How to Handle Professional Criticism Like a #BOSS
I’ve always been someone who takes criticism to heart. From tough coaches to red marks on essays, I’ve strived my whole life to make everyone happy, to avoid even the slightest critique in order to spare my ego. This, of course, is a natural recipe for stress and disappointment. Because, no matter how hard you try, you’ll always end up coming up short in someone’s eyes.
As a smart kid, it was relatively easy to rack up accolades. Over the years, I actually did a pretty good job avoiding criticism. And, while I thought the coast was clear the moment that college diploma was placed ceremoniously in my hand, it turns out that the real world is an even tougher critic than that sweaty chemistry professor I argued with about an erased decimal point in order to get a 98, not a 94, on my final exam.
At my first job, a sixth grade typing teacher at a public middle school in Albuquerque, I spent many afternoons (and lunch breaks) crying at my desk (and, one time, under it). From students misbehaving to older, more experienced teachers who loved to voice their opinions about my teaching style, curriculum, and wardrobe, I felt like all of the criticism I had so cunningly avoided for 21 years had just been unloaded.
And that was just the beginning.
Simultaneously, I began to publish books and yoga videos, all of which are virtual sitting ducks just begging to be torn apart by critics. I did my best to avoid seeing any of the one-star reviews or nasty YouTube comments, but, of course, you can’t filter everything. The ones I did allow myself to read sent me into a tailspin.
“I’m not good enough.”
“I can’t do this.”
The deluge of negative self-talk was real and damaging.
Wanting to escape the criticism, I sought refuge in a posh corporate office in Boulder. Here, I thought, I would be safe, warm and cozy beneath a blanket that didn’t have my name - or face - on it.
Long story short, I wasn’t.
Criticism, no matter how hard you work to avoid it, will come. And, as I learned, avoiding it only makes it more crushing when it gets handed to you, whether online or in-person.
Today, I receive more professional (and personal) criticism than I ever have before. But, surprisingly, I’ve never been happier. I’ve actually gotten really good at handling it, which has opened up new doors of opportunity and new ways of thinking I hadn’t even registered before.
Here are a few of my strategies for dealing with professional criticism like the #BOSS you are…
- Reframe it. I used to dwell on every word of criticism, picking it apart to try to uncover the hidden meaning. Now, I as quickly as possible reframe and reword the critique, writing it down so that it, not the original words, stick. I’ve found this practice so useful because it allows me to focus on what’s really important while eliminating anything that’s not. I’ve now learned to see criticism as an opportunity to grow. And, when the criticism has no value for me, I invite the opportunity to practice letting that shit go and moving on.
- Consider the source. This one is key to handling professional criticism. Always, always ask yourself where the criticism is coming from. Is it a supervisor? Is it someone you look up to? Or, is it someone that really carries no weight? Someone who isn’t an expert, who hasn’t been where you’ve been, who can’t understand what you’re doing or where you’re going? So many times the worst criticism comes from somebody that, in all honesty, doesn’t matter, especially in the big picture. When you receive criticism from someone you trust, then by all means take it seriously. But, when it’s coming from the riffraff in the bleachers, just choose to wave or, better yet, keep your head down and get back to work.
- It’s (usually) not (entirely) about you. People bring their own baggage to every single interaction. Whether there’s truth to the criticism you’re receiving or not, chances are there’s “extra” stuff in there that really isn’t about you. I always consider what the person who’s dishing out the criticism is going through - Are they under pressure from a boss? Are they bringing in personal drama? Are they hungry, angry, tired, stressed, jealous, confused, in love, thirsty? If the criticism feels especially personal or rude, chances are there’s a reason for it outside of you and your work.
- Stay positive. Every time I receive criticism about my work, I give myself a healthy dose of positivity. Little affirmations like, “At least you’re putting yourself out there, Julie!” and “It’s okay. Most people think you’re awesome. You ARE awesome” and any favorite quotes from those posters with cats stuck in trees teachers used to hang on classroom walls are surprisingly helpful. The more quickly you can course correct out of negative cycles of self-talk and self-belief, the faster you’ll be able to get back to work.
- Keep going. The biggest lesson I’ve learned about receiving professional criticism is to never let it get in the way of me doing my work. The best way to prove critics wrong is to succeed. And, the only way to succeed is to not give up.
No matter how rude (or true) the criticism might be, keep going. The only way you’ll ever get stronger is to be challenged and then to overcome that challenge again and again. As uncomfortable as criticism can be, it’s proof that you’re moving forward.