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What my Algebra Teacher Taught me about the Biggest Fan

A theme that keeps popping up is the idea that we need the Monger to motivate us. We need that mean, nasty voice reminding us how we could be a better person or how we could be more efficient if only we accomplished more. When we hear the word kindness, we think–oh no, I can’t be kind to myself, or I won’t get anything done! This belief is a damaging myth.

Clients will say to me, but my Monger has gotten me this far, if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be as successful as I am. I would be on my couch eating junk food binge-watching TV. Ok, so let’s say this is true! All hail the Monger! But let’s look at the Monger and her tactics. She is mean; she is nasty; she makes us feel like crap. She doesn’t encourage us to try new things; she demands that we try new things or meet her wrath. And then when her wrath is too much, we need a break! So we bring in the BFF the character of self-indulgence (Self-compassion gone too far), and our BFF is like a pressure release valve. She encourages us to take it easy, procrastinate, and indulge. And then our Monger attacks us for being lazy and procrastinating, and round and round we go.

This makes me think of my high school Algebra teacher; she was tough; she was scary, had high expectations for us, and demanded our best. Yes, she would get angry when we didn’t meet her expectations and yelled from time to time. AND she was never degrading or belittling or shaming. She just had high expectations and let us know when we didn’t hit them.

I can vividly remember (and still have dreams from time to time) attending her after school help. We would all stand at the chalkboard, and she would yell out equations that we had to solve. I can still feel the chalk in my hand and the sound of all of us writing on the chalkboard. I can still feel the fear and insecurity. What was I so afraid of? Being wrong? Looking stupid? Being singled out? Yes, yes, and yes. We all had mixed emotions about those afterschool help sessions. One they HELPED a lot! I learned more in those sessions than in class itself. Two, they were challenging. Feeling on display and putting myself our there was challenging. And yet I also remember the laughter, the camaraderie of all being in this together. It was challenging, but it wasn’t painful.

So what does this have to do with Mongers and Biggest Fans? Well, now looking back, I can see my algebra teacher was a Biggest Fan. She was scary because she had high expectations, but she wasn’t mean. She wasn’t belittling or shaming; she didn’t go for the jugular. She was offering help on her time. She wasn’t getting paid; she purely wanted to see us succeed and was willing to work over to help us. Through my teenage eyes, she was scary because she wasn’t afraid to tell us when we had it wrong or that we should have known better. But now, as an adult, I can see she was helpful. I remember feeling empowered and proud after one of those sessions. My BFF didn’t come out after one of those sessions to tell me to take it easy or indulge because I felt good. I didn’t need to relieve the pressure of the Monger because the Monger hadn’t been chiming in, she couldn’t get a word in over my Biggest Fan.

I created the Biggest Fan character because we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and challenge ourselves to stretch and grow. AND we don’t need to do that with shame and belittling. Our Biggest Fan is my algebra teacher. She has your back, she will stay late to help you grow, and she is always challenging you to learn more. She is kind and wise and pushes us to grow. Sometimes growth is scary, but it doesn’t have to be done because we were shamed into doing it. Growth can be because we have another goal; we want to stretch ourselves.

The challenge is we turn our backs on ourselves. We treat ourselves as if we are evil, lazy, people who need to be whipped into shape, rather than seeing that we are well-intentioned people who have anxiety about the unknown (perfectly understandable).

So no, you do not need the Monger to be a success. You need a Biggest Fan. That voice saying let’s stretch, let’s see what’s out there, let’s get uncomfortable, and let’s be kind to ourselves as we do it.