Your critics don’t matter

Why haven’t you shared your ideas with your colleagues or talked to your boss about your vision for making things better? And that colleague who’s making a mistake – why haven’t you spoken up?

It comes down to fear.

Fear of criticism, of blame, of disapproval. Fear of hearing from someone who doesn’t agree with you and feeling badly about it. Not only that, fear that someone might not agree with you.

We delay speaking up and doing the right thing, we put off sharing new ideas, we give up on our dreams, we stall launching businesses, we hold back from challenging the status quo, we hesitate to start initiatives and we ignore our callings because we’re afraid that people won’t like our work – or even worse – that they won’t like us.

As someone who’s trying to make nursing and education better, I’ve realized that it’s helpful to know the difference between criticism and generous advice and how to handle criticism when it happens.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Important work is never unanimously praised. In fact the more important the work is, the more criticism there will be. If you consider the most important films, songs, literature, movements and policies – they’re always the most criticized.
  • Caring what people think of us is necessary for connection. But not everyone’s opinions of us matter the same.
  • Critics are non-believers. Critics are the people who don’t believe what you believe, want what you want or see what you see. When they show up from the sidelines with suggestions and advice about what you should or shouldn’t do it’s best to ignore them – especially when you’re doing important work.
  • Delighting believers is worth more than trying to please the critics. 
  • Generous advice is precious. Feedback that comes from someone who believes what you believe, who supports what you do and has ideas for how to make it better is worth paying attention to. Too often we worry about what our critics will say and ignore the people who are cheering us on.
  • The unpleasant feeling of criticism almost always goes away when we do work that makes us come alive.
  • Ignoring criticism requires us to believe that respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run. Being unpopular feels painful in the moment – but it’s a trade-off to earning respect from the people who really matter.

There’s no denying that criticism stings.

Over the past year when I heard things like: “You should really change this “. “Why are you doing this – it’s wasting my time”. “Who’s idea was this?” “Go find someone else to work with” I felt hurt, but only for a moment because I reminded myself that what I’m working on is too important not to do. If someone doesn’t like what I’m doing, that’s ok. It’s not for them.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on the sidelines, hiding in fear, doubting myself, believing I’m not enough. If being creative and challenging the status quo means being vulnerable to criticism so be it.

If you want to say and do things that matter to you, know that the critics will be there.

But they’re not the ones who count.