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December 11, 2013

Accepting Criticism Without Going Down in Flames.

As a writer, I routinely lay myself bare, casting the details of my life, thoughts, feelings and opinions like so many stones into the ocean of public consciousness.

It would be impossible to throw those stones and assume that each one will be received gently into the waves. Some will miss their mark, perhaps bonking an innocent bystander on the head, perhaps hitting another stone mid air and throwing both stones off course, or maybe landing in a muddy spot and stirring up a tornado of silt.

As the lobber of these rocks, I shouldn’t be surprised when people duck, weave, or even throw some stuff back at me. I’ve tried to develop a thick skin or at least a tolerance for the bruises which ripen on my delicate psyche, but sometimes someone throws something back that is so sharp, it takes me weeks to dig it out and heal the wound it made.

“What kind of person lets a coked up stripper take care of their kids?”

“You should you get back on the pole where you belong.”

“You’re a horrible mother.”

“I would never take a yoga class from someone like you.”

In fairness, these sorts of comments constitute maybe 0.01% of the total comments I receive related to my work. But they always seem to stand out more than all the others, blazing like a neon sign the size of a house on a pitch black street.

Why is that?

I know it is a common malady to hear negative commentary much more loudly than positive commentary. I can tell my kids 500 hundred times that I love them and are proud of them, but they only register the one time I said I’m disappointed in them.

It’s the same for me.

A rare day passes that my husband doesn’t offer a sincere compliment to me—a compliment I always suspect I don’t quite deserve—but if he tells me he’s not crazy about what I made for dinner, I get my nose all out of joint and assume he hates everything I cook.

As with many things, this boils down to a self esteem issue.

If I believe an article is worthy to print, clear and well written, and reflective of my authentic self, any criticism should be calmly received. It will either be constructive, in which case I can learn something from it, or off base, in which case I can ignore it. If I don’t believe in my article, any criticism will feel like a bullet bursting into my balloon.

Of course, you can’t always put things out in the world that you are totally confident about releasing. Part of the process of writing (and living) is growing ideas, letting them leave your head to mingle with real people who have their own ideas, and then seeing what happens. Sometimes your ideas will be illuminating, and sometimes they will fall so flat they seem like a cartoon anvil that was dropped off a cliff and smashes a coyote, and the coyote happens to be you.

So your confidence doesn’t necessarily have to be in the writing (or the cooking, or the outfit you chose today, or the direction your life is going), your confidence has to be in yourself. By “yourself” I mean the essential you, the spirit that is worthy of love and respect just by virtue of it’s existence.

These days, when I hear a critique of my work, whether it’s in the kitchen, on the mat, on the page or anywhere else, I try very hard to remember that the critique may be right or it may be wrong, but whatever it is, it doesn’t have the power to de-value me as a whole. In fact, if I can graciously accept the constructive stuff  and ignore the mean spirited stuff, I will grow.

Case in point, this very article, which was inspired by a less than appreciative remark made about a recent article of mine. Over two thousand people have read that piece to date, and there was one negative comment. One.

I realized that that one sentence, which wasn’t even an especially mean sentence, was tattoo’d on my brain, while I had cast away the other bazillion kind words like so many candy bar wrappers.

I also realized that that was unfair both to me and to the people who took the time to write nice things. Shouldn’t their love be as important to me as someone else’s disdain?

I am going to continue to work to keep everything in perspective as I throw my stones. When someone whips a sharp one back in my direction I’ll either duck or try to catch it gracefully.

Equally importantly, when someone catches one of mine, and handles it with care, examining it thoughtfully before dropping it with a soft plunk back in to the ocean, I will take note and cherish the cherishing.

 

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Ryan Jardine/Pixoto

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