How can I filter out the bad and still hear the good?
October 23, 2009 7:12 AM   Subscribe

How can I develop a thicker skin in my role as a public performer?

I am an adult male and work in a creative industry, one where everything about me pretty much is "out there" for people to critique. I'm not famous, but I'm known of.

But I find it hard to handle some of the bile that comes my way.

I need to clarify, I can always take constructive criticism. Sure, sometimes it may sting a little bit, but I'm happy to receive it because I want to continue to hone my craft and be the best I can be at what I do.

However there are times when I will get these random pieces of hate, be it that someone e-mails me that it's been posted online, in an iTunes review of my work, etc. and it really, really bothers me.

I mean, often times these are personal attacks that aren't about the work but about me as a person. Other times they're presumably about the work but are just so hate filled that I can't think there's not something else going on.

My field is very competitive, and while I try to be the "good guy" never tearing others down to push myself up, my competition isn't so high-minded and I find all these little ways they go about trying to undermine my work (and it's not paranoia here, it's documented and agreed upon by many, many people I know).

While I have received thousands of compliments on my work, either via e-mail or in person, each one of these really harsh character assassinations undermines them all, and makes me think "screw it, I'm just gonna pull the plug" and go back to having a normal life outside of the public eye and without these hateful competitions going on.

But I enjoy what I do, and many people tell me I'm good at how can I let these negative things roll off my back, instead of ruining my day? (Actually one really harsh attack can ruin my mood for several days...)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
As a writer, I find this passage from Theodore Roosevelt especially useful:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
posted by shallowcenter at 7:18 AM on October 23, 2009 [38 favorites]

We used to say in writing, that once the words are on the page, they don't "belong" to you any more. They're just words now, free to be torn, mangled, edited, re-ordered, spindled, etc. It was a way of separating the writer from the editing process.

I would suggest adopting a similar mindset, in that, once a performance is given, it's gone. It's out of you. It's somewhere else now. You can grab the performance and hold it away from you, appraising it, evaluating it, discarding it, however you see fit. If you receive criticism, it's criticism only of that object that's no longer part of you. You can then choose to use the criticism constructively, or toss it away if you feel that's appropriate.

For instance ... there's currently a shirt hanging in your closet, right? Well, I happen to think it's a shitty color. Do you care? Is it a reflection on you personally? No. It's just a shirt. You can wear it, or not, or combine it with a nice jacket, or tell me to buzz off. You get to decide what happens to the shirt.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:22 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Criticism can be a gift. I have trained myself to ask myself one question when I'm presented with criticism: Is it valid?
If so, can I do something to improve? Fine, that's something to work on.
If not, then it's not my problem. It's theirs.
If you can train yourself to think this way even seemingly personal attacks won't have much effect, because you'll realize that the critics don't know you personally, they're reacting to what's going on in their own heads.
It still stings, it will cause you to stop for a moment and think about what you're doing, but that's how you grow. That's the gift.
posted by Floydd at 7:59 AM on October 23, 2009

I hate to agree with Teddy Roosevelt, but he's correct there. Unless the person criticizing you has taken the chances you have by presenting creative work, you can consider their carps as envy born of cowardice.

And ad hominem criticism, explicit or tacit, is illegitimate at its foundation. It deserves no respect as judgment. Their personal hate of you as is probably as arbitrary and self-generated as a bigot's hate of black people. Dismiss it as such.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:17 AM on October 23, 2009

Embrace it bro. Ask your friends and peers how they deal with criticism. Where does it say anywhere you got to make everyone happy?


Take a risk! Don't back down!
posted by phaedon at 8:37 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I get tons of hate mail. I don't read it. Simple.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:48 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Take a moment and think about the kind of person who would actually type these words to you. Think about the effort they put into looking up your work, seeking out what they didn't like about your work, actually overcoming all sorts of social roadblocks that usually prevent people FROM doing or saying these kind of things, going to the trouble of finding your address, and actually SITTING AND TYPING those things, and then STILL going ahead and pressing "send". Think about how much effort they had to put into actually still going ahead and overcoming the logistical, social, ethical, and emotional hurdles they had preventing them from sending those emails or writing those reviews.

Think about the kind of person that puts THAT MUCH EFFORT into simply telling someone THEY HAVE NEVER MET that "I don't like you". Think about what kind of person that person must be.

....They kind of seem like a real freak now, don't they? The kind of person that if you saw them on the subway, you'd instinctively think that they were completely nuts, and you should get away?

....Yeah. THOSE are the people that are sending you those emails. The people who are about one step up from the Timecube guy.

Think about it like that, and you may find it easier to put in perspective ("okay that stung, know, considering the source, maybe not so much now.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:50 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I go through this all the time, and a lot of the time it's criticism of something I had NOTHING to do with (the cover on one of my books, how something was styled...whatever, something that the editors did, not me), which makes it even tougher to buck up and not respond. I've also been criticized for being American (when I edited a UK-based magazine), which is not exactly something I can help, either. And that's on top of the criticism of my actual WORK! So, I know how you feel...

Here's how I manage it when it gets too bad:

I allow myself to write a short but really petty response...........that I don't publish. I'm a writer, I think in terms of words. You said something about iTunes so I am going to assume you are a musician. Why not spend 5 minutes composing a snotty little song about how everyone's a hater but you rock? It will distract you momentarily, give you something to laugh at and then you can get back to the rest of your day.
posted by at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2009

You might find Cynthia Leitich Smith's open letter to debut authors helpful. Even though it's for authors, I think the advice is relevant for any creative pursuit.
posted by headspace at 8:59 AM on October 23, 2009

Take this opportunity to review your hatemail (and you fanmail as well). Consider this the performance of your fanbase.

Is the mail to you well thought out? consistent? to a point? insightful? Does it do a good job of delivering the message it intends to? Does the author build a believeable case with a good vocabulary relative to their audience (you)? Does the mail evoke an emotional response? Does it provide a good representation of the original work? Seriously...

Do this, and you'll find that there are very few pieces of hatemail worth taking to heart. And, those that you do probably are deserving of both your interest, attention, and returned correspondence.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:04 AM on October 23, 2009

The world is full of +s (you rock!) and -s (you suck!). Most of us tend to listen to one and discount the other. For example, your review might feature 6 people saying glowing things and 1 person saying rude, dismissive things. If we had a completely balanced, objective view of that review, it would look something like this: + + + + - +.

But our sense of ourselves is a bit unstable, and we don't see the results objectively. Instead, we see - - - - - - - or + + + + + + + + +. We think: I'm the best performer ever! I'm incredible! Everyone else should get off the stage! Or we think: I'm lousy! I should feel ashamed that I ever bored people with this mundanity! Often, we cycle between those two depending on our mood, the time of day, our last meal, what we read, etc. If our identity -- the picture we hold of ourselves -- is fragile, we'll cycle faster, we'll be knocked off balance faster, and we'll spend more time consumed by the pride or self-loathing.

The trick is to aim for a balanced identity. One in which, for example, we know that we have terrific comic timing, our stage presence is charismatic, AND our jokes are a little outdated. Or lots of people like us, an incredible circle of people love us, AND a few people don't enjoy spending time with us at all.

Consider crafting a picture -- with words, with drawings, with whatever feels fun and accurate to you -- of yourself. Of the things you excel at and the things that need more work. Of the things that are innately accepted by your fans and the things that your critics really don't like. Revisit it often as a way to remind yourself of both why you're in this business, what you can improve on, and what shortcomings are worth accepting as they are. Rinse, wash, repeat.
posted by equipoise at 9:05 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a journalist I have been called (in e-mails and online message boards) a bigot, a fag, a persecutor and a desperate hack. Members of a weird church I wrote about even put up a Web site for a while, with a blurry picture of me and a focus on why I am a bad human being. Other people changed my Wikipedia entry to call me an "unprincipled dogmatist."

Still working on the thick skin thing, but I strongly endorse the Katt Williams clip posted above by phaedon, and this one too.
posted by johngoren at 9:28 AM on October 23, 2009

Those who can't do teach, those who can't teach teach gym, and those who can't teach gym scream 'constructive criticism' from the bleachers.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:49 AM on October 23, 2009

Or you can do what dooce did and monetize the hate.
posted by widdershins at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've learned not to read reviews about my work. Any reviews, good or bad. If people are emailing things to you, I would work out how to filter these things as I genuinely would not want to read them. There are always going to be people who hate you, even people who are nice to your face and then the moment that any success comes your way are the first to put you down. Of course in your case people are doing this to your face which is a new one for me, but I would work out how to not read them.

Something that I've learned through experience is that when something good comes your way you really find out who your professional friends are. They're the ones that congratulate you, even if in some circumstances you might have been in direct competition with them. When things go wrong or when you need honest, constructive criticism you should listen to those people and those people only.
posted by ob at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2009

"Any jackass can kick down a barn; it takes a carpenter to build one."

You just need to know in your heart that you're good, and go with that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:41 PM on October 23, 2009

I'm not in your shoes but I'm pretty sure I'd have to share the hate mail with someone, at least a friend, who can diffuse it. It might also be fun to share with everyone. Mr. Cynical-C posts a great deal of his "hate" mail which is so unfocused and weird it is solid content on its own.
posted by chairface at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2009

Look at it this way. One way or another what ever the heck it is that you're doing people are noticing it. I host a podcast, and my opinions on certain movies have had people screaming for me to be fired on a few occasions. It's just part of the job. You can't please everyone.

If the OP happens to be Robb Zombie...ummm I'm sorry for saying that your Halloween makes me want to punch you in the nards, but I still think it sucks.
posted by theButterFly at 1:50 PM on October 23, 2009

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