by Kathryn Graham
“Whatever you resist you become. If you resist anger, you are always angry. If you resist sadness, you are always sad. If you resist suffering, you are always suffering. If you resist confusion, you are always confused. We think that we resist certain states because they are there, but actually they are there because we resist them.” — Adyashanti
The most common answer I’ve seen on to how to deal with criticism is “Deal with it. Grow a thick skin.” The idea is that after a while of being insulted, criticized, or dragged over the coals, you develop a kind of emotional callous (‘thick skin’). Maybe this means that one day you wake up and you’re a-okay with someone trashing you and your work. Or you’re able to discern whose opinions matter and whose don’t. Or, at least, you get better at ignoring the pain.
But does that actually happen? Does the fiftieth time a person insults your work hurt less than the first? What about all of that time in the meantime while you’re ‘toughening up’? Many writers are sensitive people. That is not a bad thing. It’s a trait like any other, and oftentimes it’s quite valuable in creative professions. However, now more than ever you’re susceptible to thousands of people’s opinions about you and your work. What can you do about it if you’re not the sort who lets things roll off their back easily?
Some might say the answer is in looking to all of the positive feedback you receive. But praise can, sometimes, be just a damaging. Seeking out compliments, engaging in behavior to receive them, or indulging the need to live up to other’s expectations can throw you off as surely as negative attention can.
The thing to remember is: The value of your work doesn’t change depending on whether other people like it or not. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “…the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.” Neither praise nor criticism are particularly useful to you as a writer except insofar as you are able to hone your craft. Might as well just let go of both of them.
But how do you make yourself believe that in your still-bleeding heart? Here’s a tool that may help you to jump off the merry-go-round of other people’s opinions.
It’s a visualization technique that uses symbols to help you let go of both the desire for praise and resistance to criticism. The following comes from Phyllis Krystal’s Book/Website: Cutting the Ties that Bind.
- Imagine you are walking across a tight rope, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, and looking straight ahead.
- Hold your arms out to each side with the palms facing up.
- Imagine a black bird over to your left that you fear may attack you.
- Resist the impulse to push it away, which would cause you to fall off the tight rope.
- Continue to walk ahead, looking to neither the right nor the left.
- Imagine a beautiful gleaming white bird over on your right side.
- Resist the desire to reach out to take hold of it, which would again cause you to fall off the tight rope.
- Continue your way across the tight rope allowing either the black bird or the white bird to land on your up-turned palm whenever it wishes.
- Allow them to stay as long as they like in your hand, to fly away, and to return in their own time without interfering. Keep walking.
Try it as often as you need. If it works, it should help you to keep your eyes on your goal without external forces knocking you off your path.
Kathryn Graham is an aspiring television writer who recently made the leap to Los Angeles. Watch as she navigates the winding paths of television. Cheers are welcome!