“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
After hearing this quote at Brené Brown’s book talk the other evening in Santa Monica, I reflected on my ability to attract criticism. I actually began to think of ways I could avoid future criticism and started planning a simple, uneventful life of mundane days blending into months and years of ordinary sameness. It would be less stressful, less complicated and allow more time for chilling on the couch watching TV or working out at the gym, if I just stopped trying to create, trying to learn and the biggest one of all, stopped looking in and participating in the endless analysis of myself (thanks mom, for that habit).
I also started pondering the possibility sitting silently during group gatherings and meetings in order to blend in and strive towards invisibility. That, after all, would certainly allow me to get in the “Zen state” and greatly reduce stress. I try to imagine living a simple life. A life where I just go to a job, come home leaving work behind, sit around in the evening, maybe taking an after dinner walk with the dog and then settling in for a great evening of television followed by drifting off to sleep on the couch.
In this way, I can surely avoid criticism, unless I am criticized for watching too much TV or for my sudden lack of opinion on anything.
An evening of relaxation.
I remember my mother, getting riled up over school drama between the teachers and the District, the Vietnam war, women’s rights, civil rights and other social injustices. I overheard her heated conversations on the phone to friends in the evenings, around our kitchen table over cups of coffee, in the living room watching Walter Cronkite, or 60 Minutes. I grew up in a liberal, vocal, caring home. I come from a culture of people who ask “why?” It is in my DNA. So, what good can come of this? Do my questions cause others to wonder? Do my actions help anyone?
I wonder if looking in, trying to grow, improve and learn, really services a purpose or just serves to frustrate. Criticism is not fun to receive because it comes with that little jab of pain, like an inoculation. It hurts with the initial puncture, and that little throbbing lump under the skin hangs around for a while to keep the memory alive. However, like a vaccine, criticism helps build tolerance. Tolerance to the opinions of others and protection from blending into anonymity.
The pain of criticism.
Critics are everywhere and pop out at unsuspected times. They lie in wait for an opportunity to say, “I told you so” or “Who do you think you are?” or worse, the silent grimace of knowing disdain. Critics nowadays have open forums to express opinions through social media but they can’t compete with my biggest critic. The little critic that lives in my head. She’s the one I need to talk to, to explain the truth.
My truth is that creating is as necessary to me as breathing, learning is engrained into my genetic code and looking at myself with acceptance and vulnerability is a goal I am happy to set.
1000 chances to make mistakes, to learn, to grow.
I am taking my time. This is something new for me because I operate at high-speed, my Type A personality functioning best with lists, schedules, and immediacy. I return emails promptly, phone calls a.s.a.p. and strive to fix all problems with ingenious solutions. Breathing deeply is a struggle for me and sitting to relax usually results in immediate sleep because when my motor slows down, it just stops.
Recently however, I have come to a realization. Most situations are not emergencies. Most questions do not require immediate answers and most importantly, time is precious. So, I am taking my time. I am training myself to breathe first, listen more carefully and ponder more often. I have not come to this conclusion alone. I have had many mentors along the way both virtual and those in my real life. The books I read keep me focused on the importance of taking each moment as a special gift.
So if I take a little long to make a decision, to respond to an email, to text back and answer or to return a phone call, you now know why. I am taking my time.
It is amazing what a little breath can do to quite a heartbeat, improve vision, sharpen hearing and to enhance perspective.