criticism can be liberating

The thought of being criticized can be really scary. Especially if you're a 'sensitive' person or someone who is putting your heart and soul out there in the world.

Often your work is an extension of 'you' - so it's hard not to take the criticism of our work as a slight on your deepest self.

I hear from lots of coaches at the beginning of their journey who are scared to really put themselves out there in the world for fear of being criticized. It holds them back from blogging regularly, marketing effectively, taking the speaking gig, putting themselves forward for the networking opportunity and so on.

And boy can I relate!

But one of the greatest lessons I've learned in my 2 years online is this:

Criticism Can Be Liberating (Even For Us Sensitive Types!)

Being criticized is one of the things that I struggled with big style when I first started blogging. I remember coming away from my first marketing course with a sick feeling in my stomach because I'd been told in no uncertain terms that I had to put a picture of myself on my home page.

Jeeze Louise it felt....Ugh - horrible!

I felt exposed and vulnerable and worried that all the people who visited my site would think I was some cheesy marketing, sales type or and in your face narcissist screaming 'Look at me! Look at me!'

I wanted to hide.

But in the spirit of feeling the fear and doing it anyway I put my picture up there and after a while the discomfort of being so visible was swapped for the disappointing realization that no one was visiting my site anyway! I mean, it was single figures there for a while. Which was a different kind of horrible.

But it was also a blessing in disguise because  I realized that no one was reading anyway so that meant there was no change of me publicly humiliating myself. I'm all about the silver linings!

This realization liberated me from my desire to be 'perfect' and gave me the permission to just put stuff out.

I got into a habit of writing each week, finding my voice, the things I wanted to talk about, deciding on my opinions and generally taking a lot of self imposed pressure off.

 

It was all going swimmingly until...

 

I got a comment on a blog post. Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely comment and it meant that I had started to slowly grow an audience. But it also meant...I was growing an audience. I was no longer under the radar like the stealth blogger I'd decided I'd become. I was now feeling naked in the spotlight again because a comment mean that people were actually reading things I'd written.

And then the self doubt and the fear crept back in.  All that pressure was back on.

I was so convinced someone would call me out - announce to the world what an idiot/charlatan/dangerous nincompoop I was. After all, who was I? I was a coach from the north of England, with a funny accent, a sense of humour that could best be described as 'quirky' and terrible spelling. I wasn't a doctor, academic or author yet I was writing about personal development, positive psychology, resilience and anything else that popped into my head. I wasn't a business person, I wasn't making a living from my work online (or any money directly for that matter) and I therefore didn't feel like I was 'legit'. Someone was bound to notice and point it out.

The urge to hide returned

I don't want to sound over dramatic with all of this. I mean, I know that someone calling me an idiot in front of the handful (at most) people who were reading my blog each week is hardly the end of the world. But even so, I fretted. I cringed whenever I clicked Publish. I over thought posts, sat on them way too long than was necessary and mentally beat myself up for every spelling error and broken link.

Whichever way I looked at it: I was a sucky blogger and sooner or later someone would tell me, and the world of this fact.

I worried that my insecurities would be proven true. I'm not a psychologist or a doctor so who am I to be talking about coaching, positive psychology, working happy?

I haven't got a 'perfect', all pulled together life - what if i got called out on that?

What If...

I was laughed at? Embarrassed? Wrong? Fallible. I'm not thin. Or rich. Or happy all the time.

What if...

people are thinking 'God I wish she would shut the f*ck up'

But I kept hitting Publish anyway. Pushing through the fear and slowly, slowly getting used to the discomfort of feeling exposed.

And Then My Worst (Blogging) Fear Came True...

It happened - someone left a comment on one of my blog posts that called me out. He had a doctorate in psychology. He must know what he was talking about I thought. His comment cut at me:

"I read your piece with both interest, mild amusement and degree of horror. Interest in that you make some valid points about the fascism of positive thinking. Mild amusement because somewhat typically you fail to dissect the positive thought paradigm. It is so much more nuanced than you come even close to hinting at. Horror because you fail to appreciate the dangers of some of your recommendations – have you any idea of the effects of just indiscriminately encouraging people to go along with their fears? Anxiety disorders of the worst kind can ensue. In sum, unless you have a strong background in psychology, thereby allowing you to make a more informed analysis, this might be an area you ought to steer clear of. You can cause a great deal of damage wih this kind of superficial and even flippant ‘analysis’." from The Positive Thinking Scam

I re-read it, stunned. Dangerous? Had he read my article? I hadn't told people to 'indiscriminately go along with their fears.' At all. quite the opposite. Had he read any of my other writing?

I was sure he was wrong. Like a solid, certain thing in my belly.

He wasn't right.

He had misunderstood at best and had me wrong. I wasn't 'guilty' of what he was saying.

The piece was well researched, and I DO have a strong background in psychology.

He was wrong.

 

It hit me like a rock:  This was just his opinion. And I didn't agree. And that was fine.

 

In fact - It was good! I wrote a long reply to his comment, clarifying my message and challenging back some of his assumptions.

I asked the opinion of trusted advisers who I knew would give it to me straight it I was bullshitting myself. But no, they agreed (and got far more annoyed than I had at the tone of the comment too!)

But I didn't even care that much - I felt elated! It was the fist time I'd felt with certainty that I was right and congruent and authentic in owning my work online.

He was entitled to his opinion. That's all it was. His opinion and I didn't agree with it. And that was fine too.

My big lesson was that the thing I was fearing was only scary if I took it on board and agreed with it on some level. And i didn't.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can only hurt me if I choose to believe them.  Tweet This!

And I have a choice in that. So do you.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you fear people may say to you?
  • Why do you believe that to be true?
  • How can you turn that around so that you have a more helpful belief instead?

Over To You

How to you respond to criticism? Does it freak you out or bounce off you like the proverbial water off a duck's back? Leave a comment and let me know.