I’m sure you have heard the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. In my experience I have found that while this is true, the path to get to the “stronger” part isn’t so linear. More accurately what hasn’t killed me usually makes me defensive, maybe a little angry, sad, disappointed, and then (hopefully) makes me stronger.
I recently ran through this gamut of emotions with the article I wrote for the 2013 edition of Pacific Rim Magazine. I had decided on a story idea that I felt was an important one to tell. I researched it extensively, sought interviews to get a range of opinions, wrote it, self-edited it, all before the editorial team got a hold of it to carry out additional rounds of editing. I felt really good about the final copy and confident that I had represented the stories of the people I interviewed with the highest degree of integrity to ensure their thoughts and words were accurate; I was proud to see it published.
Fast forward a month or so after the magazine had been published. I was still on a bit of a publication high, and had received a good amount of positive feedback on the article. Just as my feet were making contact with the earth once again, I received an email from one of the interviewees. I admit that when I saw the email in my inbox, my ego grabbed a hold of it and had me convinced that it was more positive feedback about my article. My ego couldn’t have been more wrong. What it was, was a tirade of anger, frustration and irritation with what I had written.
I felt defensive. I felt a bit angry. Then sad. Then just disappointment mixed equally with discouragement. I wallowed in the last two for a while. I couldn’t understand how I upset someone so much by what I had written, when I had written it with such care, attention, and only the best of intentions.
It has taken me a good while to step out of my “poor me” mud hole, and into the “makes you stronger” part of that age-old saying. How did I do it? I began to trust my good intentions for the article. I revisited the reasons I chose to write on that topic, and how I wanted to help raise awareness of the issues. Everything came from a place in me that had only the best of intentions and was backed up by solid research and a rigorous editing process. I had done my absolute best, and I realized that I needed to trust in that. Additionally, it sparked discussion, and healthy debate and pushed me to consider other topics and points of view—all good and important things.
I now feel quite thankful to have received that email. It has certainly changed my feelings about criticism, and has given me some insight on how to receive it. My guess is that each time we put a piece of writing or a design out there, it will not agree with some (or many) people. But as long as we have gone into it with good intentions, and pushed ourselves to honour the process and not cut corners, we can listen, learn and adjust as necessary—and skip over to just getting stronger.