A Creative's Guide To Taking Criticism
Freelancing can be a real pain in the balls. Or the lady balls, in my case.
You had this shiny idea in your head of how it was going to go.
You wake up every morning in your California king sized bed. You swagger over to your window and look out from your penthouse apartment (because, obviously, you’re a genius at business), and get ready for a day filled with important business calls in which you might just solve that Fortune 100 company’s entire marketing issue — in 45 minutes.
Because you’re the best. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?
Now, this is somebody’s reality. Or close to it. I’m sure of it. And this post isn’t going to commiserate or tell you how, “It all just takes time, and it’s okay, life is tough.” Life can be tough, but you better be tough, too.
Instead, we’re going to do something a little more painful. And that thing is called reframing.
Tired because all those people you hit up for work said no or didn’t reply? Pissed off that a project that was supposed to be done three weeks ago is still dragging on? Terrified because you feel out of control?
Good. You’re just where I want you.
Reframe the Problem So It’s Something Good
Cognitive reframing, or cognitive restructuring, is one skill I wish I was better at.
People who are good at this can take something bad, like a client’s angry review, and reframe the situation so that instead of thinking negative things like, “I messed up so bad,” or “This is always going to be hard,” you think, “Okay, how can I fix these bad things,” and “He did say three positive points, so it wasn’t all bad.”
Reframing can be the difference between constructive feedback and soul-crushing criticism. It’s all in how you look at it.
Calm down and analyze the situation
Alright, so let’s take the bad client feedback as an example. Now, you’re not going to cognitively feel anything, but you physically will.
It will probably be one of two reactions: you’ll get all hot and feel like you want to scream. Or you’ll get all hot and feel tears in your eyes.
I used to do a really classy combination of both where I would cry while also trying to yell. It wasn’t pretty. (And no, I know what you’re thinking — I never did this with clients. However, the puppets that I dress up as my clients to role play conversations caught an earful.)
Anyway, you’re going to start feeling stuff. Take 10 deep, slow breaths to calm yourself down. Then think about the situation. Analyze it. What even happened that triggered the reaction?
Chances are, your client said something negative, like “too slow to respond”, and for whatever reason it struck a really raw nerve with you. But identifying exactly what part of the review started to upset you is important.
Recognize what you’re feeling and see what automatic thoughts come up
Okay, now for some tough stuff.
Understand what you’re feeling. You got upset when he said that you were too slow to email him back, but how did the client bringing that up make you feel?
It probably made you feel helpless because you’re overwhelmed, insecure that you can’t do a good job, or maybe even hopeless that you’ll never be better.
You can write down these immediate thoughts that come up to help you work through the problem, or you can talk through them out loud.
Every time you identify a feeling, ask yourself why you feel that way.
Trust me, this works — I go through this anytime I’m upset and it helps me on the way to finding a solution.
Find actual facts to support your feelings.
Now, look at what actually happened.
As humans, we naturally have a negativity bias where the bad stuff overpowers the good stuff.
So your client may have said, “You’re too slow in responding to emails,” but also said things like, “I loved your designs,” and “You’re great at understanding what I need.”
What were the good points, in addition to the bad points?
Once you’ve done that, make a plan.
You know that you’re great at some things, so what actions can you take to fix the bad spots? If responding to email is the issue, you could set up automatic reminders in your email to help you out.
Reframing can change everything
Reframing seems like such a simple thing that we wouldn’t need steps to do it. But it took me a lot of anxious and reactionary years to learn that the steps are what make it work.
Just like you have a strategy for your client process, you’ve got to have a strategy for your emotional process. Because freelancing is rewarding, but it can also be damn hard
A lot of times it feels like you, the person, is being critiqued or even attacked. And that has the potential to shut you down.
Being honest about the situation and how you feel is hard at first, I won’t lie. But I promise, promise that you’ll be more motivated, focused, and happier.
Want to know where to start?
I created a step-by-step framework on my blog, that has all the questions you should be asking.
Marisa is a copywriter who loves traveling, working on creative projects, and starting great conversations with new people.
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