I used to hate critique. I would get super worked up over any negative feedback I received from someone else, automatically taking it personally followed by the good ol “Ughh, I’m the worst.”
I used to get suuuper nervous before getting back papers in college. I’d hand them in confident, but a week later when the professor was rounding the classroom, sifting through the stack of essays and placing them face-down on our desks (walking so, so slowly…) my heart would pound. I’d convince myself I’d receive a red inked D that would, of course, lead to the end of the world.
But it’s as simple as this: Nobody is perfect. Everyone can do better. And if you’re not being critiqued, you’re not going to grow.
(Side note: This post is referring to constructive criticism, not “yousuckyourebad” critique.)
Criticism is a scary thing, but it should also be considered a positive thing. I mean…who doesn’t want to get better? Who doesn’t want to improve, grow, make more meaning, learn, adapt, and become stronger in the process?
The reason it’s so hard to invite critique is because it’s tricky to separate the action from the person. If you did something “wrong,” you’re not wrong. The action was. If your business proposal sucked, your foul shot less than graceful, your homemade mac n’ cheese a disaster, or your paper an actual D, none of these things mean that you, as a person, are wrong. Or flawed. It just means you’re not the best at making mac n’ cheese and free-throws aint your thing. It just means you have more learning to do.
I started to get better at taking critique when I joined a band in 2011. I learned all the music by myself on another coast, met up with four musicians who’d been in sync for years, and took up another instrument on the road (the glockenspiel!) where I wrote my own arrangements in the back of our grease-fueled van. The band had high hopes of ‘making it’ in the music biz, so everything had to be as perfect as possible. I was critiqued constantly. I had to relearn shit, was called out in rehearsal, and sat down to watch live footage of performances and told that a) b) and c) were wrong. And to try to do d) better next time.
For some magical reason, I was fine taking it. And it was because I realized I wasn’t at fault for being “the weakest link.” Heck, it made sense I was making the mistakes I was making, and I would rather people tell me so I could fix it, instead of talking behind my back and grumbling that I wasn’t performing up to par.
The other side of the coin is critiquing yourself when you’re actually not at fault. Many times you’re not given the resources, or the support, or whatever else you need (genes, a dose of good luck, a mulligan?) to get something done, and automatically you point fingers inward — critiquing yourself when in fact, you’re doing your absolute best given the situation, the circumstances, and the environment.
So as hard as it is (and believe me, it’s freakin hard) — try to make friends with critique. Even ask for it! And make sure you look at the whole picture: what could be better and why. Decide what’s in your control to improve upon, and what else you need from others to grow and keep working to be the best you can be.