I was the kid whose stories and poems were read aloud by teachers and whose artwork was put on display and slapped with five gold stars. Back then I’d write novellas for my friends and teachers and family members alike would describe my work in superlatives. But as I got older that changed, because when the praise stopped so did the writing – and the drawing. There were a series of comments made by teachers and family members – none of them constructive – about both my writing and my art that led to increasing self-doubt about my abilities as an artist but it was one particular comment delivered in a flippant manner just before I graduated high school, that sealed the deal for me and, here is the striking thing, the person who delivered said nasty comment wasn’t even a teacher or someone I cared for – yet, the criticism stung and the comment stuck like tar.
What followed was a long, dark fallow period. Over a decade of ‘having nothing to say’, ‘nothing to write about’, ‘nothing to draw’. Then one day, about eight years ago, on a trip to a bookstore with a casual acquaintance of mine I was telling her how I had always dreamed of being ‘a writer’ when she turned to me and asked ‘So what’s stopping you?’ and that’s when *lightbulb moment* I realized I had to let go of what people think and write for myself.
What’s stopping you from doing what you love?
I also realized that criticism only hurts when it mirrors what I think of myself. The kinds of criticism that stayed with me: the time a group of teenage boys called me ‘thunder thighs’ when I played field hockey, the time the art teacher said my drawings were ‘mediocre at best’.
These comments helped me realize I had serious doubts about my physical appeal and artistic abilities.
What criticism are you holding onto because of a negative belief you hold about yourself?
I’m not going to pretend I don’t care what people think. I do – but to a degree. I am someone who has always valued constructive criticism so that is always appreciated, but I have also learned that receiving feedback tells me more about the person giving the praise or criticism than it does about my abilities. We are quick to forget that we are all different and that we are blessed with a unique set of abilities and taste. What appeals to you may not appeal to another. Consider for example a work of art. Do you prefer a Picasso to a Rembrandt? or Comedy to Horror? Feedback gives us the facts about the preferences of the person giving the feedback. It can’t speak to your worthiness or talent.
Yet feedback is critical not only to artists and writers but to everyone. If you’re tinkering with a new invention or drafting a work proposal or preparing to give a TED talk you need feedback. You need to know if what you are doing is understood, appreciated or if you need to improve in some or most areas.
Are you seeking feedback from the right people? People you hope to influence or engage with?