Tag: mentors

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?

Finding a Mentor

When I was younger, it seemed easy to find a mentor. Teachers at school and church, relatives, kind neighbors, there were a lot of people to look up to and I had a lot to learn. Now that I’m older, there are still a lot of people to look up to and a lot to learn, but I don’t have a lot of time, and the things I want to know are more specific. It’s easy to miss the structured support and feedback found in a traditional classroom.

But even outside of school, in the middle of a whirlwind grown up schedule full of the usual responsibilities, I have been able to find mentors. There is a saying, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’m not sure that the saying completely reflects the reality, but it does have some truth. I don’t think that they just appear, I think there is some searching involved, and some willingness to reach out and ask for help. But there are kind, talented people in this world, willing to answer questions and teach people around them.

When I reached a point that I had questions that were difficult to answer, and I needed help, I started looking for a mentor. I found two wonderful, helpful mentors. Will there be more in the future? I don’t know. Probably. I can’t imagine running out of questions.

So how did I find my mentors?

When I decided that I wanted to spend more time with art than just doodling in the margins of my notebooks, I thought about what I really wanted. I wanted to paint with watercolors. It was something that I had a little time for now that my children were older. It doesn’t take a lot of time for watercolor paint to dry, so I didn’t have to leave things out for curious children to find. I loved the delicate, lovely effect of a well done watercolor portrait.

I looked at classes, but they were expensive and far away. I checked out books, but I didn’t really know where to begin. It seemed overwhelming. I prayed for help. And then I got a Christmas card in the mail from Kathy Decker. She’d painted the picture herself, and then made it into Christmas cards.

Beautiful Watercolor by Kathy Decker

The picture was everything I wanted to learn about watercolor painting. Absolutely amazing. Why did she send me a card? I don’t really know. We go to church together, but I’m rather shy and mostly teach children’s classes, so I didn’t know her all that well. I think she’s a very kind person. She’s someone who does things like donate artwork to charity auctions. She is willing to spend time giving encouragement and advice to people who ask.

And, having seeing the Christmas card, I gathered my courage and asked. I asked for advice on how to paint like she did. She offered to teach me a few lessons. The lessons, and recommendations on supplies, got me started. Her advice and encouragement kept me going.

There were several times I wanted to give up, because I couldn’t make things work or I felt too busy to try. Her advice got me through the hard times. Several times, she came over to visit. She sat by me on the couch, praised my awful attempts, and gently pointed out where an angle was wrong here or I’d needed to let things dry more there before adding any more paint.

She told me stories of when she was learning to draw and paint, and of things her teachers told her. I quote her lessons all the time to my family and friends. I’ll probably include some here in the future. Maybe someday, I’ll paint like she does. Today is not that day, though…

Watercolor of my children that I painted last year

Around the same time, I started writing again. I wrote two novels. They were good, but not great. But, I wasn’t sure how to improve them, and my attempts seemed to make everything worse. I thought maybe I’d improve if I had more writing practice. I also thought it would help me write more regularly if I felt more accountable to write. So, I started this website.

After a year, I thought about the type of novels I wanted to write, and who my intended audience was. I wanted to write children’s fantasy. I researched what children like to read. I learned that they like tales of wonder and humor. I decided that my imagination did okay, but maybe my humor needed work.

And so I checked out books on humor. They said that I needed to practice. But I didn’t really know where to begin. How do you practice humor as a dedicated introvert?

The neighborhood walking group I joined stopped by an estate sale, and I bought a Far Side comic book. Oh. Comics.

I started reading through my old copies of Calvin and Hobbes and Rose is Rose. Six months earlier, when General Conference was approaching, I went looking for the General Conference activity packets that I had seen available for free on the internet in the past. I downloaded them and signed up for the free weekly activity page that the artist Arie Van De Graaff also kindly offers for free. Both the packets and activity pages are wonderful, by the way.

And so, as I was studying these comic books and trying to figure out where to begin, I got an email from Arie about the newest conference packets and mentioning that he had a book of comic strips available on Amazon. A remarkable coincidence.

I ordered it, of course. I ordered it through Amazon, but it came from Arie, signed, with a little picture drawn next to the signature. I replied to his next weekly activity page email to thank him. When he wrote back, I felt brave enough to ask some questions about drawing comics.

Signed title page from Mission DAZE by Arie Van De Graaff

After I drew a couple of comics, I felt brave enough to decide to include them on my website. He gave me some nice feedback. And when, in January, I resolved to get something published in 2018, I thought about my comics. I emailed Arie and asked for advice. He answered my many questions, and I was able to send in my work.

When my first comic was published in the New Era, right alongside one of his, he emailed me to congratulate me. Kathy Decker congratulated me too.

My cartoon in the September 2018 New Era Magazine next to a cartoon by Arie Van De Graaff.

Read more about my first published cartoon in this post.

Could I have done all of this without mentors? Maybe. It would have been harder. It would have taken a lot longer. It would have been much more discouraging. I am grateful for their kindness and encouragement. I am grateful for their good advice. The world is better because there are people in it willing to be mentors. It is worth looking for one. Or two.

What is your experience with mentors? Do you have one? How did you find them? How have they helped you? Do you need a mentor?

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