According to my principles, every master has his true and certain value. Praise and criticism cannot change any of that. Only the work itself praises and criticizes the master, and therefore I leave to everyone his own value.”-  Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

The Fear of Criticism

Every time I sit down to write a new blog post I have this particular Specter lingering over my shoulder.  I keep thinking that eventually I will get used to writing and I will not feel any anxiety before I hit “publish,” but that is just not the case.  The Fear of Criticism is with us all day; whenever we decide to do something that may be outside of our comfort zone, this Specter is there to remind us that we just might fail, and for that, people will think less of us.  There are also those of us who are afraid of success for the same reasons; we fear how we will be judged.  Either way, we give this fear power over us whenever we let it make us second-guess ourselves.

The ways that this Specter wreaks havoc on our lives are so vast and nuanced that it would be impossible for me to cover all of them, but I would be willing to bet that most of you can think of at least one instance where the Fear of Criticism has held you back in some way or another.  It seems to me that the only way to defeat him is to meet him head on.

Fortune favors the bold.” -Virgil


Focus on What is Truly Important

A noted Stoic, Cato, was known for dressing differently than the majority of Romans.  In the book I’ve mentioned before, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, the author notes that Plutarch commented on Cato’s indifference to fashion as an exercise “to be ashamed only of what was really shameful, and to ignore men’s low opinion of other things.”  In other words, Cato practiced dressing in a way that would invite criticism, just so that he could strengthen his resolve to ignore unjustified criticism.  Imagine the fearlessness you could show in your life if you weren’t concerned about other people’s opinion about you.

What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

I currently have several projects on hold right now because they just feel too big.  I don’t think that I can tackle them in a successful way, so I’ve been holding myself back from even starting.  I have to remind myself that the cost of failure is not as high as I’m making it out to be, and that unless I just go for it, I will most definitely never be successful.   Are there things you’ve got on the back-burner for one reason or another?  You may want to take a hard look and make sure that the “reason” isn’t truly the Fear of Criticism in disguise.

Take this blog for example.  I took a long time to consider starting it before I actually did, and I almost had myself talked out of it.  Then I took a step back and objectively conducted an analysis of what I had to lose.  I realized that I wasn’t facing a life or death situation, I was facing a “people might not like it and they might be mean to me over the internet” situation.  That realization alone was enough to get me to register my domain name and pay for hosting.  To hell with what people think! 

A Quick Note about Constructive Criticism

Sometimes people are right.  Do not be so thin skinned that you cannot take valid constructive criticism.  Some people will see what you are doing and they will notice problems or issues with it that you may not have noticed.  An important way to avoid getting defensive in situations like this is to realize that you are not your project, your art, music, blog, book, clothes, etc.  Criticism about something you’ve made is not criticism of you.  I am not this blog.  If someone comes along and says “Hey guy, I noticed that you did such and such…you really might want to think about doing it this way, because what you have now sucks.”  I’m going to think about what they said, and if they are right, I’m going to realize that the person was a friend, not a foe.

The same also holds true even if they are criticizing a part of you.  Say that someone comes up to me and points out that I have poor posture.  Even if they are harsh with their words or their intention is to insult me, it may behoove me to take note as to whether or not I am slumping or slouching.  If I am, then I should stand a little straighter and go on about my day, thankful that someone pointed out a defect in my behavior.

All that Matters is What you Do

At the end of the day, all that matters is that you’ve done your best.  Concerning yourself with criticism will pull your attention away from what you are doing, and will keep you from performing to your highest level.  You will begin to worry about some hypothetical destination rather than focusing on what you can control.

A lot of people say “live in the moment” or “be present,” this is good advice when facing any of the Six Specters of Life, because all of those fears exist in the future.  They exist in a reality that isn’t here yet, in a world known as “What If?”

What if people make fun of me?  What if I die alone?  What if I get sick in my old age?  What if I lose all of my money?  What if my lover leaves me?  What if people don’t like what I am doing?

I’m much less concerned about those hypothetical scenarios than I am about this one: “What if I allow fear to paralyze me and keep me from living my best life.”  It seems that FDR was right, fear itself is the only thing worth fearing, after all.

Join us next week as we wrap up this series with a final post to tie it all together.

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