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How to block out the critics and get on with things
No matter how nice, likeable, clever or sensible you are, you’re still going to encounter critics and people that think they know what you need better than you. In fact, the happier and more successful you are, the more likely it is that people will try to bring you back down to their level so they don’t have difficult feelings about the choices they’ve made or life circumstances they have. Nobody promised it would be easy!
So when families nag or friends criticise the career decisions you’re making, what’s a smart, industrious grad to do?
While these people are quite likely very well-meaning, often it’s good to dig a little deeper. The first thing to do is run a critical analysis of the situation. Who is the person giving the advice or criticism to you, and do you care what they have to say?
Here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself when someone gives you their two cents:
1. Did I ask for the advice or comment?
If you asked for the advice, then fair play to the person giving it. You might not like what was said, but that’s a different issue altogether. If you didn’t ask for advice or criticism and you got it anyway, consider its usefulness then push it to the side and get on with your day.
2. Is it from someone I trust, admire and want to be more like?
Yes? Terrific. Get out your notepad and write it down. If no, however, again it might be worth taking a deep breath, thanking the speaker for their concern and quickly emptying the contents of the recycle bin of your mind.
3. Do they have anything to gain from steering me off-course?
While there aren’t that many people who are going to actively sabotage your efforts, there are sometimes ulterior motives people have that they might not even be aware of. Do your due diligence and make sure they are impartial to your situation before taking on what they say.
Let’s take a look at the main groups of people most likely to give you some of this well-meaning hot air.
Ahh, parents. Siblings. Grandparents. Young cousin so-and-so who’s done very well for themselves. While some are very fortunate to only ever experience the kind and loving embrace of family, the rest of us are dodging missiles at major holidays ranging from kindly but ill-informed advice to downright hostility.
Viewing family input as misguided caring can help you reframe the conversation in a way that allows your mind to process it positively. While you can’t stop people from saying what they will, as Shakespeare once said: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
When you’re five, it’s easy enough to bond with new friends over a love of red jelly beans. As you get older and the anxieties of life start to creep in, friendships can turn into rivalries and tensions begin to simmer. Who got the best position out of university? Who makes more money? Who has the better apartment? It’s an unavoidable fact of life that, as social creatures, we’re prone to comparison. It’s in our DNA to compete.
If a friend has become more of a frenemy, it might be the pinch of anxiety creeping in. They might be worried that you’ll get ahead of them financially, or no longer want to spend time with them when you make new, cooler friends, and are beating you to the punch. Give a friend that’s finding it difficult to adjust some time, you never know when they might come back with a different perspective. Either way, you’ll be saving yourself a ton of emotional energy you can use on better things.
This is a tricky one, because while you can avoid family and friends if need be, you can’t avoid your co-workers. If the co-worker giving you grief is someone that’s been there longer, they might like things done a certain way or perhaps it’s just their slightly awkward way of having something to talk about with you.
This one is where you’re going to need to turn on all your charm, give them a big smile and and listen. Help them feel valuable, important and useful. Listen closely to see if there’s another topic of conversation you can jump on. If they mention a pet, or a hobby, ask them about it. Find neutral ground to talk about, and hopefully the advice will start to lessen the more comfortable you become with each other.
If not, work is a place you can comfortably (and sometimes formally, if necessary) set limitations. If the unsolicited advice continues, some good phrases to practice are “I’ll think about it”, “That’s an interesting idea, I’ll see if it fits with my plan”, or “I’m not really looking for advice, but thanks”.
If you have a partner who likes to tell you the ways you can improve without you asking, that can be harmful to the relationship in the long run. Your partner should be the one person you can turn to when you’ve had a bad day who knows how to build you back up to fighting fit again. If your partner nitpicks, criticises or offers ‘advice’ that doesn’t really sound much like advice, then chances are there’s more trouble in the relationship than just whatever the problem is you’re currently talking about.
Letting your partner know that you have things under control or that you’d appreciate just being listened to are ways you can nip it in the bud, and sometimes it’s best and simpler to just keep work and relationships separate.
Yes, you read correctly! Often, your biggest critic is you. And when you realise that you’re giving yourself a hard time, you’re halfway to making things much, much better.
If minor setbacks or less-than-perfect work keep you awake at night, it’s time to stop beating yourself up, accept you’re as human as the next person and give yourself an easier time of things.
When stress boils over, do something you love: read a book, take a bath, listen to soothing music, go for a walk or cook a meal. Get out and see a trusted friend. Volunteer at a charity. Do something that makes you light up inside, and your stress will soon melt away as you remember there is life outside your own mind.
Once the stress is out of the picture it’s time to assess the situation in your mind, learn what you can so you can try to do better next time, keep your head up and put the matter to bed where it belongs.
As you move through your career you’re going to have ups and downs, allies and enemies, successes and failures. Learning to be your own coach, advocate and counsellor is crucial to enjoying the ride. People are going to say what they like and there’s nothing you can do about that, but you can change how you interpret it, how you respond to it and whether you incorporate it. And, most importantly, you can change the character you play in your own story.