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When People Say Mean Things

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” 
-Aristotle

 I’ve never taken personal criticism well. I’ll admit it.

When someone suggests that I’m hopeless at volleyball (very true), or basketball (equally true) or hints that the color I’m wearing is not the most flattering against my complexion (rarely true), I’m crushed. It could even be an innocuous aside about the odd taste of the cookies I bake. Heck, it doesn’t even take criticism to set me back; sometimes I’m hurt by the absence of flattery. I have a hard time letting it go. In fact, I’m still trying to heal from some of the wounds I received over the years.

The mental catalogue of insults I recall dates back to some point in the third grade when a classmate informed me that he thought I was too obsessed with my hair (The fact that I deep conditioned, brushed one-hundred strokes at night, and spent most of cursive writing class twirling it around my fingers had nothing to do with it…)

Of course, most of us could fill a memoir with the disparaging comments we collected during middle school (most of mine occurred during the Age of the Braces, during which time I could have replaced Rudolph and guided Santa’s sleigh simply by grinning).

Everyone has to deal with criticism, and it hurts no matter who you are.

It’s easy to assume that celebrities are immune to the sting of off-putting comments or insulting write-ups. So what if Perez Hilton suggested fill-in-the-blank-with-any-female-pop-diva looks like she’s entering her third trimester…with twins? She can just drown her sorrows in her mansion amongst her lavish furnishings and platinum records while watching money pour into her bank account. But of course that’s not true. Even the beautiful and gifted Whitney Houston battled insecurities her whole life.

It can be especially hard to handle disapproval that is aimed at your art. Creative people put their heart and soul on display for others to see. And to judge.  It is the personal nature of art that makes barbs a whole lot harder to bear. A scathing comment about an artist’s painting is like saying their newborn could be the stunt double for ET. It hurts.

The other day I received some feedback on a story I’d written. I thought I’d done a good job. He didn’t. In fact, I’m pretty sure his only positive remark was that it was short. After reading pages and pages of comments describing, in detail, the shortcomings of the work and of me for writing it, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of writing anything else. Ever again.

But of course, I’m writing this blog and that proves otherwise.

The reality is, anyone who creates anything is going to be evaluated, and often criticized. But to get better at our craft we must resolve to learn from constructive input and then try not to obsess about the rest.

If artists throughout history let negative feedback deter them from creating, the Louvre would be empty, the radio would be nothing but static, film and TV wouldn’t exist and we’d be stuck reading the dictionary.

Don’t let bad reviews keep you from doing what you love. After all, it’s much easier to criticize than to create.