Finding the Sweetness in Criticism

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.

23 thoughts on “Finding the Sweetness in Criticism

  1. Marion Youngblood

    What a beautiful and absolutely inspiring post! Criticism is a tough one and to see your demonstration of how to turn it around to sweetness is just incredible. I am printing this baby out and putting it in a file for later…cause there’s no time to play it safe! Thank you for this.

  2. Mackie Schaars

    Excellent post and insight, Terry. It is amazing, isn’t it, how we can get 1000 comments of praise for a speech, a concert, a book….yet if there is one negative comment, that is the one we hook up with and let roll around in our minds without end. Cheers to your cheerleader…and the cheerleader in all of us!

  3. Caren Albers

    I’m working on being “full-throttle Caren.” When met with critics I say (usually with complete sincerity☺)”thanks for the feedback” and move one without defending. A great first step for me. Very freeing!

  4. Sarah Bamford Seidelmann

    Damn it feels good to mind my own bizzzzznessssss, lol!! I LOVE this post. I think its kinda cool how the (complaining) person actually gets a personal message from you and a refund- cause my hunch is that is exactly what she needed. The world works so perfectly when we step into the FLOW ZONE.

  5. Terry Post author

    Yes, Sarah–I think you nailed it–my hunch is that she needed to feel “right” about it all, which is fine by me. In her world, she was right. Letting go of my longstanding need to control public opinion of me is just as you say–feels so good!

  6. Terry Post author

    That’s the key, isn’t it Caren–moving on without defending. Tough lesson for a former defense lawyer, LOL.

  7. hatt

    love this! Both open to feedback, and not stuck in unproductive defense mode from the unsightly need to be right all the time! Great post Terry!

  8. Kathy

    What a wonderful post, Terry:)

    As a freelance writer who is in the process of transitioning into college teaching, your words couldn’t have been better timed!

    Last semester, on the days when my confidence was a bit shaky, I would take a small picture of my parents to class and put it on the podium before class began.

    Next semester, in addition to the picture, I’m going to make sure I have a copy of paragraph #6 from your post to read before class, too.

    Thank you for putting the experience into words.

  9. Leah

    Dear Terry – The timing and spot-on relevance is a gift. Thank you for helping to make me more courageous. “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.” The irony is that you sharing this story about maintaining true to the independence of your own solitude makes me feel less alone, in the crowd, in the solitude of my own. Thank you!

  10. Leah

    The other quote I thought of when reading this is, “If 100% of the people you encounter are happy with your work 100% of the time – you are probably not doing Great Work.” This has was a very helpful paradigm shift for me – instead of letting certain people’s disapproval/lack of buy-in/criticism complete deflate me, I can now choose to use it as affirmation that I am closer to being on my path to Great Work.

  11. Micki McCartney

    Hi Terry,

    I must preface my comment by saying: My reflection of your workshop, Awaken Your Natural Intuition—How to Tune It In and Turn It On! is absolutely Not in defence of your workshop or you. I simply want to say as someone who attended the workshop and have been thinking about it ever since, this: Most who know me, work with me would describe me as an intuitive person. I have survived and thrived in my life due to trusting my intuition. I found this class fantastic! I learned what intuition is not, and how to absolutely recognize it in a way I have never understood before-I simply Am intuitive, and act on my intuition.

    As far as you’re going over time well I say, H E double hockey sticks, I could have listened ( and I am sure learned) to you for another three hours! I think if I’d been time challenged, a quiet hang up would have been fine to do…tell me if I am wrong.

    I’ve been meaning to send you note and just noticed your new post in my RSS feed. Thank you Terry, I loved your intuition workshop and your post on your own learning around criticism is helpful and a good reminder to not let the good opinions of others, become our opinion of ourselves. Love to you Terry.


  12. Terry Post author

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write about both the class and this piece. I appreciate it!
    Love to you, too.

  13. Maria Frias

    I think it’s Bryon Katie who said (and I paraphrase) that, Crticism is always a chance to learn and to ask yourself, is it true? and then, check our where in your life the criticism is true and learn from it. Love your post Terry. I guess Intuition talk is not for everyone. For me, it’s quite new to look into and I appreciated your tele-class.

    Your response to the critic was great. 100% satisfaction guarantee is always rewarding to you more than to your customer. Kudos for taking the high road.

    Lastly, I love that you named your inner critic and inner cheerleader rather than just your lizard….you just gave me a great idea to emulate. Thanks for your mentoring.

  14. Sara

    Hi Terry,

    I’m absolutely basking in your beautiful words! This is nurturing me in SO many ways, on so many levels. I’ll try to explain without going into too much detail.

    Yesterday, I was browsing online, and “stumbled upon” a free download from one of my favorite coaches. As I listened, it became obvious to me that the client being coached on the recording was actually someone I knew from coach training, and boy did she have a bone to pick with me, which she expressed very candidly to her coach ON THAT RECORDING. I was stunned. Mortified. My body hurt all over. I thought I was open to feedback, but actually hearing someone tell one of my favorite coaches that MY coaching was terrible. That was hard.

    And what I love now is that after doing some work to get to my truth – feeling my body, staying present, and questioning my own stressful thoughts about it – now here I got to “stumble upon” your brilliant post. My absolute favorite thing that you shared here is the truth that when I’m in my business, my heart is free to sing to me. And when I’m in my STORY about what someone says about me, my ears can’t hear the song my heart is singing.

    And I also feel strangely thankful for the entire experience! I get to realize WHY my coaching was so terrible at the time, and I get to decide what my truth is about that now. I get to decide if I’m going to believe the thoughts that hurt or if I’m going to allow in my truth.

    You’re amazing. 🙂 You have done all of us a wonderful service by sharing with us in this way.

    Sara E

  15. Andrea

    Thank you Sara for sharing your story! Since I chose to be in the vulnerable place of the coach training your words are very helpful!

    And thanks Terry for providing this place for exchange!

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