Build your critical resilience

You creative person out there? You are going to be criticized. It's a given.

Some of my pals are taking big risks and putting themselves out there with their work. And along with the kudos have come the critics.

You ARE going to be criticized. 

Take a photograph and put it online? Someone will criticize it. Paint, sculpt, write, collage? Show your work and not everyone is going to love it. They won't just not love it, some of them will explicitly tell you WHY they don't love it. And not in the most thoughtful and kind manner. Some of them will be nasty about it.


"Most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not design it".

- Seth Godin

I know, crazy, isn't it? You know that old saying "those who can't do, teach?" It's really "those who can't do, criticize". Maybe they are envious. The dog ate their breakfast. They have a creative block. Who really knows? Who really cares WHY they are critical.

So if we ARE going to get criticized, if it's part and parcel of being an artist, then what do we do next? Give up? Change our work? Get angry?

Nope, nope and nope. Give up and they win. Well, they don't win, you lose yourself. Change your work and it's the same result. You'll be miserable not making and creating and showing your own vision. Get angry at them? Waste of energy that you could spend creating.

Build your critical resilience.

Now I know what you're thinking: "such a happy topic for the week of American Thanksgiving. Thanks a lot, Sandra!" But it is, really! You see, if you KNOW that the criticism is a given, then there's no suspense. You know it's coming. All YOU have to do is build up your critical resilience.

Here's what I do:

1. Define your audience.

Before you even put your work out there, define your audience. Who are the people who you are creating for? It isn't everyone. 

My audience is creative types who are curious about the creative process, enjoy new inspiration and like to see a balance between the personal and the work in what I create here. They have quirky interests. They are artists and photographers and writers and makers of all types who value their creative work AND their relationships with friends and family.

Anyone outside of that won't find much that they like here. I'm writing and creating for those in my corner - I'm not going to win over those who don't like what I do. You aren't either. And that's okay.

2. Seek out specific feedback from trusted sources.

You're serious about improving your work, right? Then find at least one person further along than you to give you focused feedback. Not just "hey that's great" but "hey, here's where it works and here's where it doesn't".

I wrote about "showing your work" in one of my past newsletters. (Wanna subscribe to future monthly newsletters? Sign up on the sidebar).

3. Get curious about the unsolicited criticism that you DO get.

Your gut reaction is to dismiss it 100%. Take breath or two, put it aside for a few days and then come back to it later. Is it personal? Ignore it. Is it about a particular technique or aspect of your work? MAYBE there's some truth to it.  

4. Savour the kudos.

Sometimes I'm in SUCH a hurry to get to the next project that I barely enjoy the kudos that I DO get. I created a special file where I keep all of the positive feedback that I receive via email. Any time I'm feeling vulnerable or stuck, I zoom over there and reread them. It's like kryptonite for the critics.

5. Create your own small team of supporters.

So you have your file of positive comments that you look at every once in a while - how about a few friends that you can go to for support in real time? You know, when that barbed comment is submitted and you are feeling like crap about it - message your friends, have a google hangout and ask for what you need. Listen to how they've handled similar situations.

6. Hand out your own positive feedback.

Let's get the focus off of ourselves, okay? Enough with the navel gazing! No hand wringing. Okay, a little hand wringing but then move on to champion someone else.

Why not spend a bit of time giving thoughtful, positive feedback to some of the people whose work YOU enjoy. Someone trying something new? Let them know what you think. Give them the type of feedback that you'd love to hear. And don't assume that they've heard it already - they probably haven't.

Want some more ideas? Watch Brene Brown's 99u talk on why your critics don't matter.

So what do you do to build your critical resilience?