Awhile back something happened that really rocked me. I received my first scathing email from someone who attended a retreat I led. As I opened the email and read the first sentence, I stopped breathing and braced myself for the blow that was coming. My eyes raced through the first paragraph, trying to avoid the stinging words leaping off my computer screen. I thought the quicker I could read through it, the less it would hurt.
As I proceeded to read through the 13 paragraphs of what I did wrong, my emotions went in every direction imaginable. I felt angry, shocked, hurt and sad.
It was my worst nightmare come true…someone didn’t like me or what I had to offer. My inner people-pleaser was crushed.
My mind started racing around all the “wrong” things I did, and my thoughts spiraled to “I must be wrong,” “I must not be good enough if someone else thinks so.”
Then, the other part of my brain kicked in, my inner defender who digs her heels in the dirt, points the finger back and says, “That’s bullshit,” “She’s out of line,” “This is about her and not me.”
My thoughts continued to run rampant and the email became the last thing I thought about at night, and the first thing I thought about in the morning.
It took me a few days before I decided to revisit the email, this time with a compassionate perspective. I put myself in the messenger’s cowboy boots to see where she’s coming from.
Once I adopted the compassion angle, I realized this was a gift. I pride myself on doing a damn good job in my work, and doing the best I can, but I can’t please everyone. Thank goodness I realized this because it gave me relief. Not everyone will like me. Or be happy with me. AND THAT’S OKAY.
“Appreciate the constructive; ignore the destructive.” – John Douglas
Before I re-read the email, I burned sage, said a prayer for the messenger and myself, took a huge breath, and clicked “open.” This time my body wasn’t in fight or flight mode and I could read the words clearly without my emotions taking over. From this place, I plucked out the constructive feedback and bypassed the destructive criticism by taking deep breaths and staying present.
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Aristotle
I’ve avoided criticism most of my life and have gone extra lengths to be in the “approval” zone. For many years I played it safe, stayed under the radar, limited my exposure, and sought out relationships and scenarios I could control. That is all shifting as my desire to create and expand grows, and I realize I can’t please everyone. My growing edge is to continue putting myself out there in spite of the familiar fear, “What will they think?”
“Sandwich criticism between two layers of praise.” –Mary Kay Ash
Before and after I re-read the email, I went through testimonials on my website and feedback from other women who attended the same retreat, whom had raving reviews. Their positive reviews shored up my strength and reminded me that I don’t suck at this, and I shouldn’t throw down my toys and quit because someone doesn’t like me or what I have to offer.
“The dread of criticism is the death of genius.” –William Gilmore Simms
Now I know in my bones that I can handle criticism. It’s part of putting myself out there. I can hide and stay safe or I can rise up and keep showing up. Keep improving. Keep being true to myself and sharing my gifts.
If someone doesn’t like me, I won’t crumble as a result. Criticism allowed me to face my fear head-on, and walk through it. Many women at my retreats courageously face their fears, and through this experience, I faced mine.
My old fear is replaced by growing strength and conviction that I can handle whatever comes my way.
Only when we face our fears can we overcome them.
How do you handle criticism? I’d love to know. Share in the comments below.
Grateful, stronger, and always learning,