I was talking with my friend and fellow writer Kristin yesterday. (More accurately we were texting, young people including my children and grandchildren have whole conversations through texting. I've learned to converse this way and now know more about my kids than when talking was our primary method of communication.) Some of you may read Kristin Meekhof's blog in The Huffington Post; she is an excellent writer who wrote honestly about the loss of her husband to cancer. If you haven't read her blog I encourage you to do so.
Our text conversation centered on what Kristin called developing a "thick skin" when it comes to criticism and critiques. The first image that came to mind when Kristin asked, "How do you develop a thick skin?" was of my #1 granddaughter. Recently I served my grandchildren my homemade macaroni and cheese and my #1 granddaughter promptly declared it tasted like dirt. This sent my other grandchildren into a complete panic because they love my homemade macaroni & cheese even declaring it, "killer macaroni & cheese". They were concerned I wouldn't prepare it if I didn't have a 100% consensus on the dish. Truly, I was amused, knowing full well it didn't taste like dirt plus as with Crest Toothpaste, 6 out of 7 grandchildren declared my macaroni & cheese to be "killer". But there was a moment when I felt just a twinge of discomfort. I mean who doesn't want 7 out of 7 grandchildren rating their macaroni and cheese at the killer level?
In life if we are passionate about what we do, it's unnerving and painful to have others critique our passion. It takes courage and daring to offer up to the world what we value on a core level. When others critique our work/talent/passion, it can stop us cold. Through the years I have learned that if you really want to improve or excel at something whether it's writing, being a chef or a first rate salesperson, you must allow trusted and competent advisor to critique your work. I have worked to use productive criticism to my advantage but first; I had to think through whom to trust. I divide criticism into two camps...solicited and unsolicited criticism.
Who should you solicit feedback from on the things that matter to you? Most of the time we look to the people closest to us but they may not always be the best folks for the job. Family and friends can encourage (or discourage) but you need someone who has an understanding of what it takes to accomplish the goals you are pursuing. Your mother may tell you a million times that you make the best hamburger on the planet and that you should open a restaurant but before you open your own burger joint, you need to talk to someone that has made or sold food to the public. If they know their stuff, they will be able to improve your burger AND educate you on getting your burger to market. The challenge comes in finding people you trust to offer you a critique.
Additionally you must also be willing to listen without judgment and avoid being defensive. I will tell you from personal experience that it's painful to have someone, even someone you trust, critique your passion. That is why I am cautious about who I ask. I don't default to people that only just say good things but I am cautious about opening up to just anyone.
Next is the unsolicited criticism camp. These folks can come out of nowhere or may be your closest family member. The danger here is that you don't know their agenda. Do they want to help you improve your skills so you can reach your goals? Is he or she a frustrated writer, chef or salesperson who is sure he or she has all the answers...and that you are doing it all wrong? Or are they just a negative and unhappy person?
Alfred, Bruce Wayne's Butler has a great quote in the movie,
The Dark Knight-"Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
This behavior is particularly prevalent where anonymous people leave hurtful, profane or inaccurate comments on everything from the Washington Post to FACEBOOK. In my mind these folks have fallen in love with the hurtful turn of a phrase he or she has crafted or just want to be disruptive. They aren't creators; they are destroyers and any critique they offer should be dismissed. Logic tells you occasionally someone will get it right in the unsolicited category but for the most part I believe this group should be avoided.
I don't think it is possible to develop a thick skin against criticism. I think the best we can hope for is to be surrounded by like-minded people who make us better through his or her critique and let go of those who would tear down and destroy. I think the bigger challenge and the thing we must work the hardest to accomplish is to be sure we know which is which.