Coping with Criticism

Criticism: Friend or Foe?

“Don’t pay attention to what other people say. Most of the time they’re just jealous anyway.” I once heard someone say. At the time it sounded good to me – any negative opinion that someone may have about me is their problem. They should mind their own business, and I’ll mind mine. But what if the person speaking is a friend, or at least someone who isn’t trying to hurt me? Worse yet, what if what they have to say is true? Should I still ignore it, just because it hurts too much to acknowledge?

Criticism, constructive or otherwise, is never easy to hear. We all try our best in all areas of our life, or at least like to think we do. Despite criticism’s sometimes unintentional sting, it can be one of the most powerful devices for change. The trick is being able to receive it without shifting focus and energy by blaming circumstances or others. As Winston Churchill so wisely said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Think of a time you were on the receiving end of well-intentioned, true criticism. Do you remember how it made you feel? It’s funny the kaleidoscope of feelings you endured. First you might have been angry at the person for thinking, much less saying, such negative things about you. Next you may have even retaliated, either mentally or out loud, pointing out their faults, animalistically trying to hurt them like they’ve hurt you. Once you realize your childish blunder, you draw back and realize that what they said was true. Some may even feel a sense of hopelessness at this stage, pointing out things about their circumstances or blaming it on others, telling themselves there is nothing they can do about it. But here is where the victors are divided from the losers, for the last point is decision. This is when you decide to either willingly become blind to your own faults, living in a sort of denial, or to face up to the ugly reality of who you are, and decide to – are you ready for this? – change.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best thing about the future is that it happens one day at a time.” Accepting criticism as a valuable tool is one of the most powerful weapons of successful people. It is every champion’s fuel, and every loser’s defeat. Tim Tebow, the infamous quarterback for the Florida Gators, was interviewed after his team suffered a humiliating loss at the beginning of the season. His bitter disappointment showing through, his eyes teared up as he admitted that his priorities were not where they should have been. He then made a powerful statement. He said that no single person in the league was going to work as hard as he was at making his team win. After his statement, his team rose to the top, and will likely make it to the play-offs. I once heard a quote that read, “Everyone will suffer one of two pains in life – the pain of regret or the pain of discipline. It is up to us which one we will bear.” Now that’s what I call a winning spirit.