“Don’t be distracted by criticism. Remember—the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you.”
Recently, I’ve been facing an incredible amount of criticism. It seems that the more accessible my work becomes, the more critics I accumulate around me.
I thought, once upon a time, that I could just live without being criticized. Now, I realize this is an illusion. Everyone who tries to do anything gets criticized. What we get to choose is how we respond to that criticism.
One of my favourite ways out of criticism anxiety is to remind myself that I’m not alone.
Everyone faces criticism. And just because it hurts doesn’t mean it’s valuable information. Here are some famous examples of people who (quite rightly) refused to let criticism discourage them:
- The Beatles were rejected by record label after record label. One notable response was “guitar groups are on the way out” and “The Beatles have no future in show business.”
- Van Gogh put up with not only verbal criticism but also complete shunning. He only managed to sell one painting in his entire life.
- In her search to be published, J. K. Rowling received a letter that claimed, “Children just aren’t interested in witches and wizards anymore.”
- Winston Churchill’s father said that Winston was “unfit for a career in law or politics.”
- Barbra Streisand’s mother said she’d never be a singer because her voice wasn’t good enough and she’d never be pretty enough to be an actress.
- Henry Morton, the president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, commented about Thomas Edison’s light bulb: “Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.”
- A modeling agency told Marilyn Monroe: “You better get secretarial work or get married.”
- In a famous rejection letter, Rudyard Kipling was told by the San Francisco Examiner: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
- Henry Ford was told that “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”
If those people would have listened to criticism and mistaken it for valuable information, we’d be sitting in the dark, riding on horses, and saluting the Nazis.
What will the world lose out on if you allow criticism to push you down?
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Many people die with their music still in them.”
I won’t let that be me, no matter how much the words of others hurt. Join me. Don’t let it be you. Sing your song. Let yourself free. Do what you know, in your heart, you must do, and let criticism pass on like dust in the wind.
It always helps me to realize that many critics are living in an inescapable web of self-judgment inside their heads. And there are so many critics around.
We face an epidemic of insecurity and shame in our culture. Most people are overflowing with their own self-loathing to the point that, any chance they get, they give some loathing to someone else.
We see this with mothers who call their daughters names like “fat” or “ugly.” Of course the mother does not mean to harm. She is only projecting her own self-hatred onto her daughter and, perhaps, seeking to protect her daughter by telling her to do a better job meeting beauty standards.
Most professional critics sit safely behind a desk, never taking the risk to share their own creative fruits with the world. They deny the valor of courage in the same way they deny their urges to get out there and do something amazing.
The critic most likely just needs a hug, and the world needs more people who don’t listen to critics.
The world needs more people to march on bravely into the winds of adversity.
And the adversity can be so great. Everyone’s got an opinion about why I’m not good enough. I’ve been doing this work for less than a year, and I’ve been called too young, too intense, or too naive. I don’t have enough education, or I have too much energy.
More than once, an angry man begged me to turn myself down because I was “too passionate.”
You really can’t win everyone’s approval. It’s not possible and not worth it.
Nelson Mandela showed us what can happen when a person opens himself up and allows love to penetrate his heart. He reformed to the deepest fiber of his being and stood for peace, love, and forgiveness until his last day. And still, I see people saying he was “just a terrorist.”
Someone will always hate me. Someone will always hate you. What can you do? What can I do?
Show up and be real anyway. And be careful whom we listen to.
So let’s take advice from those who love, appreciate, and understand us, those who want to see us succeed and who believe in our message. Let us accept feedback from those who have given us just as much (if not more) praise.
And everyone else?
Take what’s valuable in their words, and leave the rest. Smile politely and move on. Maybe give them a hug.
But don’t dull your light because it’s disturbing those who want to sit in the dark. Turn yourself on and be free. Only you know what you’re capable of. You’ve seen it in your daydreams.
So let’s get out there and be who we are! Let’s do it together.
Because the world needs more people to just be themselves, no matter the odds.