Criticism sucks, but it doesn’t have to… I guess

Last year, I decided that I wanted to make “handle criticism better” a New Years resolution. It’s never really been such a big issue for me, but I find times where I get so bummed out and bothered for days on end. Those scenarios that somehow come at you right before sleep, you know? At one point I realized, well I guess there’s always room for improvement then.

That being said – who actually handles it well, right? There are times when I get all defensive and I tend to jump to conclusions before actually asking for clarifications. I thought, well it’s probably best I try and read into it more. So here’s some things you might want to take into account if you’re just as defensive and unsure about criticism as I am.

Before I start, I just want to make sure that I don’t come across as someone who can actually say “I handle it well now and you have to listen to me to be on my level”. What I do want to point out is that from what I read and watched so far, it’s definitely something doable. Something that doesn’t require as much effort as you can imagine too. Surprisingly, I got pretty inspired by Jordan Peterson. And no, I don’t read Jordan Peterson – nor do I even take the things he says into account. Not saying you shouldn’t read his stuff, but it’s just mostly because I personally disagree with a lot of the things he writes. So I got inspired in another way, it was more like:

If Jordan Peterson can become a self-made millionaire by convincing incels to clean their rooms every once in a while, then honestly, you can do anything: if you put your mind to it. I can’t stop cringing everytime I write or utter those words. You can do anything: if you put your mind to it. But bare with me, you really can.

Criticism can come in all forms. It can come from your significant other, a family member, a colleague at work, you name it. Most articles tend to emphasise on the whole “Be optimistic. Be open to new ideas. Pause. Reflect” factor of being the receiving end of criticism. Yet somehow convincing your mind to switch off this fight or flight mode isn’t as easy as it looks like. I mean, just look at this WikiHow’s image and advice:

So apparently it helps to start from oneself. Now criticizing myself is something quite easy for me. Not because I look down on myself, but it’s more in the sense that I’ve come to accept the fact that I can be critical to myself (and not really well to others) plus the fact that I’m just not so good at many things. I find myself relating to “you’re your own harshest critic” more and more.

At some points, it even becomes something that affects my work. “Is it really good enough?” “What if it gets rejected?” “Is it even up to standards?”. On one hand, it helps to have these in mind just so you know you care about what you’re doing and that you want it to be the best as it can be. One the other hand, you’re putting so much energy into these assumptions you’re probably bound to just stress out over things you yourself dislike.

Thinking about these worst-case scenarios can be used to your advantage as well of course. Most of the time, I feel like we just end up tricking our minds into feeling as if it really happened. And that’s probably just how everything you do is in life, you know? People will interpret things differently, and there’s just no way to ever really avoid that. I’ve seen world leaders or researchers with years of experience tweet things they found through those experiences only to have some random guy with the worst selfie ever from a trip to Mallorca as his profile picture to throw out how much he thinks it’s just complete bullshit.

An article on Medium I read a few days ago talked about how a woman who grew up in Japan and had moved to LA had a totally different approach to criticism than those around her. Having spent most of her childhood in Japan, she experienced the practice of reflection, or hansei-kai. Noting that self reflection became a crucial part of one’s self development. The term hansei implies that nobody (and nothing) is ever really perfect and that criticism is a necessary and valuable part of growth.

Moving from Indonesia to the Netherlands made me realize how much of a bubble we can be in terms of being criticized. It’s no secret that the Dutch love being direct, in fact they value it so much that it’s become one of the expected traits to have. With that, comes being able to be honestly (at times painfully) critical to people.

Having spent about five years here, it isn’t something new to me. Doesn’t mean that I still don’t overcomplicate things when I’m on the receiving end of feedback. I learnt to cope with it more and more by focusing more on giving feedback. The more I understood how much value it can actually mean to people, the more I understood that feedback (or criticism) can suck, but it doesn’t have to.

Of course there are a few things to know between what’s constructive criticism and what isn’t, but taking the value of it and understanding how much it can really mean for others made me realize that you just kind of have to look at it as it is.

Again, people who don’t care about the things they do simply aren’t afraid of criticism, hence fearing criticism is just an indication that you care. What’s good to know is that most people won’t actually care as much as compared to you.

To you your latest picture you took and uploaded last night might have been pretty shitty in terms of angle or lighting. To others it might really be something pretty cool. Some might just spend a few seconds to tap on their screen and scroll by.

Once you get to accept the fact that criticism will come at you, you’ll eventually realise that it isn’t something to always over complicate over either. Depending on how you look at it, criticism can be a show of care. Be it being the receiving end, or the giving end.

Point I’m making, criticism can suck.

And the keyword here is can.


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