On Leveraging Ego to Better Accept Criticism

This is a guest post from five-years-ago me. 2014 me. Just-turned-thirty and just-starting-to-think-about-race me. She says hi. She’s proud of me, and you, and herself. She sends love.

Me in 2014.

I got way better at taking criticism with a simple little trick. But really. I’ll even tell you what it is.

I’m good at being good. I’m good at doing well, being smart, getting A’s, landing the job, etc. I seek praise and am used to getting it for a job well done. For a long time I was really good at most things I did in part because I was good at avoiding anything I wasn’t good at. On the rare occasions that I received real criticism from people I cared about, I fell apart. I had no practice.

Then here’s the trick: I realized that accepting criticism and growing from it was something I could be good at. I paid attention to what people who did that well were doing and I tried hard to do that. Now, when I hear criticism, I slow down and try to do the things that good-at-accepting-criticism people would do, like listen hard and ask questions and communicate non-violently. I try to figure out what bits of this criticism are things I can get behind and what changes I can make to improve myself in the light of this new information. I try to figure out what my next steps are in making these changes and then I make them. I even try to cultivate gratitude for the teaching my criticizers are offering me.

And then, because I am not actually a zen master, I let loose the ego-booster in my head that says “Wow, you are *so* good at this! You’re like a criticism-accepting genius! You’re a growth-minded, constantly improving, amazingly perceptive and compassionate and generally awesome person and look now you’re getting even better! I hardly thought it possible. Go you!” I keep this part in my head, obviously, and then I check the ego a bit later, but cultivating an ego-boost for the sheer act of accepting criticism pulls me out of the shame spiral that can sometimes be created by the criticism itself. If I can keep the I’m-so-good-at-listening-to-this-hard-thing ego boost proportional to the hardness of the thing, which is easy to do because it makes sense to me that I deserve more kudos for listening to harder things, then I can try to find a space where I’m not lost in the shame or the superiority, and I can actually listen and try to improve.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s worked wonders for me. Since I discovered it a few years ago I’ve become *way* better at using criticism to grow, and I’ve even received praise from some of the people close to me who say that my ability to listen well to criticism and actually act on it is one of the things they love about me, which totally feeds the cycle.

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