How to Deal With Criticism When You Take Consistent Risks

By AJ Juliani, 21 comments

In 11th grade I decided to try out for the school musical. I’d never been involved in a school drama or musical, and spent most of my time playing varsity football and basketball.

I ended up being chosen to play the part of the Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Talk about embarrassing! I heard it loud and clear from some friends and family who thought I was crazy. Luckily, most of the people in my life were supportive and I followed through with the performance.

After our three shows I felt great about taking the risk to try out and play the part of the Cowardly Lion. It was an awesome experience, and we had a lot of fun along the way. Yet, I remember a specific comment about the show from one of my peers in class that called it a joke.

Not the actual show, but the fact that I had gone out for the play and was the lion. Amidst all of the positive feedback, I couldn’t help but focus on the one criticism I heard…

Times have changed, but my reaction to critical feedback has stayed relatively the same.

A few weeks ago I received a critical review on my book, Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom, on Amazon.

At first, I tried to brush it off. I’ve heard from so many amazing teachers and leaders who have read the book or my blog and given positive feedback. In fact, that same day I had some great emails come in talking about “solving the biggest problem in education” at a recent workshop activity.

But I couldn’t let it go. The review nagged at me. After a couple of days I reached out to a few authors and asked them how they deal with negative reviews. Each had similar stories and talked about the feeling of pouring so much time and energy into a book…and then hearing critical feedback.

What came away from those conversations were a few truths about dealing with criticism that I’ve thought about…

1. When You Take Risks, Criticism Will Follow

If you sit in your office, or classroom, or house and rarely come out…you probably will stay clear of criticism. Any time you decide to take a different viewpoint on a subject, write something for the world to see, or ask questions that no one is asking…you are taking a risk.

There are millions of people who live their lives avoiding risk. I personally can’t be one of them. I’ve tried to “slow down” or “follow the course” but it never works out. And when you take risks, criticism will follow. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that if no one is criticizing your work, then it might not be worth it.

In this situation, I have to remember who I am as a person. Then I have to realize that the risks I take have to be worth the criticism that will follow.

2. Don’t Dismiss All Criticism, Take It For What It Is

I talked with someone who gave me great advice: the criticism you receive can often have some truth.

This hit home.

It’s easy to dismiss criticism or feedback that you don’t like…but if you look at it from another perspective, it can be helpful. This doesn’t mean you take everything at face value, but realize that it’s worth taking a look at what the feedback suggests about your work.

This is easier said then done 🙂

3. Keeping It To Yourself Is Not Going to Help

I’ve gone full circle on this topic. I thought for a long time that you should keep criticism and feedback to yourself, because who wants to hear about it (sorry!). Then I reached out and started sharing some stories and realized that almost everyone who is creating, writing, or putting their thoughts and ideas for the world to see…has dealt with criticism.

Now, I’ve gone from keeping it to myself to sharing it on this blog with the world. Here’s my thought: It didn’t help to keep it to myself, so I’m seeing if being open about it changes anything.

I do know that talking about it and hearing about other situations did open my eyes to a greater understanding of what it means to take risks, create, and handle yourself professionally in any context.

4. Add Fuel to Your Creative Fire

As someone who takes risks and makes/creates things, there has to be something that lights your fire. Criticism works wonderful as a motivator.

It has led me to really focus on making my next book, Learning By Choice, the best it can be…and an extremely practical and helpful book for teachers and anyone in education.

The truth is, you can never please everyone. And if you try to please everyone you’ll end up helping no one.

So, you have to focus that energy and creative fire on making something of value for your intended audience. When that audience grows, or shifts, or changes…there are going to be new voices that may want a different type of product than you’ve created.

My final thought is this: Are you doing good work, with good people, for good reasons?

If you can answer yes to each of those, then push forward, because the world needs your voice…regardless of the feedback you may receive along the way.

Photo Credit: Symic via Compfight cc

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