As a writer, I receive a lot of feedback. Some of the feedback is positive, but much of it is negative. For example, I recently received the following feedback on a paper I wrote:
“I have to confess that it was a little difficult to stay objective because I was appalled by the poor writing skills of the authors. If the authors wish to rewrite this manuscript, it is suggested that they ask for assistance in editing.”
Whew! What do you do with that kind of feedback? If I took this feedback too personally, I might quit my job and try to do something else.
I have a friend who owns a sailboat, and he invites me to go sailing from time to time. There is a lesson from sailing that applies to how I try to respond to feedback and incorporate it into my life:
Notice the wind, but direct the boat.
First, when you’re sailing, you need to notice the wind. The wind can be your friend, and it helps you get where you want to go. If you simply pointed your boat in a certain direction, without taking the wind into consideration, you probably wouldn’t get very far. And you would have a difficult time getting there.
In the same way, I think we need to notice and listen to the feedback we get from others. We don’t live in isolation. Our actions both affect and are affected by the people around us. Also, people’s feedback can give us good information about ourselves and whether our actions are working or not working. If we continue in a certain direction despite persistent negative feedback, it might indicate a blind spot in our lives. If we continue down this road, we might not have much success. It’s good to listen to feedback and see if we can learn anything helpful from it.
At the same time, when you’re sailing, you need to direct the boat. If you just let the wind take you in whatever direction it is going, you probably won’t get where you want to go. You might even go in the opposite direction of your goal!
In the same way, we need to be the captain of our life. We need to take the wheel and steer our life in the direction we want to go. The opinions of others are just that—opinions. They may or may not be true. Also, even if there may be some truth in the feedback, we might take the feedback too personally. In the example I shared about the paper, there probably was some truth in the reviewer’s feedback—the writing probably could be improved. But that doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. Don’t let the feedback of others take you too far off your course.
There’s a balance here. It’s important to notice the wind—to listen to feedback and see if there is anything we can learn. But it’s also important to direct the boat—to steer your life in the direction you want to go, not letting the opinions of others take you too far off course.
Discussion: What do you think about the balance of listening to feedback, but also directing your life? When you receive negative feedback, do you tend to listen to it too much? Or not enough?