I welled up with tears earlier this week, as I read Brené Brown’s recent essay, “My response to Adam Grant’s New York Times Op/ED: Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.”
I can honestly say I think I’m forever changed by it. And I believe so many of us can be helped by it.
For years as I have worked with brilliant women, I have heard from them how their fears of criticism, of being told they are naive or don’t know what they are talking about, have kept them from saying the very important, culture-challenging things they have to say. I have related to these fears entirely. When I sit down to write, or get ready to speak, or want to stretch into addressing a new subject or a controversial matter in my work, I get gripped by those fears, too.
It’s no mystery why so many women have these fears. Most of us had early experiences in which we were told our ideals were naive, our ideas were silly. Many women still get told this in one way or another. And, as I’ve written about before, for the past few millenia, it wasn’t safe for women to do or say things that drew criticism. We didn’t have legal, financial, political, or other means to protect our safety if we challenged the status quo. Likability, social influence, doing what was approved of? These were primary survival strategies for us.
No wonder many of us still feel – at an instinctual level – like criticism could be life-threatening, unsafe, something we couldn’t recover from or fight back against. For most of our history, that was our reality.
For years now a central part of my work has been looking at this legacy of our relationship to criticism, and doing the inner work with women to help us become more comfortable with it.
This week in her essay, Brené Brown showed me something I’ll never forget: what it looks like for a woman to put forth an unapologetic, direct response to criticism of ideas that she believes in. To argue back the points she wanted to argue. To point out what had been, in her eyes, misconstrued and omitted. To do it so intelligently, and insightfully. To do it immediately, not after weeks of hemming and hawing or of consulting with dozens of people to get their approval on her next move. Instead, she published her response the very same day the other piece was written. That requires a kind of self-trust and comfort with improvisation and imperfection.
I thought about why I was stunned and electrified and move to tears reading her essay. I realized that in my very old, seeded-in-childhood fears of being publicly criticized around my ideas, I fail to remember that after the criticism there could still be a next moment, a next day, and next week. A time in which I can respond. I think the very idea of responding requires a sense of one’s power and agency that my inner little girl self doesn’t have when she thinks of moments of being criticized, ostracized or ridiculed for what she has to say.
The other thing that struck me was how smart and articulate Brené’s response was. It made so many wise points. I realized how I don’t remember that even after an experience of criticism, my intelligence and gifts will still be there to allow me to express what I want to say next. I picture a crumbling, retreating, weepy woman being there afterwards, but what if there could be a still smart, still able, even more full of conviction woman there instead? That’s what I felt in this essay.
And at the simplest level, Brené Brown has given me a strategy I’ll add to my menu of options of what to do when criticism or critique comes. Create a kickass response. Written, or spoken, or enacted.
Thanks, Brené. You can check out her post here.
And a few other fun updates from my life and work:
The Chinese edition of Playing Big is out! Woo hoo!
And big thanks to Yelp for hosting a great Fireside Chat about Playing Big for women in technology.