I recently pointed out to my husband a problem we were having with a device and that the problem always appeared after he used it. As most people would, he insisted it couldn’t just be him. It must also happen when I used it. So, I tracked it for a few days and was able to show him it was indeed only him. A few days later, he was excited to tell me he’d figured out what he was doing to cause the problem. We were both relieved.
“So, there you go,” I wanted to say. “It’s not always that someone is assigning blame or fault when they point something out, unless we choose to take it that way. But not until we own the problem can we figure out a way to fix it.”
I’m only bringing up this example because it’s so recent. I’m as guilty as anyone of resisting hearing from my husband or children or anyone else that I’ve done something “wrong.” It’s natural for anyone to respond first with defensiveness in those situations. Think about when you were a child and your parents actually caught you in the act of some transgression and still you insisted, “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
Once we get past our insecurities, though, we can often atone for our mistakes, address a problem, or change our habits.
New writers often ask me how they can develop a thick skin when it comes to critiques. When I first started writing, I took every critique from my writer’s group as a judgement on my ability. Challenges to my writing fired up my imposter syndrome and fear of failure, or they spurred my rebellious nature. Over time, I noticed something interesting . . . usually when my group pointed out something that wasn’t working in my story, it wasn’t a surprise. On some level, I already knew. Maybe I’d been a bit lazy with the research or writing and hoped it would slip past them; maybe I hadn’t taken the time to review my work carefully before submitting it; maybe I was stuck and didn’t want to admit it, so I threw something in that didn’t really fit; maybe I was holding back out of fear of “doing it wrong.”
Once I learned not to immediately jump into defending my writing – or more accurately, my worth as a writer – I was better able to really hear their suggestions and weigh honestly whether I agreed with them or not. If I did agree, I was better able to consider those suggestions with gratitude and a more open mind. Not every time, of course, I’m only human, but often enough to make me a better writer.
Many of us got a message in the early years of our lives that mistakes were something to be ashamed of. When we shouted “I didn’t do anything wrong,” we were really saying, “There’s nothing wrong with me.” As children, that almost makes sense. We’re still testing whether our parents will love us no matter what.
As adults, and especially as creatives, we should know by now there’s nothing wrong with us, even when we under or overprice our work, even when we bite off more than we can chew, even when we lose energy for a project that once seemed so promising, even when the rejections are rolling in, even when we feel guilty about our success. Once we own the problem, though, we can figure out how to fix it.
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