Taking Criticism, part 1: Be ready for it

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Whether it be an employer, a client, a friend, an editor, an anonymous jack-ass on the internet, you, a creative person, need to be able to handle it when someone says they don’t like your stuff.

And not only do you need to be able to handle it, you need to do so without putting up defenses that block out good feedback. That negative opinion can and should be put to good use making the work better.

The creative mind, like water

Be ready for criticism. What’s ‘ready’? It doesn’t mean tensed and prepared for impact. That’s a good way to get hurt. The ideal mental state for receiving criticism is to have a “mind like water”.

In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriate to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

If the critiquer’s comment has a clear, constructive purpose, there will be many ripples. Whether you agree with what’s said or not, each comment represents a possible way to improve your work. Since your goal is to create the best work possible, you’re obligated to consider all avenues of possible improvement.

However, if the comment is vague or without point (even if it’s positive), there should be no ripples. The point of criticism is to learn from your audience and to improve. If they aren’t providing you with practical feedback, there’s nothing to be learned, and therefore nothing should disturb the pond.

This is an ideal mental state. Unfortunately, it’s more typical for empty and useless comments to cause more ripples, to falsely inflate or deflate the ego.

Links

The “Mind Like Water” Simile - Ana Maria Gonzalez

"Taking Criticism" - a Google search