Saturday, June 19, 2010

Balancing Act

A literary agent's blog I follow has been running a series on finding the right balance between accepting criticism and praise (for writers). A thought-provoking conundrum for real life, too, don't you think?

Most of us feel as though we get much more criticism than praise, or at least we remember the criticism more clearly and often have trouble deleting it's repurcussions from our perception of ourselves. It's a shame, really, because in reality, we get praise from all kinds of sources that we barely notice at the time and certainly don't deposit in our self-esteem banks:

"Great dinner, Mom!"
"That looks nice on you, dear."
"I wouldn't trust this important project with anyone else."
"You're my BFF!"

And yet all the implied compliments, love, and trust are wiped out by one flippant negative remark:

"Don't be rediculous."
"You've got to be kidding me - you really don't get it?"
"My grandmother has a skirt just like that."
"How are you planning to shrink the skin back up now that you've lost weight?"

(Believe it or not, that last one was a real comment I received after a speaking gig.)

And so many times we're deathly afraid of receiving criticism - even helpful, necessary criticism that would help us refine, revise and perfect our skills.

An example would be yesterday when I lead group of neighborhood gals in a Bible Study lesson I wrote and wanted critiqued for possible publication. During the six months we've been meeting weekly, these lovely ladies have become dear friends, so what was I afraid of? I don't know, but I sure was. I was nervous as a cat at a dog show and held my breath at the end after the last prayer was said and I knew comments would follow.

Of course they were kind, and the helpful suggestions for improvement were framed sensitively and Oreo'ed between praise. Yet I'd erected my inner steel wall and braced myself for arrows.

It guess life's just a balancing act in many ways, and learning to accept and internalize praise (not brush it off or overlook it) and downplay criticism (all I could do about the weight loss/wrinkle dig was laugh it off) are just part of rehearsal.

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