Annual Reviews. Six month reviews. Weekly check ins. Three hundred and sixty degree feedback. Emails. Instant messengers. The modern workplace is an environment of constant feedback (whether you want it or not). I won’t even get into the dangerous feedback loop that is social media. But with current technology and the speed of communication, criticism and feedback is offered to the modern employee, artist, writer, athlete, etc. in a constant stream that can sometimes be debilitating.
However, contrary to some beliefs, not all criticism is useful. But our society has swung the pendulum to far side of acceptance when it comes to listening to other’s thoughts of our work. Do we need to keep an open mind and listen to criticism? Absolutely. But does that mean that everyone’s opinion of what we are doing is important or insightful? Absolutely not.
So how do we learn to let go of criticism that we have listened to and considered but know needs to be discarded? How do we keep it from bouncing around inside of our heads and stopping us from instead focusing on the work that we need to do? The two people who I believe who have phrased it best in fact have lived thousands of years apart.
Buddha: If someone gives you a gift and you choose not to receive it, to whom then does the gift belong?
Bozoma Saint John: Sometimes critics are just people who can’t see the world the way you see it.
Both of these quotes very simply highlight the fact that criticism in and of itself is not valuable. Obviously there is the danger of blinding yourself to criticism that is useful, simply because hearing it is painful, but as the Buddha says, it does not belong to you simply because someone offered it. You can reject it.
On the other hand, as Bozoma says, someone else’s understanding of your work can be as fundamentally flawed as a basic view of the world. This often happens to pioneers in various fields who are challenging foundational rules previously thought to be unbreakable. The critic’s opinions are not valid because the critic is not yet capable of understanding even the basic premise on which the work is built.
As you go about your daily life, building in these two filters will become integral to your mental health and the quality of your work.