Coping With Criticism

Author Kim Wilkins has achieved a level of success which many of us dream of. She has published two novels, with a third due for release at the end of this year. "The Infernal", her debut novel, won the 1997Aurealis Awards for best horror and best fantasy novels, and received much praise from critics. Her work has even been compared to that of popular vampire writer, Anne Rice.

Yet recently she was confronted by somebody who felt she was wasting her talents. "He was one of those literary snobbish types, and carried on about how I was driven by ambition and money. It was pretty insulting until I realised, he hasn't read either of my books! He's just made these assumptions about me. It was just so wonderful to be able to sit there and look at him and not feel really hurt. I thought to myself, 'You have no idea'."

"And that's when I realised, it wasn't about me at all, it was about him. It was so wonderful to put up my shield, to realise these sorts of and comments are usually driven by jealousy or some kind of resentment because you're doing something that maybe they'd like to do. Some people don't like it when you put yourself out there, it's like, who do you think you are?!"

Kim's mature attitude is one we could all learn from, if we want to conquer our critics.

It's a fact of life that whatever you may do, you will never please all of the people all of the time. And, many people are not shy about why they don't approve of whatever it is you may be doing! They may even believe that they're doing you a huge favour, giving you some "constructive criticism". But how constructive is it? Or is it really destructive? How can you tell whether the advice is worth listening to, or are you better off just saying, "Thank you for letting me know that" and then continuing on your own way?

Here are a number of pointers that will show you how to weed out just plain nit-picking, from the genuine advice that can help you on your journey towards self-growth.

* Consider the spirit that the criticism is offered in. Is this person genuinely trying to help, or is their motive to make themselves feel superior by tearing you down? Is this person usually positive and encouraging, or do they have a reputation for whingeing and complaining?

* Are they perhaps jealous? Are they actually willing to sacrifice their time and energy to help you improve or is it just empty words?

* Look beyond the criticism and look at the critic. Are they in a position to know what they are talking about? Is it coming from a person that you respect in general - their lifestyle, their habits, their career or family? Do you feel that they have a certain amount of expertise or wisdom in this particular area? Often my husband will proofread my articles, at my request, and give his comments on how thepiece may be improved. Whilst I appreciate his feedback and he is generally a great help, I don't always take his suggestions on board. After all, he is not the one who has studied and worked hard to become a writer - I am!

* Check your own attitude towards criticism. Do you accept it graciously, or does even the slightest correction have you bristling with indignation? Are you prepared to improve yourself, and are you hungry to learn and grow as a person?

* Realise even people who don't deserve it, get criticised, particularly in our culture. It's the old Australian "Tall Poppy" Syndrome. These sorts of comments are usually driven by jealousy or resentment. They usually aren't interested in achieving anything themselves, but they are only too willing to tear apart anything you may be attempting.

* Keep yourself fit - physically, mentally and spiritually. If you're exhausted, you are not capable of your optimum performance, and you are more likely to over-react. You may take comments to heart that normally would not bother you.

* Surround yourself with positive people - others who are busy pursuing their dreams, and who inspire those around them to do the same. Miserable people often can't be bothered doing anything positive themselves, so they try to pull down those who are, to their own negative level.

* Concentrate on your goal or dream. You are more familiar with your goal than anybody else, so don't let others distract you or try to tell you it's not worth the bother. Determination is the secret ingredient to success, that ability to pick yourself up after a failure, or copping an earful of criticism, brush yourself off, and getting back on with the job.

* Don't take yourself too seriously. Sometimes, criticism is warranted and it can help you improve. Be able to accept constructive criticism in the spirit it is offered. Realise that nobody's perfect, and you will probably look back and laugh one day!

* Finally, wait for time to prove your critics wrong. "You'll never make it!" "It's been done before and it didn't work out." Oh yeah! Just watch me!

I will never forget the time a new acquaintance stopped me in the street to challenge me about a radio interview I had given the week before. The topic was one I was passionate about, as I knew from my own experience that it would benefit many others. However, she didn't see it quite the same way! She introduced herself and instantly went on the attack, telling me why my ideas could not possibly work and why she herself supported the opposing view. I could feel the smile on my face growing more forced as she continued. It was just so unexpected.

In the end I said, "Thank you for telling me that, I've never heard that point of view before. Would you be prepared to give me some written material on it so I can look into it more thoroughly?"

This episode had me positively steaming for days afterwards, but finally I was able to shrug it off. To begin with, I had never even MET this woman before so she really didn't have the slightest idea about the sort of person I am, my opinions or motives. Over time, from my own observations and listening to the comments of others, I realised that this particular woman was known for her abrupt, in your face, know it all attitude! Then I looked at how she handled this particular issue in her own life and I didn't feel that she was any more capable than I was. And where was the material she promised to give me to help me understand her point of view? I had to question her commitment to this topic when she never followed it up.

The distance of time has made me realise that everybody is entitled to their own view, and whilst her way may have worked for her, it definitely was not something that would work for me - or others like me.

Her criticism was not something that I was willing to take on board.Try responding to your next critic by thanking them for their advice and interest. Then weigh it up in your own mind before deciding whether you have something to gain from the comment you have just received, or whether it really is just a case of sour grapes. As author Kim Wilkins says, " Nobody can hurt you unless you let them!"

- Kim Wilkins