Taking criticism is a major life lesson

Franklin AnnisMastering the art of taking criticism is one of the most important life lessons one can learn. While we are naturally attracted to people who reward our efforts with praise, we only grow as individuals when someone challenges us.

Unfortunately, learning how to gracefully accept criticism has been hampered by continual and unrealistic efforts to improve self-esteem in public school systems. While having self-esteem and valuing oneself as an individual is an important characteristic in a successful life, we should not be led into situations where we allow less than the expected standards just to protect a false concept of self-worth.

Lesson One 

You can fail without being a failure. Your worth as an individual is not determined by any single event in your life. No matter how bad you are atchemistry, mathematics, history, etc. you are not less of an individual.

While it may sting for a while to receive an “F” in a course, it doesn’t mean you are going to be a failure in life.

Failure allows us to recognize our errors and improve and grow as individuals.

Lesson TWO

The belief that those who are the best have failed less is false. While there are individuals who are born with natural talent in certain areas, most experts are born out of a continual drive to recognize and address errors.

A quote from Michael Jordan highlights this point: “I’ve missed more than 900 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six  times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in life. And that is why I succeed.”

The most successful businesses, industries, and individuals in our society design tools to collect feedback on both their successes and faults.

Lesson THREE 

Mistakes are opportunities to improve. We should expect others, especially our superiors, mentors, and educators to point out our faults.

It is only after an error is recognized it can be fixed. For this reason, it is important not to get emotionally tied to the criticism. Being corrected by a professor has nothing to do with how much they like or value you as an individual.

When you are given a chance to correct mistakes don’t treat it like punishment. If someone told you your shoe was untied would you assume that they had it in for you? I assume most people would answer no.

So, why do we assume professors are punishing us when they tell us to re-do an assignment? The trick is not to tie your sense of self-worth to the correction. It is simply a matter of correcting your mistake and moving on. This is how we become better.

Lesson FOUR

Those who critique us the most are often our best mentors. It is easy to become attached to those professors who only say positive things about us, but are they developing us? No.

Without correction there is little incentive to improve our skills, knowledge, or abilities.

Conversely, it becomes easy to hate those who constantly correct us. Nobody wants to be corrected all the time. But these individuals challenge us to improve. These individuals who we think hate us may demonstrate the most affection towards us.

An old military theory asserts you should only fear when someone stops correcting you. When mentors see greater potential in us than we see ourselves they present the challenge to improve.

We may not want the challenge, but they want to see us acheive our potential. It is when someone stops correcting you that you should worry. This means that they hold such a low value in you that you are no longer worth their efforts in correcting you.

Lesson FIVE

Criticism is not an attack that demands a counter. It demonstrates great grace when an individual can accept criticism and correct their mistake without looking for errors in others. Taking criticism as an attack and seeking faults in the sender is immature and destroys teamwork.

As educated individuals, we should accept feedback when we err, even when it comes in a perceived hostile manner. We should recognize criticism provides us with a means to correct ourselves. We are all humans, if we make an error we have a chance to correct ourselves.

In the “real world” criticism will come in many forms; some will be constructive and supportive while others may be utterly blunt and hurtful.

The trick to a successful life is to realize we need to have both a challenge and recognition of our weaknesses in order to improve. No matter the intention in which criticism is provided, it always provides us a chance to become better people.

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