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“Oh, no, she didn’t just say that!”….Letting Go Of Comments That Sting

When you make your living on a stage, you put yourself out there, open to the criticism of others. Being a motivational speaker I get the blessing, and sometimes the curse, of knowing what people really think about what I do. And that’s tough, especially when I struggle with self-esteem anyway. But life is tough. You may not be motivational speakers, but you are not immune to the criticism of others either. No matter where we are – family, work, or church – we are constantly surrounded by people who make it a point to let us know what they think of our performance.

Some people, like my husband, can hear criticism and have it roll off his back like grease off a green bean. I envy his gift of not caring, and being able to walk away, secure in who he is. Me? I don’t have that gift. I will take the criticism of a stranger and let it reduce me to a sniffling blob of good-for-nothingness. I’m not proud. Just honest. And I know I’m not alone. So if you suffer from this, keep reading. And if you don’t, go find something else to do.

So here’s what happened. I get this email from a stranger (no name included in his email – as most mean e-mailers prefer to remain anonymous) accusing me of stealing another performer’s material. That didn’t just sting, that attacked me to the core. Tell me you don’t like my hair. Tell me my rear end looks like two possums in a wrestling match. Tell me that Kiss called and they want their makeup back. And I’m fine. But tell me that I’m stealing material and you not only have my attention, you have my self-esteem cradled in the palm of your hand.

I had a choice. I could have deleted the email right away, giving it no more thought than the twenty-five other emails from Nigerian royalty. And in one second I could have reduced the credibility of that email and simply walked away. Which is exactly what my husband would have done, and would have told me to do. Or I could have fired back an email putting that idiot in his place and throwing in a couple of choice words in the process. And it would have felt great. Until his nasty email came back, and then it would be game on, and no telling how much time would be wasted in the process.

And so this tiny little email suddenly threw a wrench in my day as I struggled with his accusation. Because that’s what I do. Because I was the kid they picked on growing up. The one who didn’t belong. I was the kid who spent my life trying to fit in – to belong. I was the one trying to please everybody so they would like me. And sometimes I’m still on that playground. And if you grew up like I did, then maybe you would be doing the same thing.

It’s a weird thing how my psyche works. One hundred people can praise me and tell me I’m great and I won’t believe them. One person tells me I’m the boil on the butt of humanity, and that’s the one I believe. That’s the one I carry around. That’s the one I make a part of my belief system. I know I should let it go. And I try. I go through the motions. I talk myself off the ledge. And I let it go. And then I lay in bed and it pops back in my head. And I let it go again. And I wake up in the morning and pick it right back up again. I spend the whole day trying to let it go – when actually it grows bigger and bigger. Who knew that letting it go could be so darn tiring?

And then there’s this part of me that knows I have to listen to the comment. While I want to get rid of negative comments, I must at the same time honor them – evaluate them for truth. For what is the difference in constructive criticism that helps us grow, and the negative comment that keeps us from growing? Where is the line? Sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it, I am wrong. And it will take someone else to point that out. But what if it’s not valid? Once we determine that the comment is not valid – how do we keep it from burying itself deep into our heart? Because for some of us, it’s not as easy as simply forgetting about it the moment it’s spoken.
So here’s what I decided to do: Respond back with love and grace – which was hard. Really hard. I had to keep that motive in my head and in my heart and in my fingers as I wrote that email. I couldn’t let one word reflect a vengeful spirit. So I actually thanked him for shining a light on a potential problem. I explained (not defensively, not with anger) my confusion at his suggestion that I was using someone else’s material. I politely asked him to point out said material, so that I could review it for similarities. And I ended the email with all the kindness I could muster. Why? Because some of the values upon which I run my business are forgiveness, peace, kindness, and grace. Because as a self-professed leader, I want to exhibit self-control – to show my ability in all situations (easier for me to say than do) to rise above the negative behavior. Sometimes I fail – and fail big. But today I didn’t. Today I walked my talk.

And then I had to sit down and discuss this accusation with myself and my God. I had to remind myself that while I try to please as many people as I can – it is simply impossible – and at some point, I will run across people I can’t please. While I try to do the right thing at all times – there will be cases where my “right thing” is not someone else’s “right thing.” And I have to decide for myself what that right thing is. And being a woman of faith, who tries to run her business the same way, I had to decide who is in my audience – that ultimately I look to God to direct my path – to be the lamp to my feet and the light to my path. And I have to ask Him if I am acting in a way that brings Him glory. I’m not telling you to run your business that way – that’s my way. But I do believe that you won’t please everybody either, and at some point you will have to stand up for what you think is right, when somebody else thinks it is wrong. And this is really tough for people who grew up like I did – the kid who didn’t fit –who tried to blend in – who spent a lifetime trying to get people to like me. So if this is you, you will struggle a little more with this issue.

And then I had to wait – another thing that does not come easy for me. I am all about instant gratification. I am all about rushing and running ahead. Patience is my weakest virtue. But I had to wait. And acknowledge that I might not get the answer or the resolution I needed to let this go. Many of us are walking around waiting for closure – waiting for an apology – waiting for reconciliation – waiting for someone to feel bad for what they did to us. And the truth of the matter is that we don’t always get closure. And if you walk around expecting and waiting for it – you are hurting yourself – and blocking your path to peace and productivity. You are waiting for a day that may never come.

You also have to realize that you can’t talk rationally with someone who is irrational. So there is always a chance that your attempt at a constructive rational conversation will be met with someone who doesn’t have the ability to think or act rationally. This is really tough, as you have to be the bigger person and walk away – or it will become a never ending conversation that will make you bitter and block your productivity.

I couldn’t go talk to my husband about it, because somewhere between the person who said I was a waste of their time, and the person who said Foxworthy was funnier – he had grown tired of hearing me cry over mean emails. Because every time it happened, I would sit at his feet for hours, discussing it from every angle. And while my husband is a saint, he’s not a fool. He finally reached the point where he had heard enough. Where he decided that discussing it any further was a colossal waste of our time. He decided it was time for me to get over it. And now I’m not allowed to come to him with anymore nasty emails. Period. This was a hard lesson for me to learn because at first I just thought he was being insensitive.

But when I think about it I realize that he is right – we have got to stop taking our situations to others – spending hours discussing something just for the sake of discussing it. Fine if you want to get advice. Ask and then follow the advice. But that’s not what most of us do. We just want to talk about it. And talk about it. And talk about it some more. And if this person won’t listen, then we’ll find somebody else. Here’s the deal. That’s draining to those other people. I’ve been on the receiving end of someone who spends hours talking about their ungrateful mother-in-law – and in my head I’m just screaming, “Enough already! Shut up! Either fix it, or quit talking about it! I’m getting a headache!”

So I had to walk away from this issue – focus on something more important – focus on something good in my life. And I did. And I stopped checking my emails every thirty seconds to see if that person responded. I started to forget.

Distract yourself. Turn your focus on something exciting that makes you happy. No, not chocolate. No, not rum. Turn to another area of life where there is peace and joy. For me, when I get those stinging comments, I turn to the good comments – I open the letters I’ve saved from people who appreciated my gift – from friends who love me for who I am.

And then when I had all but forgotten about it, I opened up my email and saw that the person had responded. I braced myself. Sure that the person was going to open up another can of accusations and I was going to spiral down into a dark abyss so deep I didn’t even care about fixing my hair. But that was not the case. I read an email (he actually gave his name this time) that was polite and apologetic. Where he began by saying his original accusation was not accurately worded. That it wasn’t the material I was ripping off – it was the facial expressions. He had found a video (dating back many years) where I looked and talked like another performer. And he told me that perhaps it wasn’t his place to judge. And he thanked me for taking time to answer his email.

Wow. First of all – HUGE RELIEF. In one moment, the entire situation had changed. In one moment, the huge weight of the accusation was lifted off my shoulders. While I don’t relish the thought of looking like another performer – that is something I simply can not help. I choose not to focus on issues like that. And the video he saw was old, so I don’t even look like that anymore. Shoot, I don’t even look like I did last week anymore. My reputation remained intact.

I emailed him back and thanked him for the clarification. That I felt good about who I was and that I would continue to just go out there and try to be me and if my facial expression looked like someone else’s – so be it. And I thanked him for his email. Yes, you heard me right. I thanked him. And I meant it. Because while it stung and while I would rather get an email telling me how great I am – his email helped me grow. And sometimes these toxic people and situations in our life can help us become better people. They can help us learn more about ourselves, and learn to be more comfortable in the face of more criticism. They make us really think about who we are, and what we stand for, and then force us to stand for it. So, yes, I am thankful for his email.

I have no doubt that his second email would have been different if my response had been different – if I had lashed out in haste and in hate – if I had said what I was really thinking. If I acted on emotion rather than rational discussion. The conversation would have turned into something unproductive and mean. When it didn’t have to be. It took one person rising above the emotion and acting out in grace and kindness. I had to calm down. Breathe. Think. And then act with intention, rather than react with emotion. And my kindness evoked his kindness. And that is a beautiful thing to witness.

But I think the biggest lesson of all that I learned, was that what I thought he meant wasn’t what he meant. I ran with an accusation that wasn’t even the accusation I thought it was. I wasted hours thinking about how to fix something that really wasn’t the problem. And I step into this trap all the time. For often, we misinterpret what the other person is meaning. We interpret based on our emotion, not on the truth of the situation. Too often, I think that just because I feel it, means it is true. And nine times out of ten, what I felt wasn’t true after all. I’m ashamed to admit how often I have made snap judgments about people based on something as trivial as the way they looked at me – and they turned out to be really nice people. There are people in my life that I harbor ill will towards, for reasons I can’t really defend. I’m working on it. We’re not perfect, after all. But awareness is the first step.

So remember that what you feel is not always true.

And sometimes it is. And that’s the true test. What will you do with the truth? Will you use it to help you grow? Or will you use it to make you bitter? Will you let it make you or break you? It’s up to you.

Here’s to a year of peace, productivity, and happiness – where we walk in truth instead of emotion – where we act in grace, not in hate – where our belief system about ourselves and others is based on truth not emotion – and where we please the ones we can, and release the ones we can’t.

Now I’ve got to go. I just got an email from someone accusing me of looking like Reba. Thank you, God.


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  1. Mary A. Redmond12-21-11

    My dear friend Kelly Swanson is on target here. What wisdom she shares in her handling of a critical email regarding her work.

    Kelly used grace and turned the cruel comment into an opportunity to grow in wisdom. I was right there in the boat with you Kelly as you shared the story.

    Another technique I’ve learned and have used is to pray for the person who has been unkind and hurtful. Pray for that person to have all good in their life. Ask God to give them all the blessings that you want for yourself.

    If you want success, confidence, the perfect gig, an adorable loving spouse, angelic child, gorgeous home or a healthy body, ask God for those blessings for the person who hurt you. The miracle happens as you say these prayers for ten days.Your heart will be changed. The anger and resentment will leave you. Your heart softens. If at the end of ten days you are still angry, pray for another ten days. Some of us are slow learners. Slow to release pain and anger.

  2. kelly12-21-11

    Thank you, Mary. And I will incorporate your helpful grace-filled advice. You are definitely one woman who walks her talk. Merry Christmas! Your wacky motivational speaker friend in North Carolina.

  3. Cindy Bradham12-21-11

    Kelly, as a public speaker occasionally, I get feedback from the evaluations handed out to the audiance. On one such occasion, the agency who asked me to speak was going to withold a comment that they felt was “criticsim”. My topic was “Handling Stressful Events While Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s”. Since I had walked this path with my mother, I related personal accounts and how I handled or didn’t handle the situation. The criticsim was that I was a “storyteller and everyone has a story”. This individual obviously wanted actual “do’s and don’ts”. Since that time, I begin each presentation by letting my audiance know that I am a “Storyteller”, who will interject personal experiences, which actually is what most of my audiances like.

    Thank you for your words of inspiration. We all need to make lemonade out of lemons.

    Please have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  4. kelly12-21-11

    Hi Cindy! Thanks for writing back! Nice to meet another motivational speaker on the journey! I have a love/hate relationship with evaluations. I love to read what people loved about me, and I hate to read what people hated about me. And you can’t just ignore the negative ones – because some of them are valid, deserve a second look, and will help us grow. And sometimes you have to wait and see if more than one person has the same complaint. And over time, you will start to see people disagreeing with each other, resulting in contradictory advice. Which will bring you back to the place where you have to decide if you must change or not, and then live in confidence with your decision.

    I like how you took this evaluation and used it for good, and found a way to make sure there is no confusion in the future. But let me add that the story holds much more value and impact than the “do or don’t.” Stories are what sets us apart as speakers. The truth is important, but how you wrap it is EVERYTHING. And there is a way to tell a story and also include the do or don’t. So I don’t agree with the person’s criticism. Confusing, eh? Told you that you’d get contradicting advice! :)

    As a speaker, who used to be a professional storyteller, may I offer this advice: You are a storyteller, coming in to tell a story, entertain the audience, make sure that they are engaged and connected. As a speaker, you have to make this story about them – show them how what you learned can help them – make it not just about you and your story, but about them and their story. Storytellers, advertised as such, can go in and entertain and tell a story. Speakers have the challenge of coming in, telling a story, and using that story to teach the audience.

    I have no doubt that you are doing just fine! Sounds like your heart is in the right place! Merry Christmas to you too! Let’s make 2012 ROCK!

    Your new friend in the world of motivational speakers, Kelly Swanson

  5. Linda James12-23-11

    Thank you for your insight and honesty. All of us have been targets of criticism. We risk that when we mingle with other human beings and open our mouths to express our thoughts and beliefs. Only God knows our hearts and intents when things get confused or misunderstood.

    Others like to point out the presumed weaknesses of others to take the spotlight off their own weaknesses. I like the saying “Live and let live.” God created us and knew our sin nature from the get go…he is not surprised when we get crossed up with others and their perceived ideas that are totally wrong. Possibly he may allow those to happen so we can see our quick inclination to fire back angry words of defense.

    No one is immune to bad behavior…even Christians. The good thing is God forgives and forgets when we confess our sins. You have a gift that God uses to reach people who want to know they are loved and accepted by others. You do a great job. I hope you will know…you touch lives for the better in a transparent way…entertaining and helping us take off our masks and be our true selves.

    Thank you.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    Linda James

  6. kelly12-23-11

    Thank you Linda for such a heartfelt reply. Your wise and encouraging words gave this weak little motivational speaker the courage to keep going. You speak Honesty. You speak Truth. And you speak you Love. My three favorite words. Thank you for giving me what will be this year’s best Christmas present. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and see you in 2012.

  7. Susie12-27-11

    Honest to Goodness. I sometimes think these folks have zero life and zillions of extra time on their hands, and empty minds!

    A while back, I wrote an article that was picked up by API and went to newspapers across the country on “How to dress upscale in a downturned economy” which feaatured tips on how to dress, groom, etc without breaking the bank.

    Some reader somewhere contacted me via email and stated “that it is people like me who are keeping this economy down!”

    Honestly, I was just writing helpful beauty and image tips ~ encouraging women to shop in their closets first!

    I’ve decided that at least I know my stuff is being read, heard, seen, etc. And that some people are just a fashion/beauty BEFORE and will never, ever, be an AFTER!

    Bless Their Hearts!

  8. kelly12-27-11

    Wow Susie! Bet you never knew that you held the power of the economy’s future in your hands! Thanks for sharing your experience. Just more affirmation that we can’t please everybody – and that some people will never be pleased because they are just one card short of a deck. I’m just saying. Thanks for responding. Please don’t stop sharing your information with the world. If we let the negative people stop us, then they win. Happy new year. Kelly Swanson, Motivational Speaker

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