“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt said those words decades ago in the face of the great criticism faced by any First Lady. No one knows who said it but it’s true: “Everyone’s a critic.” And as we’re all painfully aware, criticism will come. Even if it’s constructive criticism, given gently, it can still hurt. Why? Because sometimes we’re faced with the realization that maybe our best isn’t good enough. Even so, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Don’t give it.
What does it mean to give your consent? It means that you’re agreeing that you’re inferior. But here’s the truth: you are not inferior. What you have done or created may not be the best that’s ever been done or created, but what you do is not who you are.
Our worth is not based on what we can or cannot do.
Recently, I had some work critiqued and found it needed some major changes. That rocked my world because I’d put so much into it. So I went through the grief stage. Really?? (you’re thinking) Over that?? Yep, really – as with anything you put your heart and soul into: a song, a painting, a relationship, a job, a business. When you do the best you can do and the reviews aren’t stellar, it can trigger the inferior thing. The thing is not to get stuck there. As we seek to pursue our visions, we’re going to face criticism – some valid and some not. So how do we handle it?
Thing One: We need to take a little time and just breathe – get some perspective. Sometimes criticism is like a sucker punch: it’s unexpected and can leave us out of breath. But we can’t get stuck there; we can’t suffocate. We need to move onto the next stage.
Thing Two: We need to evaluate the criticism: is it valid or is it not? It may not be. If it’s not, move on. If it is, how much of it is valid? Once we get a handle on that – and we may need help doing that – then we have a choice to make. Are we going to reject the valid criticism and then stay stuck where we are? Because that’s a forever proposition. Or, are we going to move onto the next thing?
Thing Three: Admit that we need to change, adjust, improve. I always tell my kids that, in order to be grateful in hard times, it helps to look at those who aren’t as fortunate as you are and then to humble yourself and count your blessings. However, when we’re looking to process criticism, we can’t focus on who (we think) we’re better than just to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we have to focus on those who have achieved what we aspire to be, and we need to start asking questions. How did they get where they are? How do they deal with criticism? How do they keep motivated? And what, specifically, do they do that you don’t yet know how to do? Think of it this way: two year olds can’t do what ten year olds can do – but does that mean they never will? Just because we can’t do something now doesn’t mean we’ll never be able to do that thing.
We need to remind ourselves constantly that we are not what we do. That means that when what we do crashes and burns, who we are will not crash and burn with it. I’m a teacher but someday I won’t be. If I think I am what I do, I’ll never have the courage to retire and not be a teacher anymore – and that means I’ll never move onto the next chapter in my life.
We are not what we do. I have that written on a couple of post-it notes placed in strategic places because remembering that gives me the courage to keep on trying, to take a risk and to put my writing out there again. And again. And however many times it takes. Because what is life without risk?