I recently had the most amazing experience with criticism.

But first, let me take you back to where I started from. I started out as a girl so damn afraid of criticism that the harsh words my English professors said during college (your short story just “doesn’t go anywhere”, your writing is “clunky”, and so on) were so wounding to me that I didn’t write for years after graduating. Years.

And then, over the past years, that changed. A first step was realizing that if I was going to write, I needed to write for myself–not for praise. A second step was getting used to people writing harsh comments about my work and realizing I was always going to get both praise and criticism. Thank you Huffington Post, for being a great bootcamp for getting used to that.

Another step was practicing, for years, the tool I now teach: interpreting feedback as telling me useful information about the person giving the feedback, not about myself.

It was not lost on me, of course, how ironic it was that I then was asked to write an essay about this topic for The New York Times. I had to deal with my own inner spaz about whether the world was going to praise my essay on unhooking from praise. Ha ha, universe, very funny.

What happened was just what I talked about in the article: all substantive work draws both positive and negative feedback. Lots of people loved the piece. I got tons of positive feedback. It was the #1 Most Emailed story of the week. And some people really didn’t like the essay. A few women journalists and bloggers wrote other articles, at popular sites, about what they felt was missing from it and wrong with it.

And here’s what was so amazing. I was honestly happy for those women. I really really was. I was happy for them because they were sharing what they felt had been unsaid about the issue, and they were actually  getting their voices out, and publishing, and I know so well how hard that is and how much courage it takes. I was also happy for them because they weren’t being bound by “nice-girl” norms that could have prevented them from vocally disagreeing, from writing a piece that was fundamentally a critique of another.

I felt like we were all sitting at a round table and I was sharing my point of view, and they theirs. I felt so free because as I wrote my essay, and afterward, I’d given myself permission to not address every possible objection, to not cover all my bases, so to speak. I didn’t ask myself to do that. I asked myself to stay firmly rooted in my subjective slice of the truth and share that. And our conversation as a collective is only whole if other people do the same. We live in a world of multiple truths, countless layers of the truth, different prisms on the truth. My job was not to say it all, it was to say my part.

As I felt my way through that strange experience of responding to the critical essays by having this new kind of “I’m so happy for you that you are getting your voice out there!” feeling, to my own surprise, the phrase that kept coming into my consciousness was “a kind of spiritual generosity.”

This was something I had never thought about before, that there is a spiritual generosity we can extend in welcoming, allowing other people’s criticism of our work, when that criticism is part of what it looks like for them to share their perspective. They would of course be “allowed” to do it no matter how I felt about it, but I believe somehow energetically it matters for them, and for me, that I welcome it and respect it.

Now, if that criticism had come in a conversation with me, maybe this would have been an entirely different experience for me, one that required different skills and different recovery, but in our virtual roundtable, so to speak, this was my experience.

And, at the same time, I protected my fragile artist-writer self. I skimmed their work – I didn’t dwell on it. I didn’t feel the need to form an opinion about it or to respond.

But I was, and am, genuinely happy that they were taking their seat at the table, and I mine.

How can you extend the spiritual generosity to others to more fully allow them their seat at the table – even if that entails criticism of your ideas?

Love,

Tara

 

photo credit: rawpixel

Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • stacey says:

    Amazing post. So many ways come to mind for turning fear and defensive reaction into spiritual generosity. I love the imagery of sitting at the table and freely sharing diverse ideas without judgment or needing to be right. Can’t wait to try out this POV. It is no wonder we value and love you Miss Tara. You are the light! Thanks.

  • Julie says:

    Tara,

    I love this phrase: ‘My job was not to say it all, it was to say my part.’ This is something I’m keeping in mind as I ‘shine’ more of my light – I need to share my truth, not THE truth, and let it call to those who resonate with it. It frees me up to share more of what I know and to accept others’ opinions as well, as you noted. I’m so proud of you and so happy about the great response you’re getting to the book! I’m loving it and shared it with a young scientist I’m mentoring. 🙂 Big hugs!

  • amanda says:

    I love the maturity and wisdom that shines through your lens when you write. You are an inspiration to all women to have courage and stand tall with their unique point of view.

  • Tara, Your ability to convert experiences into nuggets we can apply to our own lives/professions is a gift. I took one of your workshops on line two years ago and you said when you are building, pay attention to the “people in your path” and be less focused on the people telling you what you are doing wrong. I quote you in workshops I give and guests LOVE the advice! Your presence as a guest speaker at my networking dinner in New York is one of my fondest memories. Congratulations on all your great strides forward including motherhood. Joy! Your book is on my beds stand and I look forward to soaking up your brilliance. Thank you, again for this! Jeanne Stafford

  • Jane Shure says:

    It is so important to share the specific ways you talk to yourself and support your ability to make room at the table for those who don’t agree with us. Sometimes people’s tones can be down and out disparaging or vitriolic, making it that much harder to stay centered and continue to express our points of view. Your voice is appreciated and will continue to empower so many who are open and willing to counteract their Inner Critic and the outer critics that get encountered.

  • Tara, what a pleasure it always is to hear your spiritually conscious perspective on things.
    I love how the Universe does that kind of private little joke with us about the things we fear the most. You show how easy it is to switch your direction of thought and see life from a viewpoint that releases you from self-destructive thinking.
    Life can be quite a hoot. I , personally, cannot get enough reminders that I choose how this physical experience is going to feel for me, with every attitude adjustment I do or do not make in my Soul’s favour.

  • Nicole Shappart says:

    Tara Mohr, the world is a better place because you are in it. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I so look forward to your emails, blog posts and I can’t wait to read your book.

  • Cheryl says:

    Like Julie, ‘My job was not to say it all, it was to say my part.’ truly resonates. It’s confidence shifting to see that I know what I know, and I don’t have to know it all. Letting it sink in….

    And your “spiritual generosity” about critical voices reminds me to look for, as my rabbi says, the “good impulse” that is underlying others perspectives. They too are seeking their slice of the truth, they too may be seeking to move us forward, albeit in a different way.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Much to learn from you…

    Gratefully,
    Cheryl

  • Selena says:

    As always you hit the bulls-eye Tara. I think most criticism comes from those who are afraid to change and grow. Those who are comfortable in viewing the world through only one lens. When you offer new thoughts to old issues you are giving people PERMISSION to change their perspective and become authentic. And we all know how scary it can be to live courageously and be our authentic selves. Keep up the great work Tara!

  • Patrycia says:

    Thank you for your insights, Tara. I had never really seen in words the “perspective” of the person who is criticizing me or my work, sitting at the table. Like you, I have come from the position of the highly sensitive writer/thinker to one who sits at a virtual table with others who have chosen to come to the table. It’s a refreshing experience. Thanks so much!
    Blessings,
    Pat

  • Darcy says:

    This is a great topic, and you bring up a great point (actually, many, but I will focus on this one): Why do we women exact such perfection from ourselves, especially when we know it is impossible to please everyone. Impossible, futile and, also, not necessarily desirable. Yet, criticism is so “scary” that, yes, we shrink from it and, as a result, often back away from the things we want most out of life. Great post (and I am loving Playing Big and am so glad that you are so that we can, as well)!

  • Yes, yes, what a great article, and I agree with all the other commenters too! Nothing else to add apart from criticism being a great teacher. I think that when we are ready to put our work out and not feel ‘destroyed’ by other people’s negative view of it, it’s also a sign that the work is ready, that it’s mature enough to take criticism, which reflects back to the maturity of the author. Love your work, Tara. Thanks for giving us all so much opportunity.

  • I relate so much to what you’re saying. It really applies to any sort of criticism, especially if you want to nip it the bud. However it is a sort of spiritual awakening that makes you feel better and learn somethings. My grandmother died and at her funeral my cousin started balling me out or not being there for her for the past years. This was true, but I was so young and my mother had moved me to a different state after a divorce, and there were many more valid reasons. But I chose to say, you’re right, and it was my loss. I wish now that I had known her better. My cousin was stopped in her tracks. What could she say – I admitted my fault. She and I felt vilified and it was sort a spiritual awakening for me.

  • Donna Davis says:

    Hi Tara:

    I’ve enjoyed very much the renewed activity and follow-up in your posts and newsletter. My comments on your NYT article were a response coming from my own very negative experiences of bullying thinly guised as “criticism” and yes,I too hoped I was contributing to a dialogue even if showing a little “attitude.”

    Your post today really expands on and reinforces your frequent questioning of the schooled values of “preparedness”
    and “perfectionism.”

    If we try to do it all, or say it all, we leave no room for others to enter, to reimagine and dream and even reinvent our creations for themselves, and as their own.
    In my visual art practice, I have often chastised myself for leaving drawings (especially) “unfinished.” How amateurish, indecisive, phoney even!And so, when a fellow student once told me she thought my unfinished drawings were “better” than my “finished” ones, I was mortified! Humiliated.

    Humiliation, the famous humble or contrite heart…aren’t these, paradoxically, the gateways to spiritual generosity? The spaces of our imperfections–even our failures!–may be our greatest gifts to others. Less is more…to share.

    Thank you Tara, you lead us to the mysteries.

    PS–I hope your book tour takes you to Canada (Toronto or Montreal?). We have the multicultural Blue Metropolis literary festival in Montreal in the spring, a great venue for inspirational and motivational writing, or–more your velocity!–the major prestige/power-publishing event Salon du Livre in November…

    Best to all,

    Donna

  • Hilary says:

    What is positive about using the childish and derogatory term “spaz” to describe yourself or anyone else? You need to remove that ugly slang from your lexicon. It has to have occurred to you that disabled women might also read your work for critically needed encouragement. You owe them an apology for that staggering thoughtlessness. If you don’t know where it came from, it’s short for spastic, once used as a descriptor for those with cerebral palsy, then turned into a cruel taunt. Shame on you, Tara Worth, as a mother in particular.

  • Melanie McNeil says:

    Do you need to “shame” someone about this? Assume she did NOT know, and educate her, rather than insult her. That doesn’t make things better.

    Thanks for considering there may be a better way to teach someone.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Thanks so much Hilary, for brining my attention to the origin and meaning of the term – was totally unaware. Tara

  • polina says:

    I like it when these posts speak directly to something I am wrestling with in my life. It’s generous and great of Tara to share her experiences and wisdom as they are continue unfolding in her life. In my case I’m a teacher at the college level and distributed a mid-semester survey to students in one of my courses today to get a sense of how various aspects of the course are working for them. It’s always hard to read through these surveys because students inevitably criticize some aspect of the course that I think has value (of course I do – that’s why I make it part of the course). And sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally. But learning to be welcoming of criticism, see it as one truth in a broader whole, cultivate that spiritual generosity – those were good reminders. They encourage me to stay open to learning from and about the students instead of closing myself off. But learning from and about students doesn’t mean I have to go against my judgment and values as a teacher. Anyway, thanks for the post – it resonated with me.

  • susan says:

    I am a sculptor so I am no stranger to critiques and many have been helpful and upsetting.
    The French Artist Marcel Duchamps (1887-1968) I am paraphrasing a quote…
    Art is finished by the viewer.
    I believe that to be true.
    Thank you Tara.

  • Tina Pecheos says:

    Tara,
    I have been getting emails for years usually skimming and deleting, life being too busy. I am so glad #1 I did not unsubscribe which I have been thinking of.. and #2 trading this atrial in its entirety! All I am going to say is Thank You!

  • June De Sena says:

    Wow! What a fantastic post! At so many levels, Tara, you ‘teach’ others the grace of self-discovery, which is pure living at its best! No shame. No judgement. Just pure understanding of yourself, and self-discovery. Am I smiling BIG!

  • Pamela Venus says:

    Tara
    This is Fantastic! I loooove it❤️ What a full embodied open heart response. I am saving this & sharing this on FB.
    Please get your book into Kindle format; I want to buy it Now!!!!
    Namaste
    Pamela Venus

  • […] a wonderful perspective on others criticizing our […]

  • Tara,

    This post came at the right time for me as I review comments from reviewers of my book to determine how best to integrate some of their suggestions regarding improving it.

    Most of all, I love, really freaking love this statement of yours in the article, “And our conversation as a collective is only whole if other people do the same. We live in a world of multiple truths, countless layers of the truth, different prisms on the truth. My job was not to say it all, it was to say my part.” This statement liberates me in such a way that I felt it in my body. It frees me to respect the opinions of others as I move towards playing bigger as an author while respecting what I have to say on a topic or in a book and being okay with that. Thank you so much for Playing Big! Your work inspires many of us to do the same. I appreciate YOU!

  • Catherine says:

    You had me right up until this bit: “I skimmed their work – I didn’t dwell on it. I didn’t feel the need to form an opinion on it or to respond.”
    That feels condescending to me. You were really happy that they had opinions and expressed them, but you didn’t respect them enough to actually listen and try to hear what they were saying? I can understand not wanting to get bogged down in negativity, but it seems disingenuous to say you are happy for other people to have a different opinion, but hey…you don’t actually want to hear what it is…it might as well just be noise. And listening to criticism is always useful! It’s what can help us grow. Even if you end up rejecting it or ignoring it, or if it comes with a dose of unkindness then yes, ignore it. But otherwise give people the respect to hear and consider what they have to say.
    I guess I’ll feel sad and offended if your reply to my comment is “I’m really happy for you to have a different opinion Catherine, thanks for your comment” 😛

  • […] click here. For more on telling your slice of the truth (that concept has helped me so many times, click here. For more poems from Tara, click […]

  • […] work will receive criticism. And that the criticism tells us about the person providing feedback, not the work itself. We also got clear on why Rebecca chose to become a writer (she left a lucrative career to pursue […]

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