It’s three weeks till Jessica heads off for her overseas trip, and today she’s having vaccination shots.
Now, do correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe vaccinations work along these lines: The nurse injects a weakened form of the virus into your body for your immune system to practice on. Your immune system bumps off the lurgy in fine style, creating antibodies (not antibiddies as I just typed by accident, although it does provide a fantastic mental picture of large middle-aged women running around the bloodstream biffing germs where they stand)…ahem, creating antibodies so if your body ever does encounter the real thing, it’ll flatten those blighters as soon as look at them. Sound about right?
Well, it occurs to me that a similar concept can be applied to protecting your Creativity from a dangerous affliction blighting the existence of Creativities the world over – Criticism Poisoning. (Like Blood Poisoning for you guys. I realise the rest of the medical side of what is to follow is shaky, but the concepts work in my world, if not in yours. And really that’s all that matters at this point.)
Now, while some Criticism is necessary, even helpful, there are some very nasty strains floating around. The “What made you think that would work?” strain is a doozy, and the “When are you going to get a real job?” strain is very dangerous. Exposure to these and other strains can leave your Creativity feeling extremely ill and even kill infant ideas. If exposed to Criticism for long enough, Creativities can become paralyzed.
Symptoms of Criticism Poisoning range from sluggishness and numbness through to complete creative blanks – a truly dreadful thing for a Creativity to endure.
The more often you show your work to the public, or tell someone about your ideas, the more likely you are to risk infection. Every time someone reacts to your work, whether verbally or simply through body language, they may offer criticism. When that happens, you risk exposing yourself and your Creativity to Criticism Poisoning. At times you can even infect yourself by allowing inner Criticism to take over.
What should you do?
There is a Treatment!
When you travel overseas, there is always the chance you will catch something. Some places you’re just likely to catch the flu, or a mild tummy bug. In other places, you can catch real nasties like Malaria or Hepatitis. Does this mean you should stop at home and never travel? What a boring life that would be! And there’s no guarantee you won’t end up with something just as icky while wrapped up snug at home. So, doctors suggest you enact a two step plan. Immunizations and boosting of the immune system.
The good news is, these steps work the same for your Creativity. Here’s how.
As I mentioned before, immunizations expose you to a weaker version of the disease. Why not expose your Creativity to a weaker version of Criticism? You want to provide him/her with the necessary antibodies (or tools) to fight the infection as well as provide the confidence that this disease can be cured.
So, before plunging yourself and your ideas into a public arena where you are sure of coming in contact with a critic at some point, find an occasion to expose yourself to a milder form of Criticism. Perhaps from a friend.
Find someone you trust to be kind, but provide you with solid feedback to an idea – the good and the bad. You’ll feel the initial smart when they tell you your idea needs work, or when they explain that the outburst of laughter in the second paragraph of your short story was not because of your sparkling wit but a typo. Embrace the stinging in the back of the throat. Learn to remove the emotion (disappointment, rejection, embarrassment) from the actual facts – the idea still needs thought, you need to pay more attention to the spell checker, etc. Practice looking past the pain and seeing the possibilities.
Once you feel confident enough to take your friend’s ‘Criticism,’ move on to another friend or family member, this time looking for someone with a little sharper tongue (like a caustic cousin or a grating great-aunt). Ask for an opinion from someone you know is very opinion-happy, but make sure the situation and person you choose will not spiral into hate fest or damage a relationship. Once exposed, take the natural hurt and work with it. Find the kernel of helpful information without getting bogged down in the emotion.
This will take time and practice. Some immunizations require multiple doses to be effective. This is one of them. But stick with it. The ability to survive Criticism is imperative to seeing you and your Creativity through the highly infectious times.
While immunizing, don’t forget to work on the second step.
Boosting Your Immune System
Garlic. Horseradish. Echinacea. The list goes on and on. The idea behind them is that by boosting the strength of your immune system, you are giving yourself more strength to fight sickness.
How can you boost your Creativity’s ‘immune system’?
One effective way is by reminding him/her, and yourself, of your achievements – however big or small. Remembering that you are creative, capable and successful (even in small things) will make you more resilient. It will also provide your Creativity with pictures of past accomplishments, reminders that he/she is capable of doing it all again.
Another method is to remind yourself how you feel about being creative. Does it make you happy? Do you feel fulfilled? Peaceful? Whole? Are you doing this to gain the appreciation of all your peers, and then the world? That last one isn’t a good enough reason. You’ll never please everyone. But if you’re doing it because of the first four feelings listed above, then that’ll keep you going. Those are positive feelings. Healing feelings. And after a bout of Criticism, you need healing feelings. (Try saying that four times fast with a mouthful of biscuits. Healing feelings, hilling fillings, hulling fullings, falling hillings.)
What about reading examples of writers, artists, actors and others who have received criticism for their work, even while many were showering them with praises? Criticism doesn’t just happen to people who are beginning or who are ‘below par.’ It happens to everyone. You’re not alone.
Of course, our favourite method is to find yourself a good friend who can offer soothing words when you and your Creativity are feeling particularly off-colour. Sometimes a good ego stroking does help. But only to a point. I’m sure there’s only so much garlic one can take as well, although I haven’t yet found the limit…of ego stroking or garlic. 😛
Monitor Your Creativity’s Health
Unfortunately, whenever we share our creative endeavors we are always exposing ourselves to Criticism. Our vaccinations may need renewing from time to time. We will always need immune boosting.
But the best thing to remember is: While Criticism has the potential to cut you down, it can also make you stronger. A lot stronger. The key is learning how to find the kernel of useful information – the spot where you can improve – and then using it. But more about that later.
Right now, I’m off for some immune boosting.
Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art