QUESTION OF THE DAY: HOW DO YOU COPE WITH CRITICISM?
A reader asked me this question the other day on my wall, and I've been pondering it. I wanted to answer as best I could, and then open it up for a general discussion — so by all means, please share your own thoughts on the subject, OK?
As for me, it depends on whether the criticism is professional or personal.
I have a much thicker skin when it comes to professional criticism than personal criticism. I've always understood that it's impossible (and perhaps even unfair) to put something out in the world without allowing other people to have opinions about it. If I get to speak publicly, in other words, then they get to speak publicly, too. Sometimes people's reaction to my work will be warm, sometimes it will be ambivalent, sometimes it will be dismissive, sometimes it will be positively hateful. And thanks to the magic of the Internet, I CAN FIND OUT WHAT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD THINKS OF ME AT ANY TIME OF DAY! (Which you must never do, by the way, unless you are deeply invested in making yourself terribly unhappy.)
I keep on doing my work, anyhow despite criticism. And I've been on the business end of some really majestic denigration over the years, too. Especially after "Eat Pray Love". But I keep writing. I do my work not from a place of "I'll show those bastards!" but from a personal certainty that I have a job to do, and that I must stick with it. We all have a job in life; writing books happens to mine. It's nothing personal; it's just true. Whatever happens to those books after I publish them is none of my business. People can jump up and down on my books all day, but I still have to make the things. Also, I know this: My critics will write their angry words about me, publish those angry words, tuck their children into bed, have a glass of wine, watch TV and go to sleep…and then never really think about me again. So I shouldn't dwell on them, either. It's just an inhale and an exhale — a natural part of the human process — and then it's done.
So, as I always say on this page: ONWARD.
As for personal criticism, though? That's harder. The more intimately I know and love you, the more your criticism will hurt me. And the worse my reaction will be to it, I am sorry to say. If you are a loved one of mine, your criticism will sometimes shut me down, sometimes it will enrage me, sometimes it will make me close my heart to you, sometimes it will cause me to rush to my own defense — perhaps even hysterically and irrationally. I wish to do better in this regard, and I'm always looking to learn how.
My best teacher of recent years has been my friend Rayya Elias (www.rayyaelias.com — and a kick-ass writer!) who is better at this kind of stuff than anyone I know. I've watched and studied as she sticks with her friends and family during such hard moments, openly listening to their criticisms, and honestly asking herself, "Does this person have a point?" Rayya is the one who has taught me (by her shining example) the lesson of always checking in with yourself during a tense situation to make sure that "your side of the street is clean." Because that's all you can do — keep your own side of the street clean. Do you owe someone an apology? Have you behaved less than honorably? Is there something you need to admit to, or fix? Is part of the problem coming from you? Maybe all of it? Maybe none of it? I have watched over they years in awe as my friend Rayya patiently, calmly, fairly unpacks her disputes and divides up responsibility — this part is hers, this part is his, this part is mine. By doing so, she gets to keep her friends, and keep her head. So I try to follow in her footsteps on this, though I'm still a novice!
Bottom line though…after you have done all that honest work (after you have taken ownership for yourself, and cleaned up your side of the street, and made the amends that need to be made) if the person is still criticizing you? Well, then you have no choice but to carry on with your life and let it go, leaning heavily on this brilliant quote from Gandhi that I once had engraved on a charm, so I could wear it around my neck:
"I WILL NOT LET ANYONE WALK THROUGH MY MIND WITH THEIR DITRY FEET."
You know what I'm going to say now, right?
And please share your own thoughts and wisdom!
ps — the painting of the serene floating bull is, as always, by the great artist Caitlin Hurd. www.caitlinhurd.com