Wednesday, August 28, 2013


An attractive dinner setting
An attractive dinner setting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm not always the best at taking criticism.

It's not that I don't like being able to improve. I'll jump in with both feet when it comes to reviewing notes on a draft, or tweaking a design of some kind, or messing with a pattern until it comes out the way I want it.

But, well, let's take cooking. That's something that supposedly takes practice.  But you don't get rough drafts of dinner.  It's good, it's OK, it's bad, it's garbage.  Anything short of garbage, you have to eat whether you like it or not; garbage, you have to pay to replace, having wasted good food.

So telling me my chicken was overdone, or too spicy, might help me for next time. Maybe; these things are inexact, after all, and I might overcompensate. But in any case, it's too late for this time. I failed; you're eating chicken you don't like.

So I'm not hearing, "This is what you need to do to make it perfect," like I hear at a writing workshop, for example.  I hear, "This is how you ruined my dinner." Well, if dinner isn't good enough for you, cook it yourself.

One of the reasons I like creative things -- and maybe one of the reasons I'm so bad at finishing them -- is the sense that someone criticizing it doesn't mean it's bad; it just means it's not finished.  And that's OK.

When it comes to one-and-done things, criticism, no matter how useful it might be for next time, comes too late for this time. I've failed.  I disappointed you.  I get it, now please stop shoving it in my face.

And as much as people claim they don't like "perfect" people, I'm pretty sure they don't like constant disappointments, either.

Telling me what I should have done is telling me how I let you down. Because I know I should have done better. I know I failed.

OK, here's what might be a better parallel. You swing-and-miss an easy pitch in practice, yes, you want to know how you screwed that up.  That's what practice is for -- so you learn how not to do that when it counts.  But you swing-and-mniss that same pitch in a game -- a game where the fans will boo you, a game where the scouts might be watching, a game where the championship is on the line... well, knowing what you did wrong just reminds you how you let everyone down. It doesn't fix a thing.

Most of life is practice? No.  Most of life is game day.

...I'm reasonably sure there's some unhealthy perspective in today's essay. I'm open to other ways of framing it, if you have any -- though please keep them in the spirit of workshop-and-practice, not ruined-dinner-and-lost-championship.
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