Life isn’t easy. And we humans have a way of making life even harder than it has to be sometimes. I am a big believer in the late Dr. Wayne Dyer’s philosophy of taking 100% responsibility for where we are in our lives at any given moment, even if where we are isn’t where we want to be. And even if the reason we are there is because we haven’t made the smartest choices or we haven’t had the courage to go after our dreams. This idea is all about not blaming others for where we are and taking responsibility so we can move beyond that place and into our purpose.
But just for a minute I think we need to talk about what else may be holding us back (particularly for women) as we dare greatly to be our best. And that’s all the armchair critics that no matter how hard we try, are always waiting in the wings at any and every opportunity to tear us down. This mean and hurtful behavior is becoming epidemic these days, and that is so unfortunate. It has become increasingly worse thanks to blogs and social media. I guess it’s the bad that comes with the good of technology today.
One of my new favorite quotes (new to me but not new) is so familiar to me these days because of my obsession with and admiration for the work of Dr. Brene Brown on shame and vulnerability. Brene sets the tone for her research, work, and writing with this famous quote from Teddy Roosevelt…
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Teddy Roosevelt
We are all being vulnerable when we put ourselves out there every day and dare to chase our dreams, find our passions and live our purpose. We are being brave and daring greatly when we start businesses, do creative work, write blogs or books, document our lives on Instagram and social media and anything else that we do publicly that requires us to show up in the world in order to grow our incomes, go after our goals and dreams, and support our families.
But it is those critics that are not even “in the arena getting marred by dust and sweat and blood” that thanks to social media can criticize with ease. They can leave negative comments, pick apart our work and creativity, and in some instances even attack, demean and abuse others, from the comfort of their arm-chairs or while hiding behind their computers and electronics.
And although logically I can comprehend that these critics are miserable, or mean, or jealous or any other number of things that make them want the world and anyone brave enough to put themselves out there, to be as unhappy as the critic, I just really don’t understand it. My mind can’t get around it. And my heart feels bad for those being criticized. But feels almost worse for the critics because I can’t even imagine how truly miserable they must be to want to tear others down in this way. Does it really make them feel better to leave a rude comment? My guess is no, or at least not for very long.
Why do we as humans feel like we have the right to be critics of everything and everyone in the world around us? And even when we think it, what gives us the right to express it, leave a negative comment, or tear down others work and creativity? Well one might say that maybe that’s what people are asking for, or that they are opening themselves up to it when they use a public forum like a blog to express their ideas, thoughts and work. And maybe this is true. But there is a difference in a critique and criticism. There is a difference in disagreeing and being mean or rude or abusive. One can disagree without being unkind. We all have the right to not love someone’s work or even their behavior, but still not attack them personally.
And yes both genders are guilty of these behaviors but as a woman, I find that women can be some of the most critical, especially of other women. Call me Pollyanna, but I want to live in a world where women champion women. I remember how girls acted in middle school and my daughter is currently in middle school and the ways girls can be mean is so much worse than 30 years ago when I was her age. We didn’t have cell phones and social media to bully each other with back then. But it’s not just relegated to middle school. I see the same rude and bullying behaviors from adults.
If you are a designer or have visited any of the shelter magazine social media sites, you have witnessed dozens or even hundreds of people tearing apart the rooms and projects of designers on a daily basis. When I read these rude comments about my own work, I typically laugh it off or ignore it. But when I see people criticize the truly great work of my friends and my design idols, I realize that the critics likely have not been exposed to sophisticated design work or art and don’t even understand it, so their comments are ignorant or at the least short sighted. But there in lies the problem. If we don’t understand something or we are afraid of it, human nature can be to criticize it. But why not appreciate it, or try to learn about it? Isn’t this this same age old problem that has divided races and religions and political parties? In a year where the criticizing, demeaning and ridiculous insults in the presidential election are at an all time high, I think you know what I mean. Our own insecurities keep us from being open-minded about art or creativity and also about much bigger social issues.
I consider myself lucky and I feel loved and supported so often. I have many, many more people being kind and leaving supportive comments or reaching out to me by email or even in person in support of my work and my writing and my product designs. The compliments are far more numerous than those tearing me down. But even so, the occasional rude comments can sting. And I see and hear of many others in my own industry and in other industries that are struggling under the weight of the criticism they are receiving. It is so sad how many brave souls have stopped striving towards their dreams because of a few mean comments expressed by others whose opinions really shouldn’t matter. And worse yet, what a shame that so many people are afraid to even try because their fear of what others will say or think holds them back.
I work to teach my daughter that “What others think of us is none of our business”. But in her new book Rising Strong, Brene Brown says that totally not caring what others think of you isn’t a good thing either. It can make you apathetic about your life and work or worse, can cause you to relax your morals or not have integrity. She says you should have a small circle of people who really count to you and those are the only people in your life whose opinions should really matter. And she says that all the names of those important people in your life should fit on ONE Post-it note. I love this idea! So if the critics names aren’t on my Post-it note then I give myself permission to ignore their comments, to let it go.
Thankfully I had a great example for how to treat others from my mom who definitely taught me if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything. But what she stressed to me even more was that everyone isn’t just like you and that doesn’t make you better or worse than them. Everyone has the right to be themselves and you don’t have to like it, but it’s not your place to tear them down. She taught me to love other people and learn to appreciate our differences. And she taught me that hating someone else is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Hate will kill you while the other person lives on often even unscathed.
So yes it may be Pollyanna, but I want to live in a world where people love people. I want to celebrate other people’s successes as well as my own. I want to live in a world where women champion women. Where creatives, and entrepreneurs, and others daring greatly are celebrated even when not understood. I want to raise my daughter in a world where people are applauded just for getting in the ring, even if you don’t think their art or work or craft is great or beautiful or meaningful, but because they were brave enough to even try, which is far more than the armchair critics are doing. And even if the critic is in the arena too, I would caution them to not tear others down because like these critics, I believe that Karma will also be waiting in the wings and there will be a moment when they too will fall or be criticized and it doesn’t feel good.
Building each other up, now THAT is some real secret sauce. And my hope is that it will be become much less of a secret.
Sending you love and the courage to put yourself out there, to get in the arena even if you are afraid. I encourage you to find beauty in our differences and to celebrate all those brave souls putting themselves out in the world even if you don’t agree with them. Supporting each other is the only way to REALLY make our world a better place.
Happy Saturday, friends! xo,