How to Deal With Criticism When You Take Consistent Risks

Are you a risk taker?

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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Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • Blair Flink says:

    well said! I’m going to share this with others.

  • Joanne Keim says:


    Great blog and some very insightful comments. You got me thinking about the fact that I really dislike reading the evaluations at the end of my PD sessions and why! And then how to look at that negative feedback through a different lens.

    Joanne Keim
    PBL Coordinator, Trainer and Coach

    • AJ Juliani says:

      It is definitely all about how we look at it, and I like the idea of multiple lenses to view feedback. I tend to take it too personal instead of treating it as professional.

  • Kim White says:

    Thank you for your thoughts. I have just left school on the verge of some type of emotional out pouring, either tears or ranting as I am feeling frustrated and defeated. Your post is very timely in reassuring Me I am doing the right things in the right ways!!

  • thor says:

    Today I listened to one of the richest venture capitalists in the country openly discuss his insecurities and how it drives him.

    Providing STEM Coaches for teachers, fear of failure or criticism on one of our largest challenges. It takes confidence to look potential of failure in the eye.

    We have a saying on our board, “no good deed goes unpunished.” We do good work with good people for good reasons….but we also know we are not perfect and welcome feedback. However, Ive foind that few people really know how to provide constructive criticism.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thank for the comment, and I think you are spot on: It does take confidence (and some guts) to look potential failure in the eye. Although we can look at the field of education and say it is “different” than business…we still have many of the same fear to overcome.

  • John Bennett says:

    In considering #2 and possibly #3, for my thinking, taking risks is indeed making changes. (Not all change involves risk but almost all risk involves change.) BUT I’m not one that literally believes “change is not an option” or “if you’re not changing, you’re falling behind” (or your own favorite catchy phrase on change). What I DO believe is that you owe it to yourself to CONSIDER change. Change possibilities developed consciously will most often be worth instigating. But think about them carefully first.

    You mentioned that taking a risk, criticism will likely follow. The key is to CONSIDER the criticism carefully (as with change). There’s probably value in doing so and discussing the same with others.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      I agree John, the act of “considering” is often forgotten. What I’ve found to be true is that consideration can still leave you uneasy, but at least you’ll have gone through the right process.

  • Cynthia says:

    I needed this article today. Thanks for sharing what its all about.

  • Mark says:

    There is little more empowering than recognizing that you are in control of how you feel!

  • Kimberly Goh says:

    Thanks for sharing this, AJ. It’s encouraging to know that even people who have achieved as much as you have sometimes struggle with negative comments. When we challenge the status quo, introduce novel solutions or ask important questions that other people don’t want to ask, we’re taking a big risk – and we will be criticized for that. But if what Angela Maiers says is true – if we really DO matter and the world needs us to speak out and own our genius, then we will press on and allow it to positively shape who we become. I look forward to seeing how this will fuel your creative fire as you write your next book!

  • Emily says:

    Thank you so much! I needed to see this. You offer the positive perspective that I was missing at the moment.

  • Cathy says:

    Thanks for sharing this and risking even putting THIS out there! I can so relate… One of the points really hit home for me – I agree that’s there’s often some truth in criticism, and I once learned (very painfully) by reflecting on mine that I actually hadn’t handled things well when I didn’t anticipate the effect my innovative work could have on others. I now value that painful learning — and the rest? Once seriously considered and discounted, blown away with a breath of fresh air. However…. there was a whole 2nd layer of hurt I needed to deal with: that they’d even think to say the things they said was a deep blow to my professional pride. THAT kind of criticism is NOT easy to deal with! Having others who genuinely affirm your self-worth at times like that is so essential! Thank goodness for online PLN’s. (-:

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for the comment Cathy! Yes, that second layer (especially if you know the person or group) can be tough to get over…but I do believe it’s more than possible when the reasons are right for whatever action was criticized. We can all mess up, but it’s more the “why” behind it that matters.

  • Thanks for sharing this, AJ. It’s encouraging to realize that even human beings who have achieved as much as you have got every now and then conflict with negative remarks. while we venture the reputation quo, introduce novel solutions or ask critical questions that other human beings don’t need to ask, we’re taking a big hazard – and we will be criticized for that. but if what Angela Maiers says is authentic – if we truly DO depend and the arena wishes us to speak out and very own our genius, then we will press on and permit it to definitely shape who we become. I look forward to seeing how this will gas your innovative fireplace as you write your subsequent e-book!
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