As a writer, I have come to expect and accept judgement of my work. My job is to produce writing for others to read, learn from and hopefully, enjoy. To succeed, my work needs to shine under the eyes of my peers, teachers, agents and publishers, and that's before it gets into the hands of my readers.
Judgement is important, as it tells us what's working and what needs improvement. It can motivate us to improve and push the boundaries of our own work, so that we can become the best we can be.
Yet, we all know that critical judgement can, at times, lead us to feeling uncomfortable. It can feel paralysing and shameful. It can feed a cycle of self-judgement, which is often worse than the original judgement. I feel this is particularly hard for artists who actually put part of themselves into their work. Critical judgement can feel deeply personal. Heck, judgement can leave us feeling like a wounded animal, licking our wounds in a pool of mud, asking why on earth would anyone be a writer?!
However, I still strongly believe in the power of getting feedback. We all need feedback to help us grow, learn and develop. It's critical. Yet, after some recent time spent in the mud pit, I decided that there has to be a better way to gain the benefits of feedback. I decided it was time to judge judgement. My discoveries have been a revelation, and I wanted to share them, in the hope they may help others.
· Almost immediately, I discovered that the only person to change my reaction to judgement is me. We can't control other people's behaviour, but, we can change our own.
· I have also learnt to accept that judgement is uncomfortable. No one likes to feel uncomfortable, so too often we look for the easiest way to stop the feeling. We quickly put together a narrative about what the feedback is telling us. Who cares what the narrative is, so long as we stop feeling uncomfortable.
· We need to get more comfortable about being uncomfortable. Importantly, we need to search for the truth in what we are being told. If we stay open and look for the truth, we will be given insights into ourselves and our work that will help us grow. If we remain closed, we will not grow as people, and our work will reflect this.
· Being judged can also press lots of our buttons. Perhaps we were harshly judged as a child, or figures of authority truly scare us? This can turn feedback into a whole lot of internal dialogue and feelings that have nothing to do with what is being said right now. To break these cycles, we need to be more aware of what patterns of behaviour might really be going on, and break them. Gaining a deeper understanding of yourself, and learning new patters of healthy behaviour can really help.
· I also have come to realise that the judge is not always right. Not one person knows everything, meaning not all feedback will be right for you. What we need to do is listen, learn, and importantly ask: what rings true for me, and what does not. Take what works, and discard the rest. Then, continue on with your work. Find the 'truth' to set yourself free, and not the story that makes us feel less comfortable.
· I have also come to think of critical judgement as a kind of test. It's like the universe is asking, ʻDo you really want to do this?’ It's a challenge, and it can lead us to work out what is important to us. Once you are through, you can feel empowered and more fired up than ever. I can do this!
· Judges can be our teachers, both the ones that leave us feeling great, and ones, not so great. Learn from both. Importantly, use these learnings to help you formulate your plans for how you can become the best judge you can be. At some point, you will become the expert and give feedback to those in your care. It is a responsibility. We need to figure out what kind of teacher we want to be.
· Also, remember to set some boundaries for yourself when you receive feedback, so that it's delivered respectfully. This might mean standing up for yourself, and setting a boundary you are comfortable with. This is important, as it will really impact how empowered you feel in the process. Passively receiving critical judgement is not healthy for anyone involved.
· There is one last thing that I want to share. This was a revelation to me. I have learnt the importance of putting up personal boundaries to protect my creative space. Recently, I allowed judgement into my internal creative space. The place where I create, wonder, dream and write. I did not put boundaries around what is sacred to me. I stopped writing and trusting my creative process that had never let me down. When I realised what I had done, I did what I should have done in the first place. I closed the outside door to my own creative space, and made it disappear. There is now nothing in my space but all the things that matter to me. No one can enter, unless invited. From now on, I will protect this space fiercely.
What have I learnt from my little exploration? Overall, it's just so important to receive feedback. It is like what water and sunlight is to plants. It truly helps us grow. But, to gain feedback openly requires having the courage to stay vulnerable. To be open. To listen carefully. To let ourselves feel uncomfortable. To craft the truthful story. Discard the crap. Only then can be become the best we can be.
"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." Theodore Roosevelt.
I'm a passionate about helping children read frequently - forging a life-long connection with books. In this blog, you will also find helpful, practical advice for parents to help support them in their families reading journey.