Yes, I do suck sometimes.
I read a blog post the other day from a young professional giving all the reasons negative feedback he had received from managers and advisors was wrong or inappropriate. It reinforced for me why I'm always telling my students how successful people actively seek out as much objective feedback as they can, and then appreciate the gift of it, even if they disagree with the feedback.
But I also started remembering all of the painful, and often poorly delivered, feedback I've receive over the years, particularly towards the beginning of my career, and how often I resented it or pushed back. Ultimately, even when I disagreed with the feedback, I still learned, and I still grew. (Although it sometimes took a long time to let myself really hear the feedback!) Even if I thought their feedback was wrong, it gave me insight into the perceptions of others, so I could fine-tune my approaches to help manage those perceptions. (Painful life lesson: Perception is so much more powerful than reality!)
I used to say that there was no point in even letting somebody tell me "you suck" unless they were going to tell me how to "unsuck." I still think specific, objective, actionable feedback is the ideal. It's what I try to give, and it's what I try to get from others. But in looking back on my early career, even the random "you suck" feedback, as heartbreaking and demoralizing as it was, often drove me to perform at a level where it would be harder for people to say or even believe that again.
Then somewhere along the line in my career I hit a tipping point (breaking point?), and the negative feedback stopped hurting so much. I had this beautiful insight: Yes, sometimes I really do suck at things. And that's OK.
I can improve. How miserable would it be to feel like I'd reached the ultimate end in my career and personal growth already??? If this, right now, is as good as I get, then I'm in trouble! I've always believed you're either growing or dying, so I'm still alive and kicking, because sometimes I suck! (Yay!) And I get to come up with creative new strategies to help me suck less. (That should keep me growing for MANY years to come!)
Don't get me wrong -- some people come at you with their own issues, and they're hurtful for the sake of hurting. In my mind, these people are scared and lonely, so getting angry or defensive won't change their minds or improve their impressions of you. (If you don't believe me, check out the most recent Facebook rant you've been subjected to. Did anyone change their minds??) But I've found if I listen respectfully, and thank them for taking the time to share their honest opinions, it's amazing how often they can become allies or even supporters. Even better, a few questions to get more details on how they think I could improve can convert their attack into useful feedback. (Or if nothing else, they get it out of their systems and walk away!)
There are times when I decide to dismiss an isolated or uninformed voice of criticism (like the student on ratemyprofessors.com who said my class was so stupid it gave him an anxiety disorder causing him to drop out of college), but often I can find inspiration to make changes that could ultimately "win over" my dissenters. Yes, I know I'll never make everyone happy. And yes, sometimes I still get (extremely) exhausted when I'm being criticized for something I worked hard on and was proud of. But I try to remember that feedback is a valuable gift. Especially when it's specific and constructive!
So, to anyone who'd like to comment on this and tell me I suck, I'd like to say: "Thank you so much for the feedback. Could you tell me what you think I could do to improve?"
And I will appreciate your suggestions and feedback, regardless of whether or not I choose to use them.