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How To Handle Criticism Well

How To Handle Criticism Well

We’ve all been in that situation: you’ve submitted or done something and then there comes the feedback. Most of the time, it’s incredibly justified and helps you become better at the task at hand, but sometimes there is some that knocks you completely out of left field and makes you just blink and react in shock. “They said what?”

Rather than going down the two most natural and disparate courses of action available—sobbing with despair and with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s or yelling that the critic doesn’t know what on Earth they’re talking about—it’s worth taking a moment and considering some of these five ways to handle this most awkward of personal situations.

Step 1: Take a step back from yourself

It’s easily the first step in handling this with some grace and decorum—just take a step back. When the critique form slides across your desk or when those comments have hit home, you really need to remove yourself mentally from the situation, if not physically.

The most instant reaction we experience when it comes to critiquing is anger. Rage. Frustration. Sadness. The key is not to relinquish or suppress these emotions—it’s okay, you’re allowed to feel angry or upset at criticism—but to take a step back and allow them to wash over you. Take a coffee break for five minutes and just feel. Lose yourself in another activity if you have that option—see a movie, go to a concert, have a soak in the tub or watch that awesome show you’ve been meaning to catch up on. Remove yourself from that environment and that feeling for a while so you can gain some perspective and objective distance.

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When you’re done, the anger and rage might still be there, but you’ll have dialed it down from potentially yelling at your boss, yelling at your friends, your family, to being able to see with some clarity of vision through the red haze.

Step 2: See it from another point of view

The point is this: chances are when you’re getting some criticism, it’s coming from a place of good intentions. “How on Earth can such good intentions lead to someone criticizing the hell out of you?”, you might wonder.

In a work environment, idle gossip born from close proximity and bored minds is just that, so real constructive criticism is just that. Chances are if your boss or manager has told you what you’re doing wrong or how you’re doing it wrong, they’re not taking any kind of malicious Schaudenfreude-esque pleasure in your suffering. They’re just trying to do their jobs which involves making the running of the company smoother and ironing out any of the areas you might need a bit of work with.

The same applies to friends. They’re your friends for a reason, they like and love you, and unless they’re one of those toxic ‘frenemies’, any criticisms on their side are probably designed to help you. Of course you don’t have to take their advice, and if they’re real friends, they’ll keep on loving you regardless, but sometimes their well-intentioned advice is worth at least considering from their point of view. Maybe it’s so you can be the best version of yourself. Who knows, but taking it from their point of view might have some merits.

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Step 3: See it as an untapped strength

Say you’ve got a problem area at work. You’re not as diligent at filling out the paperwork, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ or maybe you’re not as huge a social media maven as you should be. That’s fine, it’s okay, but in the face of criticism, a key step might be in actively trying to transform that skill into something useful and marketable.

It might even be worth seeing it as a great opportunity for an untapped strength. Just because you haven’t focused on it yet doesn’t mean you can’t in the future. You have a fantastic opportunity ahead of you to make something that will improve your life in the long run, taking a bit longer to do that paperwork or even asking a colleague for advice on it, or looking at how other companies work well at their social media presence to fix your flaws. You’ll earn a lot more respect for being able to take on advice and do so while looking as cool and classy as hell.

Step 4: Work on the criticism as a challenge

This ties in a lot with the previous point but tackle this criticism as a challenge and as a conscious effort to change. Break it down in smaller and smaller tasks, such as speaking to your manager about what kind of targets they want you to hit or grabbing a coffee with a friend and asking them candidly, and make some concrete, physical ‘to-do’ lists so that you can tick them off as you work through them.

Not only will this make tackling the criticism seem infinitely more manageable, it’ll also ensure that you can celebrate all those little victories. Boosted your social media profile today? Go and have a scoop or two on us. Been a bit more social with your inner circle? Congratulate yourself and give yourself a treat.

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Working on your ‘problem areas’ isn’t something you have to do, at all, but it might make you feel better for at least having tried and if you succeed, all the better. Take your victories one-by-one as you learn and grow. After all, tackling a mountain is much easier when you break it down into ten-minute climbs rather than the whole mountain, after all.

Step 5: Move on and look ahead

This is the final step and something that people find hard to do sometimes: just move on. Let it go.

While there is a remote possibility that your boss or friend or manager or whoever was maybe too harsh or critical on you, the point is how you react to it. Getting caught up and trapped in the machinations of it will only leave you to mope and mire through it, making you question every decision you’ve made, every interaction or choice or whatever.

Let it go and look to the future. I once had a job where I was critiqued on a regular, daily basis for things that I just didn’t understand or felt appropriate and it had such a negative impact on me that I had to get myself out of that environment and I had to force myself to examine how I looked at criticism. I learned that while those terrible, incompatible job experiences are few and far between, that feeling of dread when constructive criticism is offered can always remain, lurking in the background.

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So I had to learn to move on. Your friend offering a bit of critical examination does not invalidate your years-long friendship. Your boss telling you that you need to work on something doesn’t wipe away all that awesome work you’ve spent the past six months doing. Moving on does not mean cutting off that bond or walking out of your job, unless that friendship or work environment is so toxic it’s more trouble than its worth to stay.

Move on and show growth and maturity. Getting hung up on this kind of stuff is something that expends a lot of time and energy and something you don’t really want to get involved. Don’t let anything hold you back and while a piece of criticism might seem utterly soul-crushing, it’s okay. You’ll be okay.

We have all been there and in the end, it doesn’t matter so much what that criticism is, but how you take it. After all, take that criticism with some humility and quiet grace, and you’ll come out looking the bigger person and feel better for it. Promise.

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Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

How to Find Your Entrepreneurial Passion and Purpose

How to Find Your Entrepreneurial Passion and Purpose

I wrote a few articles about starting a business based on something you love doing and are passionate about. I received several responses from people saying they weren’t sure how to go about figuring out what they were most passionate about or how to find their true purpose. So I’m dedicating this article to these issues — how to find your entrepreneurial passion and purpose.

When I work with a new client, the first thing we talk about is lifestyle design. I ask each client, “What do you want your life to look like?” If you designed a business without answering this question, you could create a nice, profitable business that is completely incompatible with your goals in life. You’d be making money, but you’d probably be miserable.

When you’re looking for your life purpose, lifestyle design isn’t a crucial component. However, since we’re talking about entrepreneurial purpose, lifestyle design is indeed crucial to building a business that you’ll enjoy and truly be passionate about.

For example, say you want to spend more time at home with your family. Would you be happy with a business that kept you in an office or out of town much of the time? On the flip side, if you wanted to travel and see the world, how well could you accomplish that goal if your business required your presence, day in and day out, to survive? So start by getting some clarity on your personal goals and spend some time working on designing your life.

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At this point, you may need a little prodding, and you may want to hire a coach or mentor to work with you through this process. Many people are very used to the idea that there is a particular way a life “should” be. There are certain milestones most people tend to live by, and if you don’t meet those markers when or in the manner you’re “supposed” to meet them, that can cause some anxiety.

Here’s how to find your passion and purpose:

Give Yourself Permission to Dream a Little

Remember that this is your life and you can live it however you choose. Call it meditation or fantasy, but let your imagination run here. And answer this question:

“If you had no fears or financial limitations, what would your ideal life, one in which you could be totally content and happy, look like?”

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Once you’ve figured out your lifestyle design, it’s time to do a little more soul-searching to figure out what you’re truly passionate about. This is a time to really look within and look back.

Specifically, look back over your life history. When were you the happiest? What did you enjoy doing the most? Remember that what you’re looking for doesn’t necessarily have to be an entire job, but can actually be aspects of your past jobs or hobbies that you’ve really enjoyed.

Think About a Larger Life Purpose

Many successful entrepreneurs have earned their place in history by setting out to make a difference in the world. Is there a specific issue or cause that is important to you or that you’re particularly passionate about?

For some, this process of discovery may come easily. You may go through these questions and thought experiments and find the answers quickly. For others, it may be more difficult. In some cases, you may suffer from a generalized lack of passion and purpose in your life.

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Sometimes, this can come from having suppressed passion in your life for too long. Sometimes, it can come from eating poorly and lack of exercise. But occasionally, it may have something to do with your internal chemistry or programming. If the latter applies to you, it may be useful for you to seek help in the form of a coach, mentor, or counselor.

In other cases, not knowing your true purpose may be a matter of having not discovered it yet: you may not have found anything that makes your heart beat faster. If this is the case, now is the time to explore!

The Internet is a fantastic tool for learning and exploration. Search hobbies and careers and learn as much as you can about any topic that triggers your interest, then follow up at the library on the things that really intrigue you. Again, remember that this is your life and only you can give yourself permission to explore all that the world has available to you.

How Do You Know When You’ve Found Your True Entrepreneurial Purpose?

I can only tell you how I knew when I had discovered my own — it didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. Rather, it settled over me, bringing a deep sense of peace and commitment. It felt like I had arrived home and knew exactly what to do and how to proceed.

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Everything flowed easily from that point forward. That’s not to say that I found success immediately after that moment. But rather, the path ahead of me was clear, so I knew what to do.

Decisions were easier and came faster to me. And success has come on MY terms, according to my own definitions of what success means to me in my own lifestyle design.

Dig deep, look within, and seek whatever help you need. Once you find that purpose and passion, your life — not just your entrepreneurial life, but your entire life — will never be the same.

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Featured photo credit: Garrhet Sampson via unsplash.com

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