Recently I wrote about resilience as a tool to combat failure. Resilience can be difficult to implement, but that does not imply that it is difficult to comprehend. By the time we are hitting rock bottom, we're usually pretty open to any idea that might help induce a rebound.
This week, I want to focus on a related topic: Criticism. How do you handle criticism? Even more specifically, how do you process criticism and implement change? The number one skill that will determine how well you perform in life is how you process criticism.
Perhaps a child who is fussed over gets a feeling of destiny; he thinks he is in the world for something important, and it gives him drive and confidence. -Dr. Spock
In the 21st century we have been fed lies since birth. We believe that as individuals and as a nation we are exceptional based purely on our biological fortune in the cosmic lottery. America was born to greatness as a result of generations of hard work, and there is no natural law that dictates that it remain that way by virtue or simple momentum. We as individuals are no exception. If you want to be the best and offer something to others, you have to be able to accept that not everything you do is great and that there is always room to improve.
Contrary to Dr. Spock's quote, drive and confidence don't come from positive reinforcement and coddling, they come from failing, processing external and internal input on that failure and pressing on to a successful outcome. Wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from making mistakes.
Increasingly, I see a lot of young, unaccomplished, unskilled (although sometimes over-educated) people demanding that they be addressed with respect in the work place. This may seem like the direction civilization is going and that we need to adapt our teaching/mentoring styles to accommodate these sensitive young up and comers. I think that is doing them and ourselves a great disservice. This weakening of society's overall ability to process dissonance and respond to it rationally and productively is the root of a whole variety of problems in our world today.
If the shoe fits, you need to put it on and walk in it.
Recognizing that I may be coming off as a grumpy asshole, I will say that I WAS exactly the person described above when I went to work in the oil fields of West Texas at the age of 20. I was weaker, dumber, less experienced, and less efficient than all my peers. Yet my view of myself was pretty much 180* from that. Luckily, no one coddled me. In fact, I was submitted to a constant stream of criticism and corrective training. I didn't like it, but I didn't have a lot of options if I wanted to keep making $20/hour, 80 hours/week to cater to my expensive tastes. I developed thick skin to avoid taking harsh words personally. I learned to filter what was valid from what was based on personality conflict. Most importantly, I learned how to implement changes based on the valid criticism I received.
Son, this world is rough and if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough...
Shel Silverstein (I bet you didn't know he wrote "A boy named Sue", did you?) was on to something when he wrote about the trials his protagonist, Sue, encountered because of his feminine name. Sue, was criticized his entire life for having that name, and it turned him into a tough and resilient adult. I'm not saying he processed the criticism well, but it did shape who he was. Perhaps a more productive method for processing criticism would look like this:
1. Listen to criticism. Too many of us shut down anytime someone starts to be critical of our efforts. We need to listen to our critics or we limit our potential for improvement.
2. Acknowledge the criticism without taking it personally. The second we start to take criticism personally, the second we are emotionally invested in resisting change. Whether someone has a valid argument or is attacking you for personal reasons, we owe it to ourself to not become emotionally invested in our response.
3. Weigh the criticism against your intent and your results. Now you have a list of dispassionate complaints. Recognizing that it is often difficult for critics to understand intent, you need to filter these criticisms against your desired goals, and most importantly your actual effectiveness in accomplishing those goals.
4. Accept valid criticism and develop a plan to implement changes. Are the criticisms valid? Here's a little surprise, they often are in some vein. Can they help you tighten your shot group? How do you shift gears, adjust fire, and implement these changes to be a better version of yourself? Figure that out.
5. Let go of the parts that are not helpful. If you hold onto criticisms you will find yourself paralyzed. Once you have processed criticism and developed a path forward, let the incident and its deliverer go.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
We love Theodore Roosevelt's speech, "The man in the arena". It is inspirational, but it should be remembered that it was also spoken by a wealthy and privileged man who had the fortune of being able to spin any defeat as a victory. Criticism has huge value for anyone looking to progress personally and professionally. In my mind, the critic and the man in the arena both play crucial roles in success. We mortal souls should strive valiantly, but also listen to our detractors so that we enjoy the "triumph of high achievement" without the ignominy of repeated failure.