Dealing with Criticism: The Best Revenge

by Lisa Rothstein on 02/28/2012

Criticism? You’d think being a multi-talented singer/songwriter/actress, not to mention beautiful and insanely young (24!) to be so insanely wealthy and successful, would make a girl immune.

Not so. Case in point: Country superstar Taylor Swift.

Here’s a video she did of her hit song “Mean” designed to answer a critical blogger. (That’s right, she’s got an armloads of Grammys, earnings of $45 million in 2011, millions of screaming fans, and he’s got… a blog. For an artist, criticism hurts, no matter who it comes from.)

It’s unconfirmed, but a lot of people in the know think the song was written in response to this blogger, including the man himself, who has said, among other things, that she can’t sing,  has abandoned her country roots and doesn’t deserve the accolades she keeps raking in.

How did Taylor fix his wagon and put the wheels back on her own?

Here are a few things I noticed that you can use too whenever  someone pooh-poohs your talent or your dream (even if it’s only in your mind).

1. Lighten up. This tone of this song and video is so much fun and devil-may-care, it belies the amount of hurt that probably prompted it, while also diffusing it. What you resist persists. Rather than stoking the flames of enmity, blow them a kiss instead and see what happens.

2. Make fun of your critic. We’ve all heard the old trick of imagining your critic in his underwear. It really does work.  Taylor takes her nemesis down a peg by directly ridiculing his accusation that her music “isn’t real country” — setting her stage in the sticks, complete with fiddles and a cast of the dentally-challenged.

3. Take the long view. Right now, your critic may have the upper hand. Those sitting on the sidelines judging those of us in the arena usually seem to at first. But persevere, and you’ll have the last laugh. And who are they really, in comparison with who you will become when you’ve completed your book or launched your business? Remind yourself of this whenever naysayers make you feel like quitting.

4. Make proving them wrong a reason to keep going.   Hoist your critics with their own petard (look it up or see Hamlet) by using use your indignation at their ridicule as fuel for your motivation. “I’ll show them!”  has probably been responsible for most of the great inventions of mankind.  (I married  in my 40s when our families had counted us both out as hopeless misfits no one in their right minds would want. We used the song “They All Laughed” for our dance at the wedding.)

5. Channel your hurt and anger into your art. This is probably the best revenge and the most immediately satisfying. Write a song, a story or a poem, or – my favorite — name the most unsympathetic and stupid character in your screenplay after your critic. Paint a truly unflattering portrait.  At worst, you’ll have worked out your hostility. At best, you might have a piece of work that isn’t half bad.

6. See yourself as a champion for others like you. I think the video for “Mean” is both inspired and inspiring. Swift uses her situation to identify with the underdog, the bullying victim who perseveres and comes out on top. What fellow creatives might you inspire if you keep going in spite of the criticism and wet blankets? And, if you quit,  who might never receive the motivation they need to keep up the fight ?

7. Stack the deck in your favor. You can’t avoid critics altogether, but that doesn’t mean you need to seek out the purveyors of doom and gloom around your talents. I guarantee that there are those who think you’re wonderful. Don’t make them wrong, and don’t take them for granted while you chase after the approval of those who will never give it. (I made this mistake for years.) Surround yourself with your fans and those who give you the constructive feedback you can use to get better –and limit your exposure to meanies and detractors.

8. Be really, really good. And get RAVE reviews from critics who actually matter. That’ll shut them up.

There will always be plenty of people ready and waiting to squash your dreams and pick apart your work when you step out and start creating something. But don’t let them win and give in to procrastination or fear.   Be like Taylor Swift — just pick up your guitar and smile. Let them do their worst — you’ll be doing your work.

How do YOU deal with people who rain on your creative parade? Comment below — and get an automatic link to your blog!

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