A few Thursdays ago I received this disturbing email from a work-at-home writer friend.
“I’m majorly bummed out,” wrote this normally-witty guy. “I think I’m ready to check out for good. I think I’ve about had it. Is it me, or have people become even bigger pricks? Or have my skills really deteriorated, which is something I should probably fess up to? Or am I too sensitive? I’m not only not dressed, but haven’t shaved in days.”
Oy! Time for coffee.
We met the next day at our local café on an unseasonably mild October day. After ordering a “large decaf” (I have yet to learn the proper “half-caf-quad-venti-skinny-one-sweet-and-low-no-foam-latte” lingo), I found my friend sadly swaddling his tea in the darkest corner of the shop. So I pulled him outside and plunked him down at a small table in the sun, which is where he poured out his story.
It seems that a couple of his latest articles received some unflattering comments. One was from an editor who didn’t like his writing style. The other was from a blogger who took exception to his premise. My friend was devastated.
“I’m considering hanging this up for good and doing something else – if only I had a skill in demand,” he whimpered into his beard. “I’m looking at retraining programs already.”
I felt bad for the guy. I mean, haven’t we all faced criticism at some point in our lives? But here was a writer with decades of experience and a ton of fabulous articles to show for it. Do a few unpleasant words mean it’s time to pack it in?
Sure, criticism hurts, but it can also be a good learning experience. Perhaps my friend was having a bad day and it came out in his writing – that has happened to me. Perhaps he hadn’t researched enough and someone caught a mistake or omission – that has also happened to me. Or maybe, just maybe, the blogger had an agenda and wouldn’t have liked any article that contradicted it.
Whatever the case, I realized it was my job to perk him up. And as I so often do, I blurted out exactly what I was thinking:
“Are you going through male menopause?? Don’t let a silly blogger get you down. Let him rant, who cares. If you made any errors unintentionally, the publication can blame their own fact-checkers and proofreaders, and the editor should have helped you better understand the publication’s preferred style.”
Not the most eloquent advice, but my friend laughed (whew!). Then, of course, I acknowledged his feelings and we talked about how awful it is to be criticized and how low it makes us feel. I told him about the editor at one of Canada’s national newspapers who used to tear every article I wrote to shreds and make me cry – and then she’d assign another and I’d accept (this went on for years until I finally stood my ground on one of her edits and she said, ‘Oh, fine then.’ Why, oh why, hadn’t I thought of that before?). I told him how my latest feature article – about wealthy downsizers moving into large but expensive condos – solicited this online response: “Wow, talk about the 1%. Ridiculous story by National Post!” And I shared a few other of my darker journalism moments that made me cringe.
Perhaps he’s just bored and needed a change, I suggested. I tried to plug PR writing – it’s way better money than journalism, and the client approves the copy (so no chance of getting something wrong upon publication!) – but in true journalist style he balked at the thought of moving to The Dark Side. Yet I also reminded him about all the great articles he has written and all the awesome trips he has been on of late, many of which he has chronicled in prestigious publications.
“Stick with something you like to write about, like travel writing,” I urged. “But shave first. And smile – it’s the weekend!”
I was happy to see that he left our meeting feeling lighter and more content. And a few days later he was happier still when he received this email from me:
“Just to let you know that I spent the last day and a half doing a rush job for a corporate client … and they hated it. I feel like crap, but I won’t be packing in my day job over it!”
His response made me LOL: “Somehow, you feeling like crap makes me feel better (just kidding … or am I?). Not schandenfruede but close. I’m doing better, especially after meeting you. You were a real tonic, just what I needed. I’m beginning to see that one blog post largely went unread. But still, I hate the guy and wish him ill. Call anytime you’re feeling low. We can compare misery, like my parents used to.”
How do you deal with criticism at work? What have you learned from it? Share your thoughts – and I’ll pass them on to my friend, too!