Archive for November 2020

On Taking Criticism

I am what I would call a non-famous public person. What do I mean by that? I mean that I have jobs where people publicly review my work. As a college instructor, I receive student reviews. Some of them get read internally at our school, and some of them get posted publicy. And they’re attached to my name. They’re not some product where people might just know my company or my brand. They know me, and they’re reviewing me. As an author, my books get reviewed. Some of those reviews are by editors and official reviewers internal to the publisher. Some of those reviews are by email. But most of those reviews are posted online. As a software developer and hobbyist podcaster I also get public reviews.

To anyone in a personalized creative field who cares deeply about their work, bad reviews hurt. It’s not just about being sensitive (although I am sensitive and that doesn’t help). It’s that when you really pour your heart into something, as I do my teaching for example, then the product is an extension of you. Nobody would deny that the way a class or a book turns out is an extension of the personality, knowledge, and ability of the teacher/author. And when the product is criticized, it’s like you are being criticized.

My dad, who was also a college instructor, and the producer of nine books and nine instructional videos among many other public creative ventures, had a very thin skin. He couldn’t stand me reading him a bad review. That stuck with me. This very accomplished man, couldn’t stand even a little criticism. When I get too sensitive, I try to remember how his inability to accept criticism hurt some of his products. He was much more about getting things done than doing them perfectly. If he had a little bit more of a perfectionist streak in him, he would have done even better. But maybe he would have done less…

It doesn’t matter if I receive eighteen great reviews for a class. It’s the words of the two bad reviews that stick with me. And do you know why? Because almost always there’s a kernel of truth to those reviews. Does that mean we should listen to them? Well if I only listened to the bad reviews, I would never produce anything. I would just stay in bed. The fact is the people who are getting no bad reviews, are the people who are not taking the risk of putting themselves out there. So, we have to not let ourselves get so discouraged that we stop producing. And we have to remember that while we may not have served those two students well, we may have served those other eighteen students better than they would have been served in a world without us teaching them.

We can’t please every student or every customer. Nothing that gets watched/read by more than a few people is going to be liked by all of them. Even Mother Theresa would get a downvote on YouTube. So, if we’re serving the majority, we don’t want to let the critiques of a few steer us in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, being like my dad is dangerous too. No, the customer is not always right. But usually the customer has a point. We have to always be working to get better. Because we’re not perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. And we need to read those bad reviews to find those spaces for improvement. It doesn’t mean they’re right, but it does mean we need to think about them.

My dad accomplished an amazing amount. If he let those bad reviews slow him down too much, it’s very possible he would have not accomplished as much. But if he could have found a few tweaks, a few changes, to serve a few customers better, well then he could have grown through them. I want to grow, but I also don’t want to stop. So, I can’t let the reviews get me too down, but I have to read them.

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