I consider myself to be a conscientious worker and have received emails from my employers over the years reinforcing the quality of my work and motivating me to work harder. It therefore came as a shock when I received a harsh email saying that the work I am producing “just isn’t good enough.” I was told, “You were hired to do X, Y and Z and we are dissatisfied at the moment with the caliber of your work”.
Trust me, it stings. Perhaps I am ultra sensitive and care way too much about how I am viewed by my employer. Irrespective, being criticized hurt me and I was faced with two options. I could ignore the criticism, make justifications and convince myself that it is in fact they and not me, who is not doing their job properly. These thoughts were enticing and I was tempted by them, yet a voice in my head kept telling me it was childish to think along those lines.
The other, harder and more mature option was to accept the criticism and embrace it. Embracing criticism (as nice as it may sound in theory) is not an easy thing to do. So I did not rush into making any decisions and contemplated about the quality of my work. I slept on it and woke up in the morning feeling slightly more invigorated and resolved. I figured if I was hired to do a job and have retained it thus far, my employer must deem me capable.
So I copied and pasted his email of critique and decided to use it as a guide for my future writing, to be referenced when I feel that the quality of my writing can be improved.
Sometimes using pain and critique provides the perfect springboard for development. As peculiar as it may sound, I am grateful for the criticism. Although at the time it made me feel like crying, I now view it as a tool that helps me excel. It reminds me of the quote: “If you are not making mistakes, it means you are not trying hard enough.”
When I was reading the book, “How Doctors Think” by Jerome Groopman, M.D., I was riveted by his approach to the inevitable mistakes and misdiagnoses doctors make. Dr. Groopman writes that each time he made a mistake, he wrote down the details of the case on a flash card. Over the years he accumulated many flash cards, and when faced with a perplexing case, he would browse through the flashcards of previous mistakes to help stimulate his brain. He found that by reviewing past mistakes, he was better equipped to ensure that he would not misdiagnose future patients. What inspired me the most was that despite his years of experience, familiarity and expertise, he allotted enormous amounts of time and energy towards reviewing past mistakes.
Making mistakes is a normal, natural part of life. Yet the way people view their own mistakes differs amongst different personality traits. Whilst some people beat themselves up, others may opt out and play the blame game. Usually the latter is easier. Self-esteem is vulnerable and criticism can erode at the core of one’s self worth. Whilst mistakes are painful, they can provide even greater opportunity, if you are receptive to internalizing the critique. Making a conscious decision to reflect on practical ways of improvement is often the most effective response to criticism.
As billionaire Ken Fisher once said in an interview I watched, successful people are the ones who can quickly acknowledge mistakes and move forward to even greater accomplishments.
This experience has taught me that criticism is not a cruel, ugly monster waiting to attack and destroy. In fact, criticism is a form of communication that if properly received can propel me towards even greater accomplishment.
I believe accepting criticism is a skill – one that I am working on daily to improve. It can take a lifetime to perfect such skills and thus I will continue to toil. For it is not how we make mistakes, but how we correct them that defines us.