Taking It: Lessons in Criticism

I try not to look back on my career. Generally, my philosophy on the matter is to only look back when it helps you to move forward.

I was an English major in college and I fancied myself an author. Not just a writer, an author. Writing was my medium. I had it all figured out. I have since learned that whenever someone has something "figured out," it quickly becomes clear that further figuring is required.

One of the big ones is how I would handle criticism. I tried not to show it, but inside, I felt personally attacked. Before I could understand and get to work on suggested revisions, I had to get over the pain. I thought of editors as adversaries. Every change was a battle fought in my head. I would calculate and rationalize why every so-called "correction" was not necessary and it was only being made because people needed to justify their position by making me jump. I also mixed in a healthy heaping helping of self-doubt. I worried I was doing a crap job and I was on the verge of having to find a new gig all over again.

It gives me the heeby-jeebies just thinking about it. I wonder what I did with my blanket and ba-ba because I was being a big baby. 

Eventually, I got it. It was not easy. I don't even know how it happened. I do not have a story about how I was struck by lightning. There was no Oprah "ah-ha!" moment. 

I came to realize that editors and managers are not the enemy. I was not being personally attacked. They thought I was doing an OK, or better, job. Just make the changes they noted and hand it back. It'll be OK. I was able to work faster and more efficiently because I didn't have to whine about anything.

These are things I realized:

  1. You are part of a larger group. As a writer, I worked alone, often in isolation. I did not see it. I would write things and hand it off and move on to the next thing. I didn't know or much care what happened after it left my desk.
  2. The group has a common goal. Office politics do exist. People can be petty and not know what they are doing. Occasionally, people use their power and influence to flex their muscles. However, for the most part, people are trying to do good things. They are trying to make the thing they are working on the best it can be.
  3. You don't see everything, even if you are a "Big Picture" person. Looking at a big picture prevents you from seeing the little things that cause problems. Don't dismiss input, even if you can't see how it would help. Together, you get the opportunity to see more.
  4.  People deserve respect. A tense work environment is the worst. You don't have to love (or even like) people you work with, but they DO work. Even if you don't get it. Give them a break.