It’s an experience that no creative wants to have. You’ve completed a project that you’re really proud of. You truly gave it your all—heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears. But when the feedback comes, it’s, shall we say, less than encouraging.
Creative work is particularly open to negative feedback: it’s often highly subjective and open to interpretation. How creative work is received is less about whether or not it’s not “right” and more about how much it is “liked,” which can make it difficult to receive feedback since it feels more like a matter of opinion and taste.
Unfortunately, in my experience, creatives are particularly sensitive to negative feedback, probably because creative work feels so personal. But because it comes with the territory, it’s important to be able to take that feedback without allowing it to ruin your self-confidence, momentum, or motivation.
How do you handle that feedback without it wrecking your day (or week)? As someone who has been the recipient of more negative feedback than I’d care to admit, I’ve learned a few things that might help.
Resist the urge to get defensive
It’s important to learn to resist the natural urge to be defensive (don’t worry, we all have it).
The fact is, there might be some kernels of truth in the feedback you received. It might actually prove to be extremely useful to you. But if you’re too busy hastily defending your work, you’re more likely to miss it.
When receiving feedback, check your reaction. If you immediately want to get defensive, take a deep breath. Step back for a minute to process and consider the feedback. Your immediate reaction is likely a strong emotional one, but reacting based on those strong emotions is more likely to hurt than help in situations like this.
The best thing you can do when receiving feedback is to listen, not defend.
Keep things in perspective
Along those same lines, that intensely emotional reaction can leave you feeling like the world is falling apart around you. That’s how feedback wrecks your day. Of course, if you’re able to keep that feedback in perspective, you can see it for what it is (critique of something in particular) instead of what it feels like (the end of the world).
If you get feedback that feels devastating, pause for a minute. Observe the situation with an outsider’s perspective. What is really going on? What is the feedback really telling you? More likely than not, it’s about making a few tweaks and adjustments, rather than a sweeping critique of your entire career.
If you’re able to keep the feedback in perspective, it’s less likely to ruin your mood. In fact, you’re more likely to be able to see some of the things in the feedback that are actually useful.
Let go of perfectionism
Many artists/creatives are perfectionists. They expect flawless work from themselves, and struggle to accept anything less.
The problem is that if you’re a perfectionist, and your work is met with feedback claiming it to be less than perfect, you’re either going to:
- Wholeheartedly reject the feedback and the giver of the feedback, or
- Spiral into depression because your work is not perceived as objectively perfect
Perfection is an illusion that has been fed to many of us from a young age. If you think about it, everything from grade school to social media is set up to make us want to strive for perfection. We want to achieve perfection in our home, our appearance, our relationships, our behavior, and so on. But as rampant a problem as perfection is, it’s still an illusion.
Learning to let go of perfectionism allows you to accept that your work might not be perfect—but that that’s okay. It opens the door to receiving feedback, which could potentially make your work even better.
But if perfectionism is already ingrained in you, how do you let it go?
One of my favorite ways is through mantras. There are things about perfectionism that I believe to be true, even though I don’t always internalize them. By repeating these mantras to myself when I start to feel my perfectionistic tendencies rising, I can remember the truth that I know about the myth that is “perfection.”
Here are some mantras that might help:
- “Perfection does not exist.”
- “Nobody is perfect. Nothing is perfect. And that’s okay.”
- “Done is better than perfect.”
- “The goal is effort, not perfection.”
- “I am not perfect. I am enough.”
Ask clarifying questions
It’s important that you understand the feedback you’ve been given. Again, it might be useful! If there’s something that truly confuses you about the feedback, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
Approach feedback with curiosity. See it as an opportunity. Asking questions can help give you some clarity about why the person feels the way they do about your work. It might even help them express themselves better, giving you both a better idea of what needs to change going forward.
Feedback gives you the chance to become better. Don’t waste it. Be curious.
Questions you might ask include:
- “What is a specific way I could improve?”
- “What is it about that aspect that you don’t like?”
- “Is there a tool or reference you’d suggest I use to help me do better next time?”
- “Have you noticed this same thing in my other work? I don’t want to keep making the same mistakes.”
Separate “you” from “your work”
As I mentioned before, creative work often feels very personal. That means that when someone critiques your creative work, it can feel like they’re actually critiquing you as a person.
Of course, that’s not the case. As much as you put yourself into what you create, the fact is that how your work is received means nothing about you or your worth.
Feedback is about performance or result, not about whether or not you’re a good person. You can receive negative feedback and still be kind, generous, talented, creative, and hardworking. Recognizing this is perhaps the most important thing to remember when you’re trying to handle feedback without wrecking your day.
Knowing yourself can help you as you strive to separate yourself from your work. When you’re self-aware, you see and acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses. You recognize your talents and your weak spots. You are willing to search for areas of improvement. And through it all, you have an innate sense of self-worth and self-respect.
As you become self-aware, you’ll be able to more easily see how feedback on your work or performance does not mean anything about you as a person. You know yourself and what you’re worth, and a little criticism isn’t going to change that.
(By the way we have a whole series of blog posts about the biggest things that keep people from self-awareness: skepticism, self-doubt, shame, and pride. Check them out as you strive to become more self-aware.)
Stay in control of your thoughts
Your attitude is determined by your thoughts. If you allow your thoughts about the feedback to be negative or discouraging, you’ll feel negative and discouraged. Day, wrecked.
Fortunately, you have control over your thoughts. You can choose the thoughts you’re going to have about the feedback you receive. You can choose what your attitude is going to be. If you want to allow the negative feedback to ruin your day (or week), you can. But if you don’t, you don’t have to. You’re in control.
As part of our Unleashing Your Inner Dragon manifesto, we talk about thoughts and the power you have over your thoughts. Would your inner dragon—which represents boldness and fierce creativity—allow some negative feedback to ruin your day? Or would it take it in stride, recognizing it for what it is and using it to fuel future creativity?
Choose thoughts that serve you. Don’t dwell on negative reactions, how angry you are, or how much you disagree with the feedback. Focus on what you can learn, how you can grow, and how you can use the feedback to get you closer to the happiness you’re trying to create.
Feedback can very easily wreck your day (or week). But you don’t have to let it. Stay in control. You can decide how to react, what to take from the feedback, and how to think and behave differently because of it. Don’t handle feedback in a way that wrecks your day; instead, handle it in a way that helps you “create happy” in your life.