How criticism can set you free

Criticism is a bitter pill to swallow—any kind of criticism.

But criticism of your creative expression or outputs isn’t just hard to take—it can be slicing, demoralizing and potentially soul destroying.

That’s if you allow your creative productions to be identified as an extension of yourself.

Which, I’ve come to understand, is not always the wisest approach to take.

Let’s just say there have been some tough, but invaluable lessons this semester.

Lessons I learned from criticism.

1. Not everyone will like what you do.

2. Most will not appreciate your creative endeavours as fully as you do.

3. Few will really get on board and support them 100%.

4. This doesn’t f*cking matter.

Why (again)?

I had a teacher tell me my writing was horrible this semester. Not just horrible, but so bad in fact that I should throw it in the bin.

How did I feel?

Initially like someone had hit me in the stomach with a hammer. I took it way, way personally.

For a fleeting moment it was as if she had just told me I was a horrid, worthless person who should be executed on site.

Dramatic indeed.

But then slowly, once I came out of the tears, the anger, the depression and moved into a place where I could separate myself from this incident. I learned something.

I learned many things in fact.

It began when I started to ask myself some questions.

“Do our creations only matter based on the approval they get from others?”

“How often do we post something to social media or produce something creatively and then judge its worth based on the amount of likes it gets?”

“So then, if approval is the judge of something’s worth, isn’t that a pretty shallow and simplistic way of living in the world?”

It seemed that the whole notion of seeking approval made one insanely vulnerable to the fickle, complex and often volatile reactions and emotions of others.

As if a certain number of likes from an extremely small and carefully chosen subset of the community validates that creation.

I came to realize that seeking other’s validation or approval is akin to chasing your long gone monkey tail. It just gets you nowhere.

A turning point occurred once I grasped this. What you create is not “yours” per se.

A creation, an authentic, true, honest and raw creation, just comes through you like a shot of lightening. It is something of you but it is not from you.

Nothing is really from us in the sense that it is our complete and total personal production without input or influence from anywhere else.

The self-indulgent ego likes to say this is my writing, my poetry, my songs, my painting. My-my-my.

Frankly, we need to depersonalize that sh*t.

My is the first wrong turn on a series of bad decisions that ultimately wind up with one feeling lost, confused and stuck in a stagnant cul-de-sac somewhere.

My is the cutting, slicing and soul destroying part of any criticism about your art. It is the beginning of the end.

In reality, our creations are an infinitely complex expression of the influences we’ve had in our lifetime.

They are how these influences have interacted with themselves, the way they have left impressions, the way they’ve been interpreted and how deeply we’ve been listening to their learnings.

Our creations are at the same time intensely personal and intensely collective and no one else can ever quite understand the journey that’s brought them to fruition. Not even the person making them.

Instead of seeking validation, a better focus is seeing our creations as something that comes through us, as something greater than ourselves, produced from our ongoing collisions with all the people, places, ideas and influences we’ve encountered to date and then influenced again by the context and environment of the time.

Once I depersonalized what I had created, that soul destroying, slicing and cutting feeling, well it simply faded away.

I recognized criticism as an experience of another based on them having a different collision of circumstances from what I had rather than a personal attack. A far more liberating thought process indeed.

Criticism matters because it helps us to understand how similar we all are but how differently we frame things. That everything is relative and that measures of good and bad are merely conditionings in the mind, dependent on their own cultural and educational background.

With these realisations, I started to move beyond the irrational, self-indulgent feeling that criticism of my creative output matters.

I started to see creation for what is its.

Something cathartic.

Something essential.

Something real.

Something necessary.

Something sacred.

Not something that needs to be validated.

I’ve now learnt to incorporate criticism, to feel it, feel its reactions and look at the new truths these reactions help me to discover and then get to a new place of understanding from there.

Criticism can be a process of growth rather than a process of shrinkage, if we allow ourselves the luxury to frame it this way.

In that way, it shall set you free.

Article as seen on Elephant Journal


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