To Thine Own Self Be True and Other DifficultiesBy
The other day, I went on a business forum I’m a member of, and I asked for some feedback on a few projects I’m working on. I got some. And then I was hurt and angry.
Hmm. As someone who has made her living designing things, I thought that I’d gotten good at asking for feedback only when I’m willing to hear whatever someone has to say. (When what you make is part of a business discussion, it can get a little callous, so it helps if you learn strategies for toughening up.)
So I clearly blew it this time, which I only realized after I got feedback I didn’t want. AND, to make matters worse, I hid my hurt and displeasure and thanked them for their comments.
And then I had a fight with my husband instead. Alas.
Because he basically said, “Who cares what they think?”
Well, it turns out I did. Too much.
Mostly, I was afraid they were right, and I was afraid about the amount of work it would take to do the things they suggested (which I felt they didn’t know how to do, or they wouldn’t have suggested it so blithely).
And rather than take those criticisms with a grain of salt, I immediately began to question all my choices about things that I had been feeling great about and that I’m good at, and that sent me reeling.
And this is when warning bells should have gone off for me. Why was I so willing to question what I’m good at because of the remarks of two relative strangers?
It turns out that when you pour your heart into something, the tender art of sharing can feel risky no matter if it’s your artwork or a business effort.
I have been “making” my business projects just as much as I “make” any artwork or craft. It was hard to have them corrected or misunderstood in what felt like an offhand way by an expert.
Of course, this is harder when you respect the opinion of the one who is criticizing.
The Tricky Art of Receiving Feedback
As people who make things, we’re all in this situation of having a bad reaction to feedback at some time or another. Sometimes just anticipating negative reactions can stop us from taking risks or sharing our work.
For instance, when your project is “unresolved” as we like to say, or simply wet or unfinished, it must sit out somewhere in the “public area” of your household so you can look at it a while to consider what’s next, or maybe just so it can dry.
But that also means that it sits there exposed for appraisal by others as well, as your husband/partner/friends/children pass by.
It can feel like you’re exposing some elemental part of yourself, anyone can see the raw “trying” or the unmasked “doing”, that you cannot fake or dress up.
And it’s a fact of life that sometimes our spouses or families won’t “get” something we make, or they may joke about it (What IS that anyway? Hey Ma, did the dog throw up?).
Or sometimes they say nothing, which can feel worse (as our inner critic fills in the imagined blanks).
Creating anything is a form of risk-taking and most people won’t do it. When we take a risk, we usually feel pretty vulnerable. If our efforts are met with criticism or indifference, it can hurt.
Lessen the Risk
One way we can lessen the risk is to not confuse ourselves with our projects.
When I make something that sucks, didn’t turn out that well, it doesn’t mean I don’t have talent or that I’ll never make anything wonderful. I’m not my worst project, and I’m not my best either.
At the same time, we have to trust our own opinions and commit to our own vision–even when we’re still feeling our way through a new idea or technique.
It’s important to respect other people’s opinions, just not more than our own.
Getting on Your Own Side
So I’ve been on a tear the last several months learning a tremendous amount of useful business information from a variety of experts, trying to learn and adapt and absorb as quickly as I can.
And suddenly, the other day, when I got so upset, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had relinquished my sovereignty, made my own opinion too secondary, and ended up looking for too much validation outside of me.
Why? I think it was about being afraid of doing something wrong. Of trying to avoid making any mistakes.
This is akin to wanting all our artwork to be “good”. Well, it can’t be good all the time, and if we really want to grow, it definitely won’t be good sometimes.
If we look outside of ourselves too often for permission or approval, we not only make ourselves miserable, but our actions also lose their integrity.
We might be learning something new and trying to make something “good” at the same time, but we have to balance the importance of the opinions of people we respect or experts we’re learning from with what we know/believe/want for ourselves.
So really it wasn’t what the people in the business forum said that was so bad, even if it didn’t feel so skillfully delivered.
What was unnecessarily painful was that I took it to heart and decided it was truer than anything else I believed myself. I gave it a power it didn’t deserve, so I gave it permission to hurt me. And it did.
While it isn’t easy to “be on our own side”, what’s ironic is that when we are, it makes everything else so much easier. It’s easier to make things, it’s easier to experiment and take risks, and it’s easier to hear what other people have to say whether it’s insightful, skillfully said, or not so much.
Because when we begin to commit to ourselves, we begin to honor ourselves and our own creative process as well.
So I got to re-learn that painful lesson the other day. I’m sure I’ll have to learn it again from time to time when I forget to trust myself, but hopefully, those times won’t happen as often as I continue to practice the subtle art of being on my own side.
How about you, have you had this experience? Are you afraid to make something and “fail” somehow? Afraid that the people you love and respect won’t think you’re talented? Leave a comment or send me a note, I’d love to hear.
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