• Jess

Drowning Out the Noise: On Criticism

"Don't allow other people's horror stories to define what you do or what's possible for you. When others speak from their experiences, remember that those are not your experiences. Your story can be different than someone else's. Stop listening to bad advice and accepting everything from other people's perspective as a fact of life."

-- Nedra Tawwab

Your heart is beating fast, your mind is following several thoughts at once and your stomach feels like you went down a bit too quickly in an old elevator. You're feeling excited and nervous and brave and curious, thinking "What if?". Something new has presented itself to you: a relationship, a travel opportunity, a new career, a journey to healing and you want to say yes to it.

Finally, you work up the courage to try it, to move forward, trusting what you feel and what you know. No small thing, to journey into the unknown and risk failure or danger or disappointment. Looking for reassurance, or maybe just to declare out loud a promise to yourself, you share your decision with those around you.

If you're lucky (and I hope that you are), you're surrounded by people who love and encourage you, who share your enthusiasm and honour all that it takes to start over. More than likely, you also have some naysayers in your circle. People who seek to poke holes in your plans or explain to you why your dreams won't work, why your hopes are unrealistic.

Most often, these people have no way of knowing what will or won't be a success for you. They simply have their own disappointments, their own plans that went awry, their own heartbreak and confusion and unfinished business. We all deserve all the time and support that we need to heal from the many ways life can hurt or shock us. And we don't deserve to have others try to dampen our enthusiasm, whittle down our pride or minimize the courage it takes to risk what we have.

It's instinctive, wanting to protect those we care about from harm or disappointment. And yet, unsolicited feedback, criticism and catastrophizing are unhelpful and unkind. They create distance instead of connection. And depending on our past experiences, they may be enough to dissuade us from trying, to stop us before we even begin.

When I was interested in becoming a social worker, I remember sharing that at a family reunion. And I'll never forget the relative who told me there was no money and no future in it and I'd be better off finding a "real job". Likewise when I was interested in pursuing a career as a mechanic. Before I could even enroll, the Admissions Officer warned me that it was dirty, physically challenging work and I'd be better off as a receptionist. Unsurprisingly, I didn't pursue either of these career options.

Intellectually, you know that it's projection: it's not really about you. In that moment, that person is reliving their own dashed dreams, their own unmet expectations. There is wisdom in considering the risks and rewards before you make a significant life change, and I've always been grateful for the trusted loved ones who've encouraged me to follow my dreams while bringing my attention to things I hadn't considered.

You are not obligated to hold still while they project their opinions and experiences onto you. As I've grown older, I've been blessed to grow more confident, to have a deeper sense of trust in myself and my judgment. A vital part of this growth has come from making the conscious decision to only take advice from people who had enough experience to give advice.

For example, I don't take advice on running my business from people who aren't successful entrepreneurs. More than that, I maintain a sense of balance and accountability not by shutting out all feedback, but by only taking feedback from people whose judgment I trust, who I believe have my best interests at heart, and who respect and care for me enough to practice compassionate honesty.

Along the way to starting my farm, I've been blessed to have the ongoing encouragement and support from my beloveds. I've also come up against people cautioning me that I'll be lonely, that there's no future in farming, that I'll be isolated and bored. All of those things are possible, but staying in the city and being afraid to move ahead is no shield against loneliness, isolation or boredom.

After my previous experiences, I decided to adopt the stance that I don't cast aspersions and doubts on other people's dreams. I choose to trust my judgment, my research, my intuition and the judgment of those who love me. I may fail and have my heart broken.But choosing not to try would feel worse. Being too afraid to bet on yourself is its own kind of heartbreak.

If there's a secret yearning your heart is whispering to you, if that yearning refuses to be silenced, I encourage you to tend to it. Get curious about it. Ask "What if?" And when it feels like time, share it with those you love and trust. Take feedback from those who are qualified to give it and don't let those who were afraid to try be the reason you hold yourself back. When it comes to those who come bearing horror stories, you can let them know their story is theirs, but you'll write your own story.

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