I’ve never really had to think about criticism much before. Not because I’m so good that I don’t need it, but because I’ve never really shown my work to the world. Mostly it’s just family and friends who have seen what I create and who have been unfailingly supportive (as they should be!). So far, I think the biggest critic I’ve had to face is myself.
Recently, however, a few posts by design superwoman Tina Roth Eisenberg about critics and criticism have prompted me to start thinking about the topic. (By the way, if you don’t already know about Tina’s site – swiss-miss.com – you’re really missing out!)
The first was a quote from a blog post entitled “The Generous Skeptic” by Seth Godin:
“The generous skeptic has insight into your field, your strengths and weaknesses. She wants you to succeed, but maybe, just maybe, sees something you don’t.
When the generous skeptic speaks up, she’s taking a risk. If you respond to her generosity by arguing, by shutting down, by avoiding eye contact or becoming defensive, you’ve blown it. You’ve taken a gift and wasted it, and disrespected the gift giver at the same time.”
I’m not terribly bad at taking criticism, but, like everyone, there are times when I get my back up. Inevitably, this happens when whatever is being criticized is something that is the result of a big investment of my time, energy, and heart. I can think of nothing more personal than my art – nothing that makes me more vulnerable – so this quote serves as a good reminder to embrace criticism that’s given with the best of intentions.
The second post that got me thinking about criticism was this fantastic lecture by Brené Brown, who researches vulnerability. It’s rare that I will have the patience to watch any video that’s over 2 minutes long, but this one, which clocks in at 22 minutes, absolutely captivated me. I even watched it twice.
I really appreciate what she says about the inevitability of getting your ass kicked when you put yourself out there. It’s kind of comforting to know that it happens (and happens repeatedly) to all artists, whether emerging or established.
“If you’re going to show up and be seen, there is only one guarantee, and that is: you will get your ass kicked. That is the guarantee. That’s the only certainty you have. If you’re going to go in the arena and spend any time in there whatsoever, especially if you’ve committed to creating in your life, you will get your ass kicked.”
But there’s a certain power that comes with willingly accepting your ass kicking, and that is that you are now in a position to tune out all the unhelpful critics who are sitting on the sidelines, playing it safe:
“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback. […] If you’re in the cheap seats, not putting yourself on the line, and just talking about how I could do it better, I’m in no way interested in your feedback.“
So, as I aspire to have my work seen by more and more people – as I prepare to “enter the arena” – I recognize that I am opening myself up to more criticism. Some from people who genuinely want to be helpful, and some from people who are just being jerks. But I’ll just keep reminding myself to brush off the comments that aren’t important and embrace the ones that are, and hopefully even start a dialogue with those generous skeptics. Because in the end, showing up day after day and getting my ass kicked, staying vulnerable, and embracing the criticism of fellow warriors will only make me better and help me grow.
And now, one more quote from Brené Brown for the road:
“The fear is this: I’m scared, a lot of self-doubt, comparison, anxiety, uncertainty. And so what do most people do when they’re walking into the arena and those things are going to greet them up top? What do you do? You armor up, right? This is where I would imagine the old days, that they got all their stuff on. But god that stuff is heavy, and that stuff is suffocating. And the problem is: when you armor up against vulnerability, you shut yourself off. […] Without vulnerability, you cannot create.”