If you want to create one of the great challenges you will face is criticism. The simple act of creation contains within it an implicit critique. The person who is truly satisfied with the status quo will not feel the need to create something new. Thus creation inevitably creates a reaction, sometimes awe and appreciation, but often jealousy, envy and fear. You cannot create without some form of conflict. Therefore no matter how awesome you think your creation is, there are going to be people out there who think that it stinks, and who are prepared to tell you so.
Negative feedback is especially painful for the creative. The sheer act of creation is taxing. Even when it is life-giving and fun it still requires energy, focus and determination. Creativity is your passion being brought to life in tangible forms. So when someone tells you that they don’t like your creation, it is inevitable that their critique will feel personal.
In the past we were a culture of creators and producers, we are now a culture of consumers and critics. In our socially networked world today, there are millions of ways that people can tell you that they don’t like what you are doing. Anyone with a smartphone can bang out a negative comment about your creation in the time it takes them to wait for their coffee. The difficult thing is that most of this feedback is anonymous and distant. Anyone with microbe of the paranoid in their body can be turned into an anxious mess by such feedback.
When we truly examine our culture of criticism, we discover that behind most critics there is actually a frustrated creator. They are simply holding up your work to their view of the world, their passions and values, the only difference between you and them is that you had the courage to put it out into the world. Yes there are some genuine and skilled reviewers out there, but as an author I have discovered that most reviews tell you far more about the reviewer than they do about your book.
Whilst we have turned into a culture of anonymous criticism, we are also simultaneously a culture which is afraid of offering constructive feedback to those close to us. This is what makes try outs for reality singing shows so funny as we laugh at tone deaf people who have been told that they can sing by friends and family. Behind the awkward hilarity there is a truth, we will critique those we do not know, but withhold needed criticism from those we know. To further confuse things, sometimes those near us will critique us from a place of jealousy, our act of creation will cause them to question their place in the world, the implicit critique of creation will feel as if it is pointed at them, and therefore they will turn on the creator.
So how do we find the balance between the tsunami of criticism which will paralyses us, and the feedback that we desperately need which will enable us to be better creators and human beings?
Here are a few ideas for getting the balance right when it comes to criticism.
Ignore critics you do not know. Don’t listen to those who are outside of the audience you are creating for, you did not make it form them so why bother listening to them? Seth Godin says “Don’t punish yourself by listening to the mob.”
Ignore the criticism of those who lace their critique with agendas. Block out those who parasitically live of your work to further their own agenda. Instead define and then understand your audience and those who you are creating for, do this and you will discover a truly beautiful relationship.
Listen to those who you trust. Go to people who you admire, who have character, who are not prone to jealousy, who have your best interests at heart. Those who love you so much that they are willing to tell you the hard stuff. Even when it is painful, seek out their critique of your work and your life. (See Proverbs 12:1)
Get a bit tougher. Destroy the myth in your mind that everyone is going to love your stuff all the time. Negative feedback will always be there until the day you die.
Understand Grace. Root your identity and security in Him. When you secure your self understanding in the truth that the God of the universe died for you because he loves you so much, everything will be ordered in its correct place. Your identity will not be tethered to your creativity. Once you understand this you will no longer live in fear of criticism, you will be truly free to create.