I recently read a quote that said ‘Only fools let compliments go to their heads and criticism go to their hearts.’ It struck me pretty hard in the gut because I am a perfectionist. I love being complimented but I cannot accept criticism or the reality of imperfections in myself. Guessing from the state of humanity, from almost the dawn of time till now, humans have always hated being criticized but love being flattered. Remember that one couple Adam and Eve? They didn’t enjoy being told that they were not gods but were actually created creatures. In gratitude for being created, and as a sign of loyalty to their creator, they were given one simple task: don’t eat of this one tree. But then a snake (it IS always snakes) told them that they didn’t need God and they can be perfect without him, when in reality they would have been NOTHING if He hadn’t created them. They could not accept what they saw as criticism from God, but instead choose the untrue flattery of the honey-tongued snake. Then, sin entered the world and we have a prime example of why snakes cannot be trusted.
The actual chief message I want to draw from this story is that Adam and Eve could not accept criticism about their imperfections and use it for their betterment. This inability proceeded to ruin their lives. This is a very over the top example, but it’s true. Their pride flared up, and, instead of accepting their limits and the truth of their situation, they flew off the handle. And then their descendants were left with pain and death, although God was nice enough to send a Savior and hope along the way (thank goodness, sin sucks). And everyday, I am very like Adam and Eve. Maybe you are too. I know that I deserve that criticism at times: I entered something wrong at work, or I forgot to close the refrigerator door AGAIN. Criticism from my superiors and those who care for me is criticism I usually need to hear. But it is so hard to accept I am flawed and need help without defending myself or deflecting blame, or at least being gracious in accepting the criticism. And honestly, it’s because criticism scares me. It means I failed in some way. And I fear failing more than I fear watching the Titanic (because I fear drowning) or sting rays (because of the Crocodile Hunter).
But failure, criticism, imperfections themselves are not the worst thing in life. The worst part is allowing fear of failing and criticism stopping you from doing what is right, and allowing it to make a worse, not better, person of you.
In my senior year of college, I wanted to write a thesis. It wasn’t required but who doesn’t want that laurel wreath of victory adorning your head? And lo and behold, I had to withdraw from the course in which I had planned on writing my thesis, I wasn’t ready, I had bitten off more than I could chew, the eyes of my pride were much too big for my actual academic abilities. I felt like a failure but more importantly, I knew I had done the right thing. I received some criticism for my actions but honestly I wish I had more criticism before I had written my thesis. Someone to snap me out of my bubble of belief that I was ready to write a thesis. Because I wasn’t, and some well-placed criticism before that time of my life would have saved me a lot of stress and tears. But, I have grown tremendously from allowing criticism and failure burn off a little of my pride and change me for the better, in a really big way. I learned that I am not meant to be an academic, at least not right now, so grad school was out. I excitedly turned to other options, which I am allowing myself to explore for the first time in a long time, I had believed that I was going to do something in Academia for so long that I stopped dreaming, I also now have a permanent reminder that effort is necessary for a full and finished product. I didn’t put nearly enough effort in preparation into writing a thesis as I needed to, and once the actual crunch time came, I was crunched like a leaf during fall-flat and done. I know hat a good support system is necessary-you need people who will be honest, who are tough lovers. See how much I heave learned, friend?
So, today, I challenge you to accept that you are imperfect, that at times criticism will come but that doesn’t need to stop you. I am stronger because of my failure, not weaker, I am better for learning from my mistakes, not worse. And I want the same for YOU.