I really struggle with criticism. Probably, even more than I know. And that’s partly because no one really teaches you how to deal with it.
In addition, in a predominantly aggressive world, it’s hard to grasp that someone might be actually trying to help you improve your work by making constructive comments.
You would think, after having spent a huge chunk of my life communicating with coaches who told me how to achieve the best result in swimming, jumping or whatever else, I’d be used to thankfully embracing criticism. But for some reason, I’m not.
I think it has to do with the fact that many of millennials grow up always being told that they are the best by default and that no matter what they do, participating is already an achievement. Which just isn’t true.
Only real achievements count. And only coming first in a fierce competition after years of hard work makes you the best.
From the childhood we’re used to instant gratifications. Our generation, growing up, didn’t really have to try hard to deserve a ‘good job’ pin. Everyone in my class got those.
So when you grow up and actual employers start to show you what’s wrong with your work – you get offended rather than listening.
You feel like they try to hurt you and make you feel bad. You feel that you know what the best way is, you think that your gut feeling is strong enough to show you the right way.
But how do you figure? What was the experience that made you an expert? In most such cases – there wasn’t any. You’re at a base of a mountain and argue with someone at the top about the view they see.
Looking back, I understand how incredibly arrogant I was, thinking that I can rely on how I feel rather than on professionals’ experience. I stubbornly tried to make things happen my way, which just wasn’t possible.
But I guess that’s just the organic development process you need to go through.
The genuine feeling that you are the best no matter what and how you do has two sides to it.
On one hand, it gives you great self-esteem. And it opens quite a few doors if you’re not too cocky. The person who’s mediocre at something but really believes in themselves oftentimes achieves a lot of undeserved success.
On the other hand, if you develop critical thinking, it plays a dirty trick on you. You still have the urge to be the best at everything you do, but you objectively see that you are not. So you start to do everything in your power to beat everyone in everything: in sport, in professional growth, in humor, in love. You name it.
That happened to me a while back. When I just couldn’t come to terms with not being the best high jumper, the best student, the best boyfriend, the best employee all at the same time.
So I tried to be all those bests.
I felt that as long as there’s anyone left better than me, I won’t feel happy and won’t feel good about my life. Since I’m not the best at everything.
To my amazement, it turns out that no matter how hard you try, you burn out quicker than you can beat everyone at everything.
So after you’ve failed several times and someone finished several races way ahead of you, the reality kicks in. And you start to realistically evaluate yourself, your talents, your experience and intellectual capacities.
Or a different thing happens:
You lose faith in yourself, and roll back to a very low self-esteem, which also isn’t an adequate representation of how good you are.
“Only siths deal in absolutes.” — Obi-Wan Kenobi
The later happened to me and to this day I’m dealing with that.
Here’s what happens when you begin to realize that you’re not the best thing that happened to the world since Jesus.
- You can’t find confidence to speak up even though you know the right answer.
- You can’t find confidence to submit the easiest tasks for review.
- You make fewer jokes and laugh less.
- You don’t make new friends.
The bad news is that there’s no simple solution. It requires long work with yourself, it’s a lot of stressful situations and encounters. There are many rollbacks. It’s making efforts and doing things you don’t want to do.
I know that the texts in this blog have typos, grammatical mistakes, few people will read them and overall they don’t bring much added value to the world. But I still publish them. Even though I would like to make each of them perfect.
But I know that I can’t. So I choose to publish them the way they are despite the fact that it’s out of my comfort zone.
You have to come to terms with the fact that not everything you do will be great. And you’ll just have to do what you can. And if you’re lucky, some day your everyday practice will result in an outstanding result. And if not – you’ll know that you did everything you could.
Another related thing is that you can’t do everything at your maximum capacity. You can do one thing this way. And for everything else you get to use the leftover energy/inspiration/motivation.
That’s why doing an okay job is often a good thing. People really underestimate it.
And that’s where I get back to dealing with criticism.
Of course, there are times when you need to show your 100% best work. But not always.
When you’re dealing with routine tasks, there’s no need for perfection.
It’s completely fine to turn in the first draft that isn’t perfect. Because its only goal is to determine in which direction to move forward.
It’s okay if the first sketch isn’t detailed or if you don’t regularly workout with the heaviest weights you can lift.
Even though movies and books promote that, there’s no place for much passion in day-to-day work. Even if it’s the work you love. Because there’s no way you can be euphoric and inspired about something all the time. You just don’t have the hormones for that.
And most of the time, you just show up. And do what you have to do. As good as you can at the moment.
If someone provides you with feedback about your work or a boss asks you to redo something – it’s a good thing too.
But there’s a thin line between doing things on a good enough level and getting lazy and doing them half-heatedly. You still feel that you did your job well when it’s good enough. And when it isn’t – you feel guilt.
But I’m sure you know that often people try to get us to feel guilt even when we did our best.
Why they do it?
Not sure. Sometimes out of spite, sometimes they can’t put themselves in your shoes to see that you really did try. Sometimes they’re just dicks. It doesn’t matter.
They think that they help you by putting you down. That humiliating you will make you work harder. But what they really do, is they drain you of any drop of inspiration and energy you had left.
We can’t do anything about them. We can’t educate them. We can’t cry about it. We can’t explain ourselves. And we don’t have to.
We can just listen to what they have to say. And don’t think of it emotionally.
No matter how hard it is (and it’s hard).
We can try to understand where they are coming from and distill all the awful things they tell us (at times) to see what they really mean.
And we can also learn the lesson and start distancing ourselves from people who don’t know how to communicate with other human beings.
I’ve mentioned the gut feeling in this post already. But the wrong one, the prideful type. That’s what we don’t want.
But once your gut feeling is based on actual knowledge, once it’s grounded and backed up by experience – you can and should trust it over criticism.
This way when you face normal, constructive criticism, the previous traumas won’t stay in the way of embracing it.