One of the first times Andy spent time with my mom and me, he mentioned that she seemed very critical of me. My immediate reaction was surprise that he saw it that way, because I’d never thought that before. Upon further reflection, though, I realized he was right–but that it had never entered my mind because I also know that she loves me for me, unequivocally and unconditionally. And so I could take her criticism constructively.
I’ve realized that I have a favorite kind of person, and that it’s one who is critical of the world, of the people around them, who has extremely high standards and expectations, but who doesn’t withhold her praise, to the extent that you sometimes feel like you’re being praised simply for doing your job!
It’s amazing what a simple “thank you” can do for one’s self-esteem. Look, we know I’m incredibly hard on myself, often harder on myself than anyone else will ever be of me! My parents never had to fuss at me about grades, because they knew if I brought home a less-than-stellar one I had probably already beaten myself up over it. Their only question was, “Do you know WHY you got those answers wrong?”–a constructive response to make sure I learned the material and moved on. They didn’t need to punish me; that wouldn’t have been productive.
I could never do the visualization thing at swim meets, either, because I always visualized myself winning (natch), which wasn’t usually within my reach, and so then when I didn’t win, I would end up crying in the locker room. (No joke. This happened a lot.) One meet my goal was to place in the top 8 in the 200 backstroke and to break a certain time (maybe 2:30?). I placed 7th and went something like 2:29.99, so my mom met me after the race with a big grin and ready for a congratulatory hug. Instead I stormed off saying I hadn’t placed high enough and hadn’t broken my time goal by enough.
I expect a lot of myself.
So needless to say it doesn’t come as a surprise to me when other people expect a lot of me. And when I fall short of something, it comes more naturally to me to dwell on it and to be upset.
But what I’m learning is that high expectations can be a launching pad for personal development, and that people can appreciate your work even when you don’t feel like you’ve done anything special.
It may feel easy to me to take care of schedules and coordinate timing, but that’s not something everyone is good at. And so I shouldn’t brush it off when someone says, “Thank you for all you do.” They mean it. The things I do make life easier for them. Don’t equivocate, don’t belittle what you’ve done–take it. Say you’re welcome. And add it to your fuel tank to remember during the times you’re feeling low and feeling like you can’t accomplish anything.
Likewise, when you forget to send that email or inadvertently leave someone off the invite list and your coworker calls you on it, don’t get defensive, don’t make excuses. Say you’re sorry and make a mental note for the next time. Learn from it. They’re not discounting you as a human being. They’re pointing out an action that you didn’t take or an action that you took wrong, and all they need for you to do is to not do it that way again.
Criticism for criticism’s sake stings. But all criticism doesn’t have to.
So this is what I know: I’m critical of myself in unproductive ways, and so I have an incredible appreciation for the people around me who push me through that. Who are hard on me and expect a lot but who also appreciate me for who I am and what I do. When I’m built up by their appreciation (which I maybe don’t give myself enough of), their criticism makes me grow. And who doesn’t need a little of that in their life?