Some people are born with a thick skin. Others have theirs created for them by having scalding words poured over them til they blister and callous.
I was always a sensitive child. An only child til I was sixteen, my first friends were my parents. My parents were young. They had spent years of building their tough hide. I was soft. Newborn. Any little criticism cut into me like a knife. My Mum and I tell this story: I was eight or so. My Mum, once a secretary, has infallible handwriting like something from a fountain pen’s dream. I spent all day practicing with a random shopping list she’d left lying around. Perfecting my loops and thin, straight lines. Spacing. Agonising over my handwriting. She walked by, unaware of my task, and said curtly, “Your handwriting is so messy. You need to work on it”. I crumpled within.
When she tells that story, she laughs, now aware of the childhood turmoil it caused. I smile along, but mostly I remember the stinging realisation that even my best wasn’t good enough.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe in “participation awards”. I do believe hard work should pay off. I also believe hard work should be encouraged. I spent years never quite trying to do anything because I wholeheartedly believed I would never be able to succeed. I understand some people are built differently. Criticism fuels them to prove the critics wrong. Congratulations if you’re one of those. I’m not and I know others who will welcome constructive criticism but get flattened by unwarranted judgement (there is a huge difference).
What we–the blistered–need to do is stop trying to harden, stop avoiding critics. We need to be our own judges. We need to communicate our displeasure.
We need to be our own friendly reminder that we are worthwhile and we can do great things.