While receiving comments and critiques on the quality of my interviewee-ship during my Academic Decathlon class, I was genuinely surprised to hear the things I heard from my classmates. One comment was especially surprising: there didn’t seem to be a time when I didn’t sound “smart.”
I’m fully aware that I’ve done less-than-smart things and made my share of mistakes, yet there is someone who recognizes something positive about me. Even when a classmate went around showing a photo of me pulling a drone out of a girl’s hair afterwards (my deepest, sincerest apologies to her!!), I was still rather stunned—but immensely grateful—for those words. Along with a number of affirmations I’ve received over the years, I’ve filed them away in the corner of my mind to dig out whenever I feel as if I’m unworthy of any amount of kindness. Unworthiness is something we all manage to feel, no matter how many things we’ve already accomplished. But sometimes we feel it far too often.
It’s normal to feel guilt from criticism with the intensity of an earthquake or more, and sometimes it’s hard to live out the waves of aftershocks. Even when we acknowledge our faults and our propensity to fail (my email is open if you’re perfect and need a public relations agent), we are constantly criticizing ourselves and the people around us. Of course without criticism, we’d never realize we had potential for something better; but at what point does criticism become crippling?
As someone who is often too self-aware, it’s fairly easy for me to buckle and spill out apologies for every small inconvenience. I think we can all admit having days when we’ve toyed with the idea that someone, somewhere, is keeping tabs on how many times we’ve said “I’m sorry” (for me this someone laughs with a pen and clipboard at hand, imagining how much my self-deprecating apologies would be worth if they were cleverly printed on greeting cards). People as sensitive to judgment never want to inconvenience others, but more often than not it will appear to us that we’re the most inconvenient people to ever exist. Something as small as rambling on about something we love becomes grounds for apologizing, like we aren’t allowed to share our thoughts without sounding wrong for it. As long as you have a voice in your head and there happens to be other humans with their own voices who will experience you, judgment will exist.
How we deal with judgment determines our success, especially if you’re someone who hopes to leave something great in this world. Criticism is really only as crippling as we make it out to be.
This is a skill we all struggle with in some way (including me. yes, definitely including me), whether you’re an artist staring at a blank canvas or a researcher staring at a blinking cursor. You could have a completely revolutionary idea, but how would anyone know about it if it never left the comfort of your mind? As long as you know you’ve put your best foot forward, it shouldn’t hurt so much if someone shut a door on it. For every one person you think will shut you down, there will be another person who sees something great in you or your work. Learn to learn from the former while keeping track of those who fit the latter. Eventually you’ll find yourself saying “thank you” more than “I’m sorry.”
to patch a hole
you have to
poke the needle