The Frustrating Gift of Criticism

I’m no stranger to criticism. I once produced AND starred in a movie that The Hollywood Reporter called “90 minutes of incompetent filmmaking,” so…

I’ve spent my life performing and teaching and speaking and creating. So, yeah, I’ve chosen a life that invites criticism. And I’ve learned to accept it. Mostly.

This week I received, um, numerous criticisms from lots of people. It hurt…and I can’t tell you how much it bothers me that it hurt me. I just turned 50. I’m not a kid. I should be able to easily handle people – all strangers by the way – who voice their displeasure with something I did. But like most things in life, those dragons you thought you slayed have a way or resurrecting when you least expect it.

I see criticisms in at least four categories:

  1. Criticism from people you secretly wanted to upset anyway. This one I’m totally good with. I almost enjoy it, though I am starting to see that this is not a very mature way to live. (Side note – the people you want to upset almost always represent a younger version of yourself that you now see as utterly embarrassing.)
  2. Criticism with more than a grain of truth. This is the honest mistake or the classic learning opportunity. I’m usually ok with this…especially if the criticism is delivered with any measure of grace.
  3. Criticism that you deserve…and you know you deserve it. This one is in some ways the easiest to handle because, if you’re like me, you’ve already beaten yourself up enough to know it’s coming. You committed the crime, you do the time.
  4. Criticism that you deserve…and you had no idea you did anything wrong. This, for me, absolutely sucks. It’s hard to accept. I get defensive… saying “But, I didn’t mean to…” “I didn’t know…” “You made more of what I said than what I meant…” etc. etc. These are the criticisms that take the most courage to humbly accept. It means I missed the mark. I failed. These kinds of criticisms are the gifts that help make us better if we are willing to let them.

This week I had the unique experience of hearing all four of these kinds of criticism. Multiple times. Not a fun week…but what I know as a 50-year old fumbling, flawed human being, is that I want to use them to make me better. And there is a balanced way to receive them that isn’t anger or self pity or crippling remorse. There’s a way to move forward in which I hear it, accept it, put it one of the above categories and immediately put into practice what I’ve learned. That’s what I’m trying to do this week with my criticisms. Maybe you can relate.

One other thing: I am pretty sure I used a lot of commas incorrectly in this post. Please don’t criticize me on that. Not this week. Thanks.



Joe Boyd

Leadercast CEO Joe Boyd is a storyteller and entrepreneur. Before Leadercast, Joe led Boonrise, a highly successful creative agency, and production company. He is passionate about leadership development and speaks about improvisational leadership, storydriven living, and embracing failure.

More Articles

The Power of Fear?

Every human being matters. Every person deserves to be led by someone who sees the best in them and will even sacrifice for them.

Read More »