Tag: critics

The Food Critic

The restaurant owner came to the reception area as soon as the celebrated food critic, Mr. Gruff, checked in with the hostess. His first impression was that the man was immensely old. He was stooped over, with white hair and a long white beard and little wire-framed glasses.

Looking more closely, the restaurant owner realized that Mr. Gruff was a goat.

“Is this a joke?” he asked.

Mr. Gruff looked up at him. His eyes were strange. “Mr. Smith, I assume?”

The restaurant owner took a step back. A talking goat? Then he straightened up. He was a professional business owner. He could handle this. “Yes, that’s me. Are you Mr. Gruff?”

“Of course. Here’s my card.” The goat reached into his suit packet and handed over a little card stock square.

Mr. Smith read the first lines. “William G. Gruff, professional food critic.” He put the card in his pocket. “Right this way, sir.”

On the way to the table, Mr. Smith went over his options. He really didn’t know much about goats. Didn’t they eat cardboard and tin cans and such? How could a goat be a reliable food critic? Would his restaurant get a terrible review because the silverware didn’t taste good?

Mr. Gruff slid into his chair and looked around. “I see that most of the people around me are eating large salads. Is that today’s special?”

“It is. Here’s the menu. Would you like anything to drink? I can send it with the waitress who will come to take your order.”

The goat looked up from the menu. “Water is fine.”

Hurrying back to the kitchen, Mr. Smith pulled out his phone and started searching for information. What do goats eat? Apparently not tin cans or cardboard. The silverware was safe.

Salad would be fine. Mr. Smith let out a breath of relief and shared the results of his search with the chef. They could continue on as normal.

He thanked Mr. Gruff for coming after he finished his meal, and life at the restaurant went on. He nearly forgot to look for the review two weeks later. It praised the salads and professional staff. Mr. Smith framed it and put it on his wall next to the other positive reviews for his restaurant.

That would have been the end of it, except that a few days later, a horse in an expensive gown came in after making a reservation over the phone. This led to more internet searches, and some slight alterations to the food she ordered.

And then the crows came. And a family of pigs. And the entire restaurant was booked by a greyhound for his mother’s birthday one evening. The waitresses learned to add the customer’s species when noting down any dietary restrictions.

Time passed. Mr. Smith continued to host a surprising number of animal customers. This was strange, because when he went about town, he didn’t see any talking animals wearing clothes. Where did they all come from?

He did ask, once. A very pleasant parrot that chattered away a mile a minute came one early afternoon for lunch. The restaurant was empty, and Mr. Smith was working at the front desk.

He led the parrot to his table and paused. “Would you like a taller chair?” he asked, looking at the distance from the chair to the table.

The parrot flapped his wings and flew up onto the table. “No chairs at all, thanks. I just want one of those salads everyone’s talking about.”

This was his chance. “Where are they talking about it?”

The parrot squawked with laughter. “Oh, your security clearance isn’t high enough to know that.”

Mr. Smith frowned. Government work? How many animals were working for the government? What did they do?

Well, it wasn’t really any of his concern. He had a business to run. He didn’t have time to get mixed up in any sort of strange government something-or-other. But he did have one more question. “So, did you read Mr. Gruff’s review then?”

“Yes, of course. The extended version. He said that this was the first place that didn’t offer him tin cans or cardboard. You do your research and care about your customers.”

“Extended version?”

“Your clearance still isn’t high enough.”

Mr. Smith laughed. “Fair enough. I’ll get you that salad.” On his way to the kitchen, he was already searching his phone for what parrots ate.

Dealing with Critics

Last week I talked about mentors. Mentors are wonderful people who find the good in the work you do, even when you can’t see it. They are positive and encouraging. They believe in you and your potential, and that is remarkably motivating.

Critics are the opposite of mentors. Critics only point out what you did wrong. They can be negative and discouraging and demotivating. You thrive under the care of a mentor. You struggle to survive after an encounter with a critic.

Before my children were born, I sang in several different choirs. I didn’t have any real vocal training, but I received compliments on how well I was able to hear and sing my part. I felt comfortable and confident with my voice.

After my children were born, I spent over a decade hearing “stop singing, Mom!” and “Mom, don’t sing!” every time I sang around my school-age children. I continued singing and laughed and pretended it didn’t bother me. It bothered me.

Now that my oldest children are old enough to babysit their siblings, I’ve started singing in the choir at church. Do I sing as well as I used to? I don’t know. People sitting by me have complimented me on how well I hear and sing my part again, but I don’t feel as confident. I go home and worry that I’m not singing well enough. I’ve lost some of the joy I used to feel in singing. I hope it comes back.

That is not the only thing my pint-sized critics have attacked. (And yes, I love them anyway.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, I draw a picture of a family member every day. This put my sketch book in view of my children, and children can be casually cruel. They haven’t fully developed empathy.

When I started out, critical comments were commonplace. Laughter. “Mom, that looks bad.” “Mom, that’s silly. What’s it supposed to be?” “Can I see what you drew? Oh.” My writing received criticism too. Luckily, I learned from my singing experience how to better handle critics. Through trial and error, I have discovered how to handle critical comments and keep my confidence.

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If life freely hands you critics, what is the best way to deal with them? (And the answer is not make criticade. That’s not really a thing.) I’m not sure about the best way, but I’ll share what’s worked for me.

First, acknowledge that it hurt. You don’t have to laugh or agree with your critic. Why add insult to injury? If the critic is a child, they may need to hear that what they said is hurtful. This can be a teaching moment. Play it by ear.

Second, see if there is anything helpful in the comment. Did they say that something specific looked wrong or out of place? Make a mental note to come back to that when you’re feeling more objective. Was there nothing helpful? Time to move on.

Third, be your own mentor. Find something you did well. Look for something you are happy with. Be pleased that you took time to create something.

Recognize that the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Overcoming all the doubts and fears to create anything at all is difficult. To continue to persist in the face of your own inner critic isn’t easy. External critics just add to the difficulty level. Over time, you’ll be able to take a moment to look back and see how far you’ve come. Allow yourself to feel happy that you are growing and improving.

Finally, recommit to moving forward. Don’t let a critical comment take away your joy. Don’t let the harsh words steal what you’ve worked so hard for. Look forward to your next project. What will it be? What will you do? What will you learn? Leave the criticism in the past where it belongs.

Is there anything you can say to a critic without being unkind?

You can say “ouch!”

You can politely say that you’re still learning, and that you’ll get better.

You can thank them for their feedback and ask what they like about the work. (This can be risky, but rewarding.)

You can ask about their work and what they do differently.

You can change the subject.

You can say, “I see. Very interesting,” with a weird accent and pretend that you are someone much braver than you are. Sometimes being silly makes it all seem not so bad or important. Find your own brand of silly and run with it.

Even when other people aren’t nice to you, you can be nice to you, and you can be nice to them. Dwelling on the negative or returning negative for negative will leave a bitter feeling in your heart long after the moment is over. It doesn’t help.

People are complex. It’s difficult to know why someone said something unkind, and sometimes they don’t even know. A lot of the time it has nothing to do with you or your work. Acknowledge the hurt, take what’s helpful, leave the rest, and find joy in the good you do. Look forward with joy.

Have you received any criticism that hurt? What did you do? How did you move forward?