Oh how I giggled when I heard these very specific words coming from the face of a very specific speaker of the well known variety. I shrilled loudly first, and then kee-keed. Then I stopped the video so I could rewind it and hear it again. She said,
If you’re gonna go in the arena, you’re gonna get your ass kicked. That’s the nature of showing up. If you’re not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback. Period.
I was so giddy hearing those words, you would have thought that Yeezus himself had announced his second coming, or rather, his return– to his refreshing quasi-political Jesus Walks/”George Bush don’t care about Black people” days. But alas, that hadn’t happened. It was only that I happened upon a Brene Brown talk that she gave at a 99U conference roughly 2 years ago. The topic was about why your critics don’t matter. Now keep in mind, 99U is supposedly a tribe of creatives/entrepreneurs who focus on the perspiration part of making their ideas happen. Their catch phrase is a quote from Thomas Edison, Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I can’t exactly say I agree, mostly cause I know a lot of folk who spend their whole days sweating and they’re still no closer to genius than they are to the sun, but I’ll digress. I’m not here to quibble about folk points of view. But I can exactly say, as a creative, 99% of our fear, doubt, worry and gaaaah! comes from how we believe our work will be received. Maybe I’m the only one… … … but I know I’m not.
I’ve been around enough creatives to know that sharing our work, particularly if it truly comes from an open, vulnerable place, is akin to wanting to slice one’s wrist open with a screwdriver. The anticipation of how we’ll be received–yes, WE. Our work is an extension of our very selves. And what people say, even if we claim to not care, can be the difference between our continuing on our creative path and sharing more or curling up in a tight ball with some Ben and Jerry’s for the rest of our creative lives. I also know that it takes a lot of courage, yes, courage, to be truly, outlandishly creative in a world that so adores the status quo. The people who find the courage to innovate, trailblaze and grow their creative crafts in whatever way they must to get their blasted hearts to leave them a lone at night, show up even when showing up is excruciatingly painful. The folk who haven’t found the courage to do so, tend to morph into these really interesting humans that are sometimes called trolls or more kindly, critics.
But what I love about what Brene says is that criticism isn’t the evil here. Criticism can be constructive and LOVEing. Anyone who wants to do anything worthwhile can benefit from some good old fashioned feedback, particularly if that feedback is coming from a decent place and from someone who truly has a heart for your greatness. These people can be perfect strangers, loving family or your bestest friends. As long as they want to see you win as much as you do, hearing that feedback, however hard it is to hear or however harsh the delivery of the person giving it, can be good for growth. I’ve benefited tremendously over the years from those who cared enough and were brave enough to share their insights with me, even if it felt like someone was telling me my baby was ugly. Which she isn’t, but you get it.
Similarly, trolls, *ehem* critics, can come in any form also. They can be internet gangsters who pop hate from the comfort of behind their computer screens or “friends” who can’t find their supportive gene and even blood relations who love to tell you what you should be doing, based entirely on their breadth of experience of doing exactly nothing in the direction of their own dreams. You see, some folk don’t know how to be encouraging, because people can only see the world through the same lens they see themselves. It’s mighty complicated to encourage someone stepping out in the direction of their dreams, when their own dreams are covered under years and years of mud and muck. I’ll digress again here.
Does that mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater? YES. I mean, not exactly. What I love about how Brene says about critics and the criticism that comes with them, is the litmus test is whether or not the feedback is coming from someone sticking their necks out in the creative arena also. Or are they “in the cheap seats” calling plays, while the players are getting their actual asses handed to them. The difference is, I believe, if you too are showing up. If you too are sticking your neck out. If you too are doing the work required in the direction of what you’re called to do on this planet, then you know exactly what it feels like to be out here. You know the pain and anxiety of being a person stepping out on faith and the hurt that happens when your dreams are crushed to dust. You know what’s it’s like to be almost there, but missing a crucial element. You know what’s its like to not feel encouraged or to be afraid, but to still go for it anyway. You know what it takes to be a dreamer AND a doer, that also wants to be a beneficial presence on this planet. You know what it’s like to blaze your own trail or see a vision nobody else sees. You know what it’s like to feel like an island. And so when you know all of that, cause you’re in the arena too, getting your ass kicked too, you know how valuable kind, affirmative, authentic, constructive feedback is to the growth of the dreamer in action, yes? The dynamic of the interaction changes because you too, have skin in the game and you too are just as vulnerable. So the courage you show to share said constructive feedback, takes on a much different tone, than say, I dunno, a troll. *ehem* I mean, a critic. I’m also a firm believer that you get back what you put out. But that’s a whole other post, for a whole other diatribe.
The point here is this. We can solve 99% of our “hater” problems if we each follow this simple set of rules. Actually, this one rule said a few different ways: Show up or shut up. If you ain’t in the game, you can’t call the play. Or my favorite, you’re either in or you’re out *Heidi Klum voice*. No matter which way you say it, we’re all here to contribute our unique and fabulous gifts to this world stage. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. The universe don’t make no extra parts. The trick here is, you have to show up every single day, in your own unique way, to contribute those unique gifts to the world. That’s your part. If you are unwilling to do your part, you don’t get to have an opinion of how somebody else shows up every day to do theirs. If you’re unwilling to jump in the arena to get your ass kicked too, those of us who are, have no interest in your feedback. We know you’re there. We see you. We hear you. But we ain’t buying what you’re selling boo, cause it’s not coming from an honest place. Just like we don’t take financial advice from broke people, fashion advice from a naked people or relationship advice from Voldemorts, nobody of sound mind has time to take dream living advice from a troll *ehem*, I mean, critics.
Yours with LOVEing Skin in the Game,
Your turn. What do you say? How do you handle criticism of your work? Do you consider the source? Throw shade/a fit? Eat chocolate? How do you handle giving criticism? Do you just keep it to yourself or brave the (impending) storm and tell folk what you know? The more we share, the more we grow, yes? Let’s Disqus below.
P.S. As you know, Monday is MLK Day (of Service). One of my dear spirit brothers, friend in the struggle, author, speaker and activist, Kevin Powell, challenged some of we women creatives to lend our points of view about freedom and womanhood for BKNation.org. Kevin and His team put together what will prove to be a brilliant and very special Dr. King holiday package of blogs, videos, and podcasts called WE DREAM TOO: If Women and Girls Ruled The World. When you get the opportunity, check it out!