaritis.com/s2e7/).

The hot topics Cara deals with certainly appear in our segment of the world: Accounting firms and corporate finance departments alike all deal with some of these same issues: Gaps in understanding between the millennial generation and Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Constant turnover within their workforce. A judgment of millennials for not being “loyal” enough. The list goes on and on.

So how do managers in the finance world fix this? A little flexibility goes a long way. Gone are the days when employees were content with mandatory Saturday hours: Instead, employers are finding ways to empower their staff to make their own schedules.

“It’s not that they’re expecting any less out of their people, but they’re giving them the flexibility to bill those hours any time during the week,” Cara said. “If they want to pull later days, or come in on Sunday or Saturday night, work from home, wherever they can hit those billable hours, they can still do it. But they’re not requiring people to come in from nine to noon every Saturday morning anymore because you don’t have to do that.”

As a retention strategist, Cara gets plenty of calls from various companies: But the most common type of accounting firm or finance department she hears from are those who are “set in their ways,” who have policies that they haven’t revisited in years. They are the ones who call Cara and say, “We can’t recruit anybody.”

Put simply, the old way of doing things isn’t working any longer: Times have changed, and the next generation of workers isn’t loyal to a company, just for the sake of being loyal. Today’s workers stay in jobs where they feel appreciated, have scheduling flexibility, and see multiple avenues of promotion.

Flexibility is advancement is one lesson the accounting world can take to heart, maybe even more so than the others: Today’s employees aren’t necessarily going to stay at a firm for years on end, waiting for the day they’re promoted to partner. That’s why we have to be flexible with creating multiple avenues of advancement. Sometimes that means taking into account employees’ unique abilities and creating a position around those talents.

“I love when organizations create multiple paths for advancement,” Cara said. “You hear a title like senior advisor or something like that, which tells me that person is so good at what they do, but they probably shouldn’t be managing people, and that’s fine because they can still be promoted, and they can be a mentor or advisor for somebody else, or for a team, but they don’t have the direct responsibility of leading and managing others.”

Even for more entry-level employees further down the food chain, it’s important employers offer robust training opportunities. Today’s workforce won’t tolerate taking a job and then not being appropriately trained for it.

And important to remember, too: When you invest in your employees (whether that’s training, hiring, or retention efforts), you’re investing in your firm or department as a whole, too.

 

How Accountants Can Be More Future-Forward In an Evolving World

Trying to keep up with innovations in technology is a challenge in any industry—but maybe even more so in the accounting world. It’s a very formulaic business, with (traditionally) little wiggle room when it comes to trying new things.

That’s why talking with Amy Vetter was such an eye-opener. She’s a CPA, a certified information technology professional, certified Global Management Accountant, a yoga studio owner, and the author of two books. She also is an expert when it comes to helping the accounting industry look toward the future, and find ways to fortify itself against any technological changes.

Change is certainly coming. AI, machine learning, and Cloud Accounting are all evolving and shaping the future of the industry.

“Anything like accounting that’s as structured as it is, AI machine learning can enter because there’s a structure to program into a system,” Amy said. “What artificial intelligence is basically taking our own business intelligence and trying to program that into a computer so that the computer can start figuring out those things.”

The most helpful thing for accountants to remember? Despite increasing technology that can seemingly do your job for you, AI and machine learning don’t have one crucial piece: They’re not human beings, and can’t provide the relationship that accountants can.

Accountants don’t just have to be numbers whizzes (a quality that can be replaced by a computer). They should realize their status as “cherished advisor,” as Amy puts it. There’s value outside of simple number-crunching.

“What you want to strive for is to be cherished – that your clients can’t imagine not having you as part of their business because you are providing so much value,” she said. “That the money is not the issue. It’s like you’re an integral part of their business.”

Contrary to popular belief, artificial intelligence can actually be helpful to accountants—not just something that’s going to steal their jobs.

“It actually frees up our time so we can spend more time with our clients,” Amy said. “It doesn’t bring our value down. What it does is give us the information quicker so that we can start analyzing it.”

Seeing all the technological changes within the accounting industry as a positive can be difficult. That’s true for anyone — but especially accountants.

“When we are given a standard or regulation, we’re really good at changing,” Amy said. “But when we’re given like, ‘This is where the future is going,’ but there’s not necessarily a standard or a checklist of how to get there, we drag our feet a bit in this profession.”

The solution? Remembering the standard that doesn’t have to be written down: Keep building relationships with clients. Be a human, not a computer. And learn how to become the “cherished advisor” that every accountant has the power to be.

To listen to the full interview, click here

 

There’s An App For That

Open notebook, digital tablet and smart phoneWhether you work from the same office every day, travel occasionally or, like me, work remotely much of the time, staying connected, informed and efficient is important.  Need to share large files or maintain internet access or actually see the person you are meeting with even when they are across the country? No problem, there’s an app for that!

Here are a few tools that work really well for me:

Dropbox –This file sharing tool is easy to use. Just open an account and load your files. Then click the share button and add the recipient’s email. They will receive an email from Dropbox with a link to your shared folder. Recipients see only those files and folders you have selected to share with them.

Evernote – This one takes some practice but only because there is so much offered. Organize files, maintain journals, store photos and graphics – it’s all there. Evernote syncs with all your devices so add something on your phone and your laptop has it too.

Skitch – A partner with Evernote, Skitch is a great tool for saving web pages and documents. Not the links (you can do that with just about every app) but you can open the doc or page, do a Screen Snap, add comments and save to Evernote or email it.

TripIt – For all of us frequent flyers, keeping track of flight itineraries can be a bit of a hassle. Send your confirmation emails to TripIt and the app organizes it all. You can receive flight information and travel alerts through the app, too.  No more hunting for emails! If you travel exclusively with one carrier, get their app – it will do the same thing plus you can check in, get seats and get your boarding pass.

Skype – I usually use FaceTime when I want a one-on-one face-to-face conversation, like with my family, but Skype is great for group meetings. Like other apps, they let you have group video calls and screen sharing, which can be pretty helpful.

What app helps you stay  productive?