Do you hesitate to click publish on that blog post or e-book? Do you feel sick, when no one replies to your posts on social media?
It’s natural to feel a little queasy about sharing your thoughts and your work with the world. After all, you’ve put so much of yourself into it that it feels like part of you.
Some authors even call their books their "babies," after they’ve nurtured them for many long months or years.
How could you not be offended and hurt, when someone calls your "baby" ugly, pointless, forced, or long-winded?
Where does your work end and you begin?
What if your work isn’t YOU? What if it’s not even your “baby”? What if you could create a healthy detachment from your product? What would that be like?
I’ve always been deeply attached to my work, which almost sounds like a good thing. But I’m beginning to think it’s not.
Is my sensitivity about and attachment to my work just part of me? Or is it something I can change?
Why change? Because it makes it very difficult to share my work and be successful as an author and blogger.
The dark side of too much attachment to your work:
- Hypersensitivity to any criticism, including the perceived criticism of silence
- Lack of perspective on the work because the work is you (in your mind)
- Tendency to close up shop at the slightest sign of trouble
Who should read this
Some folks aren't bothered by criticism--at all. It simply doesn't affect them. Others are crushed by it.
This post for those who are hurt by criticism, to help you:
- Be less affected by it
- Develop a new way of thinking about criticism, which hopefully leads to new habits
- Be more resilient in the face of criticism and move forward with your creative expression, in spite of it
What’s This Really About?
Let’s start with a personal example. I offered a free mini course to help bloggers get organized. I received positive feedback, and I received negative feedback.
Guess which one I focused on? Guess which one I internalized and believed?
That’s right. The negative feedback. Why is that? Why should what Person X said carry more weight than Person Y?
Both were complete strangers, who took my course. One enjoyed the course and gave positive feedback. The other didn't enjoy the course and gave negative feedback.
But you know what Person X didn't do? He didn't personally insult me. He didn't say I was an idiot. Nope. He just gave feedback on the course I created. That's it.
So why did I feel like crap and want to close down the course? Because I took it personally.
Me vs. My Work
There’s me. I’m a living, breathing human being with life behind me and life in front of me. Hopes, dreams, behaviors, habits, memories, DNA--all that combines to make me.
Then there’s my work--in this case, an online course. The course is the result of my experiences as a new blogger, an idea for sharing what works for me, and the process of distilling that into a course, with the intention of helping others.
The course is not me. It's a product. It's a relatively small representation of some 42 years of life.
Now, you might be thinking that a novel you poured into for a decade is different. I get it.
But even that epic novel is not you. If someone hates your novel, it doesn’t mean they hate you. If someone hates every word you’ve written, or every canvas you’ve painted, or every creation you’ve created, they still don’t hate you.
Let’s take it a step further. What if someone does hate you? I’ve had people “hate” on me before, and it hurt.
You know what? Their hatred comes from inside them, not you. You’re not responsible for it. You don’t own it. You’re not the cause of it.
(As an aside, I’m assuming you haven’t done horrible things that, quite frankly, you do need to own.)
So who cares? Why do you care what jerk-coworker thinks? Or Mr. Internet Stranger?
Even if the person hating on you is close to you, listen up:
It’s still not about YOU.
Someone who pounces on every chance to criticize and belittle others, especially their “loved” ones, is troubled. Something is wrong on the inside of that person, not you.
You don't have to accept what they’re trying to give you. No thanks!
An Exercise in Perspective
A visual might help...
What are you worried about? A blog post? An email? A course? A book? Whatever it is, find a visual representation. A simple blank piece of paper might work.
(Seriously. Get a piece of paper. Hold it in your hand. Look at it.)
Is that piece of paper YOU? The whole you? Your body, mind, and spirit? Your life?
No, of course not. You can leave that paper on your desk and fly around the world without it. Correct?
My point: It’s not you! You can choose to take it with you, or choose to leave it behind.
other people's opinions don't belong to you
Just like that piece of paper: You can choose to stuff someone’s criticism inside you and take it wherever you go. Let it limit your creativity. Let it silence your voice.
Or you can leave it behind. Leave it with the person who dealt it because it belongs to them anyway.
It only belongs to you, if you accept it. Unless accepting it helps you improve your work in some way, say: No thanks!
Your work can still be exceptional. You can still take pride in your work. It’s a representation of you. But repeat after me: My work is not ME!
I’m not asking you to totally detach from your work. Who wants lifeless work that means nothing to its creator?
Detach from what others think, say, or imply about your work. You have no control over that.
Trust me--I’m not saying it's easy. For me, this will be a long, painful process of separating myself (and my self-worth), from what others say about me. It’s deeply embedded.
In order for me to succeed, I need to extract this belief--the belief that other people's opinions of me carry some almighty weight.
Is fear of other people’s opinions holding you back? Do you take everything personally? Do you feel like giving up, whenever anyone doesn’t like your work?
Yes? It’s limiting your progress. It’s limiting your expression. It may be time for a change.
Want to read more about the big lies and excuses we make to prevent us form doing our creative work >>click here.
Five Questions for you
When you feel yourself internalizing criticism, ask:
- What’s this criticism really about? Is it directed at me as a person? Or is it just about this specific piece of work?
- What’s the real source of this comment? Does it have more to do with the critic, than it does with me or my work?
- Is this post/book/poem me? Is this “piece of paper” me?
- If I were going on a trip around the world today, would I take this criticism (and my feelings around it) with me? Do I choose to take this criticism or leave it?
- What part of this is mine to own? What part of this doesn’t belong to me?
Is It Ever ok to just feel bummed out?
Of course! I'm not trying to tell you how to feel. Nope. I'm offering myself as an example, and I'm examining my reaction to criticism. If what I say clicks with you and makes sense for your life, awesome. If not, that's okay.
Are your feelings going to get hurt again? Probably. Does criticism, even the constructive kind, sting? You bet.
So, why change your response to criticism?
The point is to ensure that your response to criticism doesn't kill your creativity.
You can be hurt, annoyed, angry, irritated, and so on. But if you give up every time someone doesn't like your work, you'll never get anywhere.
A quick EXPERIMENT
Go to Amazon and read a few one- or two-star reviews for a book you love, by one of your favorite authors. I'm talking an author you think of as a master writer.
For example: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. For me, this is a classic by a master.
Wow. I flinched at the one-star reviews. Boring. Waste of time. Too poetic. Poorly written.
Poorly written!!!! Wow. I won't even start on that one. See why this is a great way to demonstrate that criticism is simply an opinion? It's not a fact.
Everyone has an opinion. People will have opinions on your work, my work, Margaret Atwood's work.
How do you deal with criticism? Are you hurt by it? How might you change your perspective on it? Tell me in the comments.