Responding to Criticism

My experiences as a coach and pastor and now administrator include public scrutiny and sharp critique of my words and actions. For my next trick, I think I will run for Pope. Pope Francis’s visit to the United States has rightfully garnered much attention, including strong banter about what he should or shouldn’t say (or now, what he should or should’ve said). I have a picture of how the private conversation between Pope Francis and President Obama might have gone last week:

Pope Francis: “I heard you aren’t really a Christian.”
President Obama: “I heard you aren’t really a Catholic.”

And then a belly laugh, followed by a conversation about the best recipe for macaroni salad or anything else as a relief from such intense scrutiny. I could be wrong.

Criticism comes with the job, but the responses are optional. For many, the choice is to avoid the job that receives heavy criticism. If I had a dollar for everyone who said they wouldn’t want to be president today because of the scrutiny, I could form a PAC. For others, the choice is a fretful attempt to please everyone, which is a recipe for long-term therapy. For still others, the choice is a condescending dismissal of critics as idiots, which makes for a dangerous leader.

Instead, I have four suggestions for responding to criticism:
1. Don’t avoid criticism or surround yourself with adoring fans. In fact, seek diverse feedback and hold loosely to your plans. Odds are that you will need to change every once in a while.
2. Maintain realistic expectations of your own abilities. You will fail and deserve criticism if you ever hope to accomplish anything worthwhile. That is (and has to be) okay.
3. Don’t let fear of criticism keep you from attempting to do something worthwhile. The only things worth doing in life are hard. (As Mellencamp sang, “No one said it’d be easy . . . . So suck it up and tough it out, and be the best you can.”)
4. Remember that your best is good enough. Because it is your best.

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