Fear of Feedback

Written on August 30th, 2016

Recently an article I wrote about my summer internship experience garnered over three thousand shares on social media as it was passed around an online community of journalists. Though this may not seem like expansive reach in the grand scheme of the internet, it was by far the largest audience any of my pieces had ever received.

My mom, being the overwhelmingly encouraging woman that she is, texted me a variety screenshots of posts made by strangers where they shared and complimented my perspective. I realized while sifting through their comments that though I should have felt thrilled with the magnitude of responses, I was actually quite terrified. My stomach turned as I read through share after share, fearing that my next scroll down the screen would reveal a horrible truth: that someone hated what I had to say.

I felt silly being surrounded by such a multitude of positive feedback and still fearing potential negativity. I wrote that particular piece with the best intentions and in the most honest way possible, and I knew I could be proud of my work. I did not claim to know everything but instead sought to turn my summer experience into a learning opportunity for anyone who would take the time to read it. I felt good about what I had written… so why did I feel so scared when the world began passing it around?

Part of it is who I am. I’m vastly insecure, extremely uncomfortable with conflict, and I desperately want to be well-liked. These are not necessarily desirable traits, but they are deeply rooted facets of my being. I grew up receiving almost exclusively positive feedback from authority figures and developed a genuine fear of making a mistake. Though the rational part of me understands that mistakes are important learning opportunities, the part of me powered by feelings tries to avoid failing in any way at pretty much all costs.

I was so scared that someone would find an error when my article began to be shared (and indeed, a few people did). I wrote my reflection after only three months in a news room and knew that I couldn’t be expected to get every single fact right. The message of my piece was supposed to transcend minute details – yet I still stressed over every last thing that could potentially be corrected. Fear of my words being dissected and taken out of context overshadowed my joy that so many people were relating to my work. I found this fact immensely sad.

While I will be the first to acknowledge that my sometimes paper-thin skin makes receiving criticism hard, I also believe part of my fear stemmed from valid observations of society as a whole. When something is put in the spotlight it’s extremely easy to pick it apart. Statistically it makes sense that the wider something reaches, the more varying the responses to it will be – but I also think that we as a society often focus too much on the negatives.

I feared cruel responses to my work because I have witnessed cruel responses to the work of others. In fact, I have sometimes been the one supplying those cruel responses. I am not proud of it, but it’s easy to fixate on one component of a thing that you dislike as opposed to acknowledging the intent or impact of the thing as a whole. For me personally, I think part of it is jealousy: when I see someone or something being very successful (in this case garnering a wide social media reach) sometimes I yearn to find flaws in it just to bring it back down to my level in my mind. It’s warped logic, but I notice it all the time.

The biggest thing I thought about while all of these thoughts and fears were swimming in my head was how to fix my mindset. I was saddened that my knotting stomach distracted from the pride of having my work shared, and in the future I want to be much more joy-centric. I know I can’t suddenly make society more positive… but there are some things I can do.

First, I can alter the way I personally interact with the world, especially on social media. I can consciously strive to be more positive in my observations and responses, and when I do give feedback, I can make sure it’s the kind I would feel comfortable and valued receiving. Though it’s cliched, it’s true: change starts with one person.

Second, I can work to grow my own confidence. This is an endeavor I’ve been pursuing for a while and I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s a constant work in progress. I doubt myself to the point that it sometimes squashes my creativity, and while it’s important to be self-aware of your flaws, I definitely take it too far. At the end of the day I need to remind myself that my feelings and thoughts are valid and that I am allowed to have errors to my name. After all, your mistakes don’t define you – the way you react to them does.

Third, I can actively try to ask for feedback and respond maturely. My natural inclination is to curl up in a ball when someone says something negative about me, but I need to make an effort to hear them out and evaluate their statements. Though some criticisms (especially on social media) are unnecessarily harsh, many pieces of feedback can be extremely valuable to the growing process. I can’t improve myself all on my own, and sometimes I’m going to have to participate in uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes I’m going to make people mad. Sometimes I’m going to be insensitive or inaccurate. I need to be okay with these things and all of the consequences that come with them. When someone critiques something I’ve done, it’s not an insult to my character – it’s a chance to be better for the next time.

And finally, I can focus on the positive. I can look a little closer into the good things people are saying and move on from the bad. I can be proud of the fact that at least someone, somewhere, is getting something out of what I’ve written. If my work can make even one person feel more understood or appreciated or inspired, then I really shouldn’t care if a thousand other people hate it. I can take criticisms seriously and I can welcome feedback with open arms, but I can also remind myself that sometimes our triumphs need a little more attention than our failures.

I am only nineteen. I am flawed, and scared, and a million other undesirable things. But I’ve come to realize that feedback doesn’t have to be frightening; when approached with the right attitude, it can be exciting and educational all at once. I may not want to be a famous author living in the spotlight like I once dreamed when I was younger – but I definitely don’t want to let a fear of negativity stop me from connecting with others by sharing my work.