This post is a follow up of sorts to this post, so you should go read that post.
You want to stay safe professionally, relationally, politically, religiously, creatively?
Simple. Just do the same thing mostly the same way all the time. That’s safe. It’s manageable and tame. Like a declawed, defanged cat. It still won’t love you.
Safe also keeps the critics at bay. Do what you’re expected to do and not much more. You can actually do less and still be looked on with favor. And the best part–you can still criticize others without being criticized yourself!! What is this sorcery magic? How is that possible?
Allow me to allow Seth Godin to explain.
If your work has never been critcized, it’s unlikely you have any work. Creating work is the point, though, which means that in order to do something that matters, you’re going to be criticized.
If your goal is to be universally liked and respected an understood, then, it must mean your goals is to not do something that matters. Which requires hiding. Hiding, of course, isn’t the point.
Hence, the paradox. You don’t want to be criticized and you do want to matter.
The solution: Create work that gets criticized. AND, have the discernment to tell the difference between useful criticism (rare and precious) and the stuff worth ignoring (everything else).
Rising before the sun knows I’m up, with a beard burlier than the night before, efforts aimed at capturing a deer I’m chasing up a Russian mountainside in four feet of snow, while simultaneously processing the emotional devastation of what this all means for my wife, kids, and the sequel…and then eating said deer, raw. The metaphor broke down somewhere, but the deer I’m eating is my ability to criticize.
There’s a lot of time for criticizing, especially if you have a poor work ethic, which I’ve had for much of my life.
I feel better saying it. Confession really is good for the soul.
It’s true. My dad tried to get me to work hard. To clean with great detail, build manly things out of wooden materials, “fix” broken stuff.
One attempt on his part to teach me responsibility and work ethic I remember like it was 30 years ago. He pushed our vintage Snapper riding mower out of the garage and onto the driveway.
After driving it down to the field in the rear of our house, the lesson began. Here’s how to start it. Here’s the blade engage. This pedal makes you go. (I nodded, probably overconfidently so as to compensate for my obviously not understanding.) You also want to look back every now and then to make sure the engine isn’t on fire.
Fire? Like the hot kind?
No, dad. I don’t want to do that. The prospect of burning to death for the sake of a neatly manicured 3/4 of an acre didn’t rouse the manual labor muse within.
I didn’t find my work stride until more recently. Part of it is the job. Part of it is the community of folks I’m around. Part of it is my wife–let’s be honest…a huge part. If I have any parts left, another one is what I’m reading now. Not theology. It’s more practical theology–like the be doers of what you’re reading, not just hearers, part.
Steven Pressfield has written novels, screenplays, and non-fiction kicks in the rear. The latter is what I’ve been devouring the last month.
The War of Art
Do the Work
These are gold mines for me. The principles therein are such that I can superimpose them on the last decade of my life and then wish Uncle Rico’s time machine really worked so I could go back and do a lot of things very differently.
At least I found them at 36 and not 46. Those of you who are 46 know what I’m saying, right?
Here I am now. Learning and growing. Growing and learning. The learning usually has to do with some deficiency deep on my withinside.
In The War of Art, I appreciated Pressfield adding this biographical portion about me –
If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived our own.
The War of Art, p. 38
Thanks, Steve. May I call you Steve?
Translation: We criticize others who are moving closer to becoming who they really are.
They’ve pushed through resistance and done the hard work of doing the work. And when I, you, we see someone do that, we can’t help but be envious. So we find something not to like.
Ah, but what (who) we really don’t like is ourselves. In that way, rather than scratching the itch to criticize, let it serve as a built-in reality check. What am I not doing that I want to be doing? What have I not accomplished? What have I given up on? What resistance am I permitting to keep me from becoming who I really am?
Who knows. Maybe you and I will be criticized one day.
Many of us, myself for sure, live in the long shadow cast by an idea, a phantom idea, a ghostly, probably not real but it feels so real idea. The shadow of this idea brings a darkness with it that goes where we go and grows as we grow.
I’d go so far as to say we are inculcated–indoctrinated if you will–with this idea.
Better is in us. It grows up with us, too. Your better may not be the same as your friend’s better, but you both have it. It could have looked something like the following –
You were 12 years old and SUPER awkward (because who isn’t) and you were 100% confident that 13 was the magic number when things would be better. But no. Just more awkward.
15, though, 15 is where it’s at! I’ll get my driver’s permit, and I’ll cruise into the horizon (with my dad in the passenger seat because mom gets too skittish when I don’t brake in time).
Ugh, I’m sick of driving while my parents hit imaginary brakes on their side of the car. It’s all good. I get my license next year, and 16 is when life will really begin.
At least at 18 people will take me seriously, because I’ll be an adult. (Nobody tells us why that’s the age. The government just decided one day.) Now, if I want, I can
Enlist in the military
Buy cigarettes–make America proud
Vote, because Ben Affleck told me to
18-20ish are the first of the serious ‘who am I’ years…what do I want to be, who will I marry. Can I marry her–no, her–no, her…
I turn 21 in a few weeks. I’m so glad I’m not one of those pathetic teenagers anymore. Look at how sad their lives are.
After 21, better moves into life stages instead of ages. So, life will be better when I…
Get a job
When I get married
Marriage will be better when we have kids
Maybe life will be better with a different wife, a different husband
Better with a different job
Better if we move here
Better if that person would die
Shoot, I didn’t mean it! Do I have to go to the funeral?
Better when I retire…
And then we run out of better and die.
It really could happen.
You could die always believing that the next better would be better than the better before.
Here’s what I’ve learned about my better, and I’m willing to bet your better is a distant cousin of my better and looks mostly the same.
Better is always a moving target. Better is elusive.
It’s like trying to shoot the squirrels who used my back deck as their personal teeth filing hot spot. Those glorified rats were sneaky. Better senses you’re coming and scampers off, leaving part of your deck chewed up while you’re standing there in pajama pants, holding a BB gun with a heart full of anger and sadness. (no metaphor is perfect)
Whether you want to talk education, politics, economics….someone is always promising something better.