I recently taught a telecourse on how to develop your intuition. I spent weeks preparing it and was pleased with the result. It was fun to do, well attended, and afterward, I received many enthusiastic thank-you emails and Facebook posts. It felt great.
But one email was quite critical. In this attendee’s opinion, I’d done a lousy job, gave lousy examples to illustrate my points, and took longer than the advertised time. It was a very lengthy and detailed commentary, and it was directed to Martha Beck, Inc., who sponsored the call, rather than to me. Ouch.
In the not too distant past, I would have stewed about this for days. My stomach would have hurt, and I would have stayed focused on it, disconnected from my good feelings of accomplishment. Then, I would have dealt with my discomfort by putting on my metaphoric power suit and stilettos, and summoning Portia, my Inner Lawyer. Portia would have searched for technicalities and loopholes, and argued an impassioned and detailed case for my defense. My response to the writer would have taken hours to prepare. Honestly, I really would have gone to that much trouble.
Happily, Portia is kicking back these days, and allowing Susie Q, my Inner Cheerleader, to fill her old role. Susie pointed out that with over a hundred people on the call, and such a subjective and mysterious topic, it was not surprising that someone would have disagreed with me. Susie suggested that I focus on all of the compliments I received, send a simple note to the unhappy party, thanking her for writing, apologizing for the call going overtime, and offering her money back.
So that’s what I did. And then I let it go. And it felt good. I was weirdly grateful to the writer. She had a valid point about my going overtime and I’ll be more mindful of that in the future. But more importantly, I was grateful for the opportunity to practice this simple principle: that other people’s opinions of us are their business, not ours, and when we stay in our own business, we are the happiest and the most productive. When we stay in our business, our hearts are free to sing to us, and to guide us to what pleases us in the most deeply meaningful ways.
When we move into more public arenas in the world, staying in our own business is imperative. This applies to any form of expression, whether it’s with words, paint, clay, or another form. When we express ourselves openly, when we reveal our truth, we’re bound to encounter those who disagree with us. We have a choice at that point. We can go back to being small and quiet. We can play it safe, water it down, avoid controversy. We can focus on the criticism and lose connection with our souls. Or we can continue to connect with the places inside us that want to be heard, accepting the risk of not pleasing everyone.
Emerson spoke of this almost 200 years ago in his essay, Self-Reliance: “You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
So what about you? Which choice are you making? These days, I’m choosing to walk into the crowd with the same independence as if I were in solitude, whispering only to myself. And, as Ralph Waldo said, it’s pretty sweet.