It turns out that it is actually impossible to make everybody happy. I know because I’ve tried. In some primitive way humans are wired to depend on others. Being accepted by the pack can feel urgent and necessary, even when it’s totally irrational. At times, having everyone like me not only felt important, it felt like survival.
To facilitate my need for approval, for most of my life I’ve been a very successful people pleaser. I mastered the art of fitting in, reading the room, and doing and saying the right things. But a funny (predictable?) thing happened as my business and platform grew – people started actively and openly criticizing me. Here are just a few things that strangers on the internet have commented recently:
- I don’t like how you move your hands
- I don’t like your voice
- You seem smug and condescending
- Your home is sterile and staged
- I hate your political beliefs so I’m burning your book (!)
While I’d love to tell you I brushed these comments off and went about my day, in reality I did NOTHING OF THE SORT. Instead, I contemplated hiding in the fetal position under a large piece of furniture. I considered writing kind and thoughtful letters explaining myself to PERFECT STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET. If I’m being really honest, there were moments I wanted to shut down my whole operation and choose a new profession where strangers would have no reason to tear me down online.
While I know intellectually that these comments have more to do with the person writing them than me, it can still feel painful and paralyzing to be criticized by strangers – even amid a sea of support. But the more I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized I could choose to shrink and hide and start playing small in an attempt to avoid any additional criticism, or I could continue to be authentic and learn how to shift my mindset and toughen up a bit. I chose the latter.
In a strange way, realizing that it is impossible to please every human at the same time, even if I twist myself into a million pretzels, has resulted in a feeling of joy and freedom I didn’t even realize I was missing. No matter what I do or say, I will always be too this for some people and too that for others, so I may as well just be myself and keep putting my work out in the world knowing full well that not everyone is going to approve of me, my work, my voice, OR EVEN THE WAY I MOVE MY HANDS.
It’s ok. More than ok. It’s actually been tremendously liberating.
Since I’ve committed to continue to putting myself and my work out in the world no matter what, here are a few filters I’ve been using to help handle negative feedback (in the comments section or otherwise). I hope they’ll be helpful to you:
Consider the Source
Is the feedback from someone you love, trust, and respect or is it from an Instagram stranger called @KarenZ227?
Which part, if any, is true?
I find that I get the most triggered by criticism that holds some truth in it. For example, when someone says they don’t like how I move my hands I can laugh it off, but if someone says I’m not sustainable or eco-friendly enough it bothers me because I really care about the environment and somewhere inside I know I could be doing more. In that case, maybe there’s something I can identify that can actually lead to constructive change.
What can I learn?
If hearing criticism tends to rattle you there’s surely mindset work to be done and growth to be had. Consider why you are triggered. What about the criticism bothers you? What can be gained from it? What can be learned? How can you grow thicker skin or believe more solidly in yourself?
Do I Have My Own Back?
We all make mistakes and it’s vital that we acknowledge when we mess up. But it’s just as important to treat ourselves with the same kindness and love that we would extend to a dear friend. If you didn’t intentionally try to hurt, harm, or offend someone, and you can stand behind your actions and intentions, let the angry people be angry and move on. As my mentor likes to say, “allow people to be wrong about you.”
Where is the humor?
It’s easy to take negative feedback very seriously and work yourself into a lather over nothing. Humor is a great coping mechanism, and my go-to solution for working through most things that are hard. After you’ve processed whatever you need to process, do you best to find the funny and then move on.
People pleasing is draining, unhealthy, and ultimately inauthentic. A better bet is to be yourself, do your best, and seek your own approval. At the end of the day, validation from others provides us with only a temporary boost, but validation from ourselves is priceless.
Have you found constructive ways to handle negative or unwanted criticism? Please feel free to share in the comments below.
Photography Credit: Vivian Johnson