“Criticism is something you can avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Too often, we come home from our long days of school, work, and taking care of our loved ones and collapse into a heaping mass of exhaustion. However, sometimes this exhaustion is manifested mentally, as opposed to physically. You’re not tired because you ran a marathon, or because you slept too few hours. You’re exhausted because you’ve spent yet another day bending over backwards and contorting yourself into a tiny box. This box is your attempt to make yourself smaller and quieter, so people won’t notice you. This way, you think to yourself, you won’t be open to their criticisms and judgements. You think that by blending in, you can avoid the belittling words of strangers and colleagues, so you try to make yourself as indiscernible as you can. However, as Aristotle said, there is essentially no way an individual can completely avoid criticism. A majority of us are obsessed with how others see us through their lenses, with things unsaid about us, things said about us, and things said to us. We dissect peoples’ every word and tone, and are sucked into a storm of self-effacement and destructive self-criticism.
Admittedly, minimizing this pattern of thinking isn’t easy. I remember once in a writing class, I submitted a preliminary draft to my professor on a paper that was due. A couple of days later, she returned it. The draft looked like a red pen had exploded all over it, leaving its remains on my draft that I had spent so laboring over. The professor told me that the approach that I used wasn’t the best to convey the argument that I was trying to make, and that I should evaluate the topic from a different angle. I was devastated, and took it as a hit against my intellect and my own self-worth. I thought that I wasn’t fit for the institutional collegiate power games. This extended into thinking that I was inadequate in every aspect of my life, not just how I interpreted Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Taking a step back, I realized two things. First off, I had no control over people’s words, only how I would respond in a situation. Second, the criticism highlighted my own limiting thoughts, which expounded the weight of the criticism. Criticism is usually hard to take, even if it’s from someone who genuinely wants to see you do well and wants to help you improve. It helps to keep the following in mind:
It makes you sit with discomfort, and to be comfortable with it. The favorite quote of the Navy SEALS, this mindset reminds you that it’s okay that criticism hurts. However, sitting with it, and thinking it over, instead of reacting impulsively, conditions you to be more mindful about how you approach it, and other similar issues in life.
It allows for you to genuinely grow as a person, both intellectually and emotionally. Criticism is usually a chance for you to improve your craft, or to better hone in your skills. Intellectually, this will help the quality of your work. Emotionally, it tells those that we are accepting the criticism from that we are open to improvement, and that we value their help.
It fosters a sense of humility. Criticism reminds us that we don’t know everything, and are not always the best at everything that we do, and that is okay. It teaches us that everyone has something to teach us, and that sometimes accepting help from those around us can help us grow as an individual. We don’t always need to be right 100% of the time, and the acceptance of that is the first step towards a deeper growth.
It is a practice in self-confidence. Allowing yourself to move on after receiving criticism, as well as knowing how to discern which criticisms help improve you, versus which ones do not serve you, allows you to be more confident in your decisions. It allows you to come to terms with the acceptance of your own imperfections as a human being, which is crucial in allowing yourself to be happy, confident, and at peace with yourself.