I’ve tried to avoid them, but there’s no way around it.
No matter how hard you try or how good you are, you’ll face criticism at some point.
Critics, naysayers and judgers will always be around. And they aren’t just other people; our inner critic is often the most relentless and vicious one of them all.
Criticism isn’t always bad. It’s a natural part of the process.
It comes along when you take a stand for something, do something new or start doing something of significance. If you don’t have any criticism in your life, perhaps you’re playing too small.
Yet it’s tough to deal with any type of criticism. I’ve battled with my internal critic and dealt with a good number of external critics since taking the steps I’ve made in the last year.
Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned on dealing with critics:
1) It’s a natural part of the process
Criticism is natural. We all do it.
It’s part of how we process our surroundings—making snap judgments on whether things are as expected (and most likely safe) or unexpected (and potentially threatening).
We’re wired to notice differences, in our own lives and in others. Thus anything new or unexpected you do is particularly subject to criticism, especially in the beginning.
If you’re doing something different than others, if you’re taking a leap of some type—it’s natural for people to take note. It’s also natural for them to start wondering about your background and what expertise you have.
As much as I try to not pass criticism onto others, I know I’m not immune. Just the other day, I found myself passing judgment on a newly minted Zumba instructor at my gym. She was off the beat, forgetful of the routine and awkward in her facilitation of the class. I remember scoffing initially.
But then it hit me. I’m just as much of a beginner in many areas of my life. And that’s a good thing. It means I’m learning and growing—just like the Zumba instructor. With her passion for Zumba, she will get better and better as an instructor. The beginner status will not define her for long.
Everyone needs to start somewhere. To get to five years of experience, there will always be year one. And along with being a little foolish when it comes to starting something new, we also need to be okay with the criticism that may come at the beginning.
It helps to view criticism as a natural part of the process and to realize that you do it as well—not only to others but also to yourself.
2) Your inner critic is the worst of them all
In order to effectively deal with the critics, you must stand up to the biggest and most nefarious one—yourself.
We are our own worst critics. I know this to be true for myself.
When starting out on my own, I suffered from severe imposter syndrome. I felt unworthy, unqualified and unprepared for what I wanted to do. I felt panicked, self-conscious, and somewhat embarrassed to talk about what I was doing.
Who am I to start doing this? Do I know enough about this? What if I fail? What will others think about it? What if others think I’m ridiculous, a fraud? What the heck am I doing? Am I crazy? Maybe I should quit; maybe it’s not worth it.
In my most vulnerable time of self-doubt, the worst of my fears all rallied together. The fears and doubts are malicious in that way—congregating and attacking when you’re at your weakest.
Nothing is off limits. The fears play dirty, and gleefully so.
During the worst of it, all I wanted was to hide under the covers and pretend nothing had happened. I wanted to hide in the anonymity and safety of nothingness. I wanted to quit.
Only by facing my inner critic did I begin to gain awareness and with the awareness, the necessary steps to move past the criticism. This brings us to the next step.
3) You must accept yourself first
It starts with accepting you are imperfect, as you should be. Perfection is an illusion.
It helps to have compassion for your fears. Your inner critic is misguided, but it just wants to protect you. Having compassion for your fears doesn’t validate them, nor does it mean you believe in them.
Instead, it means you address them and compassionately choose a growth mindset. While it will take time, you know you will continue to learn and improve. You are not defined by what your fears and doubts say.
As part of it, you adopt a broader sense of self. You start viewing yourself as constantly experimenting and growing. Any failures do not define you; they are simply part of the growing experience.
You must have compassion for yourself before you can have compassion for others. Similarly, you must approve of yourself first before you have the ability to deal with other critics. And once you do, you can then extend your focus externally.
That’s where the real power comes in… when you shift your focus and do what you do for something greater than yourself. When your reason for doing is no longer about you.
4) Have compassion for your critics
There are different types of critics. There are those who are vocal, and those who are silent but just as obvious.
The silent ones don’t ask or say anything at all. It’s like whatever it is doesn’t exist or never happened. During social gatherings, we talk about other things—everything else but the-thing-that-must-not-be-named.
And you know what? It’s okay.
Perhaps they’re afraid I don’t want to talk about it. In the beginning of my transition, I definitely was more uncertain about what I was doing. Nowadays, that’s not the case. If they aren’t interested in or comfortable talking about what I’m doing, that’s fine with me.
Well, who are you to start doing this? How do you come up with this stuff? What are your qualifications? That’s what the vocal ones say.
I treat their questions with respect and compassion. They are entitled to their questions. After all, there are many false advertisers out there, people who are not what they say they are.
I’m simply someone who has struggled with and become more aware of the mental traps that hold us back from doing what’s truly meaningful. I don’t claim to be anyone or anything that I’m not. It is because of my own struggles that I’m so interested in and inspired with unlimited content on uncovering a meaningful life.
Sometimes, my answer is good enough for the critics. Sometimes, they aren’t satisfied, and that’s fine too.
The reality is, those who harshly judge others are the harshest towards themselves.
Their reaction has more to do with them than it has to do with you. Either they have some insecurity about what they’re doing or not doing in their life, they feel badly about not having anything of their own going on, or perhaps they’re intimidated by what you’re doing because it reminds them of something they personally struggle with.
Either way, it’s to your benefit to not take it personally and move on.
5) Make the most of it and move on
Rather than waste energy on the critics, I focus my attention on the people who will benefit from the work I’ve done. I think of the people I’ve helped. The people who message me and share their stories.
Their stories of the changes within and in their lives are testimony to the value I’m providing. The possibility of impacting others to live more meaningful lives is enough for me to keep on going.
Depending on the situation, the criticism sometimes adds fuel to the fire. I turn the energy towards continuing what I’m doing, to have my actions and results over time speak for me instead.
And sometimes, there is a certain amount of truth in the criticism.
If I’m able to glean constructive feedback from the criticism, I learn from it and move on. In embracing a growth mindset, there is always room for improvement. It’s simply part of a continuous process.
It doesn’t mean I’m not hurt from time to time when someone is insensitive or clearly doesn’t see the value in what I’m doing. They are entitled to their opinion, just as I am entitled to mine. In these cases, I remind myself of the bigger picture and allow myself to feel the hurt so I can more easily let it go.
But ultimately, I’ve learned to move on because what really matters is that I believe in what I’m doing. While it may seem difficult to move on during the turbulence of self-doubt and critic attacks, it gets easier and easier as you go along.
What have you learned from dealing with critics? What works for you?