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Why Judging Your Success on Criticism Won’t Get You Anywhere

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“Moby Dick” is widely considered one of the best American novels ever written. It’s a behemoth of a book, long on descriptions of the ocean and its denizens. There’s an entire chapter devoted to naming and classifying the different types of whale. It’s a tough, strange read and, like so many of the novels in its literary hemisphere, cannot be fairly defined. It’s an adventure novel rolled into a revenge narrative stuck hundreds of miles off the nearest coast, and no one knew what to make of it for decades after its release.

The critics took the path common to many of us with something unknown and strange: “Moby Dick” was initially reviled, then ignored. Melville produced another unsuccessful novel, then shifted to poetry, and eventually died penniless and forgotten, his name misprinted in the obituary.

And now, some century and a half after its initial printing, Melville is a household name, his iconic story of whales and men considered in high school and college classrooms alike. Melville never knew the success of his book, all because of a few puzzled critics. This story repeats itself through the centuries, from Emily Dickinson to Edgar Allan Poe to Vincent Van Gogh to Nick Drake. Critics don’t always get it right.

The Critics

Of course, criticism isn’t always formal, and it isn’t usually directed at the likes of Melville. As highly as you might think of your art, it’s pretty unlikely that you’re the next Dickinson or Van Gogh. In this sense, criticism has its merits — the theory is sound enough.

Criticism at its most valuable points to an effort’s faults and its merits. These faults or merits can be anything as trivial as the care you took wiping a table to the decade’s long struggle you went through to write your novel. Criticism exists in all forms and should — by definition — include a studied and neutral appraisal of the effort and quality involved in a product or service. However, that definition itself summons some problems.

For instance, who is qualified to criticize? For certain mundane, everyday tasks, a workplace superior — or even a co-worker or friend — will point out faults and merits in your work. On other, more specialized subjects, finding a fair and informed critic proves problematic. On passion projects in particular, the right critic can make or break the artist. The last thing any aspiring artist wants to hear is a misguided or hateful effort to destroy their work.

“Learn to see the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Appreciate the constructive, ignore the destructive.” – John Douglas

Taking Criticism

There are a few things that any artist ought to consider when being criticized. First, you asked for it. When you open yourself up for criticism, which usually takes the form of asking someone to read what you’ve written, look at what you’ve painted or listen to a song you’ve composed, you’re opening yourself up for them to criticize.

Given that most people have different tastes and techniques for the field in which you’re creating and given that you’ve found someone you consider worthy of offering critical insight, it’s likely that some of what they contribute will be negative.

That said, criticism should be solicited (until after publication, etc.). If someone feels the need to approach you with comments on something you’ve written, and nothing designates them as a legitimately qualified critic within your field, you have no obligation to listen to a word they say.

A final form of criticism, self-criticism, is probably the hardest to judge. It’s easy being too hard on yourself, but it’s important to remember that compromising your art for the easy way out is never worth it and will make you feel significantly worse down the line. Riding that fine line is where the best art happens. Thus, the most critical limitation on criticism is this: It’s ultimately up to you when to listen and when to ignore. Pick the criticism that seems accurate and motivates you to improve.

Great critics are wrong sometimes, or misjudge a creative effort, or even entirely miss the point. Bad critics strike out of resentment, as do jealous contemporaries. Some percentage of the criticism any artist receives will be bad and needs to be ignored for the benefit of the work. Another portion of criticism is good and will ultimately benefit the profession. And a tremendous amount of the stuff is neutral, misguided or changes the fundamental composition of the work.

The lion’s share of taking criticism is sticking to your guns when you’re right and staying humble and thankful when you aren’t. After all, maybe you’re the next Melville, writing an epic masterpiece that will never be understood in your lifetime.

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle

Constructive criticism helps all artists to a degree, just as constructive criticism helps a child learn how to wipe the proverbial table. However, keep in mind that no critic is sitting at your desk writing or drawing or recording. They aren’t pouring hours into the project. Their perspective is a different one, often fresh and insightful after you’ve gotten used to your work, and worthy of your attention. But it’s not their work, and it never should be.

Sentimentality plagues all artists in some degree or another, and it’s no easy task to separate your love and hard work from the simple reality of what you’ve produced. That’s where the critics come in. Being able to pick out those who value the craft from those who relish crushed dreams and artists’ tears, takes a tremendous amount of faith in your abilities mixed with humility and self-awareness about the shortcomings of your work.

Putting your work out there is opening yourself up to criticism. It’s part of a contract you sign the moment you attend a critique session or email your work to someone. And it’s important to go through the trial of criticism to help polish your work. But getting depressed from a few bad critiques or comments is the exact opposite of what you want. Learn who speaks the truth — objectively, not favoring your work — and listen to what they have to say.

Kayla Matthews is a productivity and self-improvement writer whose writing has been featured on Dumb Little Man, Skills You Need, FinerMinds, Lifehacker, and others. To see more of Kayla's work, visit her productivity blog Productivity Theory or follow her on Twitter.

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10 Tips to Deal With Negativity While Starting a Business

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There are ups and downs in business but fearing failures can stop you from taking your first step towards excellence. With pandemic on tow, aspiring entrepreneurs feel a little stuck when ideating a business prospect. Here, we give you some actionable tips to deal with negativity while starting a business, even during situations like a pandemic. We also took the liberty to throw in some amazing book recommendations that’ll help you enjoy the process of being positive and achieving your business goals.

10 Tips to deal with negativity while starting a business in a pandemic

1. Get a mentor

The first thing to do as a new business owner is to find the right kind of mentor. That person could be someone in your industry or in general who you look up to. The guidance must be apt for your business, and it should be a mutual responsibility of sharing knowledge. 

2. Two big R’s – Routine and Refresh

Made a mess of something? Try to reboot the situation and make it work. Take a break once in a while and refresh yourself if you feel stuck or your ideas feel mundane. Plan a routine and stick to them – both personal and professional. Having a routine can increase productivity and engage in more activities apart from your pre-planned schedule. 

3. Inculcate problem-solving mentality

Do not panic once you are thrown a problem. Arrange a meeting with the respective party, listen to both sides of the stories, and make a decision that is more realistic and feasible. 

4. Hire half and half

Whenever you hire someone for your business. Make sure that half of the people contradict your ideas, and the other half have the same mindset as yours. The people who contradict can bring in more valuable points and their perspective might take the discussion to a whole new level.  Don’t take too much time finding the perfect one. Hire an apt person who can have the right attitude. 

5. Network, Network, and Network

Find like-minded people and mingle with them. Be more sportive in the learning process. Listen more and talk less – if you are a beginner. You can only be a constructive person who gives input to someone if you have listened to everyone’s point of view. If you feel down, your network might have something to uplift your mood and change your perspective on something. 

“Negativity, in general, is one of the things that holds people back, and you have to see what’s holding you back to get away from it.” – Lucy Dacus

6. Tech-savvy personnel

Learn a thing or two about the latest technology that you implement in your organization. Since the world revolves around technology, make sure your administrative authority knows as well.  

7. Don’t schedule a meeting, that could have been an email

Yes! I said it. Having unnecessary meetings will weaken the purpose of having a constructive discussion. Having back-to-back meetings drains the team members and yourself too. Always have a 10 to 15 minutes break between each meeting to feel refreshed and give your 100%. 

8. Have a pros and cons list

Always, I mean always have a pros and cons list. Let’s say one of your team members pitch an idea to improve the marketing strategies starting next month. Jot down the pros and cons before approving or rejecting it point-blank. It’s a systematic way of making a decision. 

9. Track your finances

Even if you have a team of accountants and auditors, make sure that you are present (both mentally and physically) – learn if you are not aware of it. Trusting your employees is a must, but not overseeing the records is a mistake that should be avoided. 

10. Remember your “why?”

At some point in your hectic schedule or not having ME time can get to you. During those tough times – ask yourself – “Why am I doing this?”. If you can answer this question with a valid explanation, you’ll feel energized. Because “A purpose drives you”. 

5 Best books to read to be more positive as an entrepreneur

Reading always puts me into perspective. Therefore, I took some liberty to give a sample of positivity and determination through words. 

These are the 5 books that’ll guide you to be a more positive and successful entrepreneur. 

  1. Attitude is everything by Jeff Keller – The decisions you make, the routine you set for yourself, and the affirmations you say to yourself every day are going to make a huge difference. If you feel tired, hopeless, and quitting – then this book is for you to boost you up!
  2. Mindset: The new psychology of success by Carol Dweck – You do what you think. In this book, the author talks about two mindsets: The growth mindset and the fixed mindset and what they’ll do to you respectively. She helps you recognize your mindset and change it for the better. 
  3. Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen – This book is about technology uprisings all over the world and businesses that adopted and implemented technology in their firm. The author teaches you that just because your competitors and others are adopting something into their businesses doesn’t mean that you have to as well. Make an informed decision. 
  4. As A Man Thinketh by James Allen – This book specifically is about the power of thought and how it shapes your life into a more meaningful and fulfilling one.
  5. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle – The author talks about how people always keep thinking about what the future holds but then forget to live and enjoy the present. And also helps us understand how to make decisions more efficiently based on the present. 

Working towards inner balance requires consistency and perseverance. So does hard and smart work. Being negative is a part of our lives. It’s important to channel it appropriately and make things happen despite the roller coaster ride that is our lives. Hope you overcome your fears and negativity to shine bigger and brighter. Cheers! 

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Defining Your Own Success: A Step by Step Guide

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Everyone wants success in their lives, but success can be defined in so many different ways that it can sometimes seem daunting. In this blog post, you will learn how to make success easier for yourself by defining what success means to you. (more…)

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5 Characteristics of Athletes You Need for Business Success

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Michigan State basketball coach, Tom Izzo, wrote “Players play. Tough players win.” I would add to that, “It’s tough to win.”I think if you, as a leader, are looking to build an organization that is successful – that wins – you first have to accept that it will be tough. There are no shortcuts to success. In my 44 years of coaching, I was fortunate to coach a lot of tough players. I believe the toughness I have seen in athletes corresponds well to any organization or business. (more…)

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5 Changes in Your Habits That Will Help You Thrive

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We’ve all found ourselves at the bottom at least once in our lives. We thought that everything’s ruined and there’s no going back. The truth is – there’s always going back. Moreover, it takes one to fall many times and feel like everything’s ruined to succeed in life. (more…)

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