Howdy folks! Jacob here with another blog post. I wrote a while back about being better at receiving critical feedback. Actually, I thought it wasn’t that long ago. But turns out, it was back in December of 2017! Crazy. It was based around a quote I read in a leadership book that said “Caring values the person, while candor values the person’s potential.” You can read about it here.
This post is in the same vein as that one because, honestly, I still struggle with critical feedback. But I think I’m getting better! I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on it so maybe they could help one of you.
I was coaching recently and I just could not shake this feeling of being annoyed. I promise it wasn’t because people were talking during my explanation or putting weights in the wrong stack. That stuff doesn’t annoy me WHATSOEVER! We had had a coaches meeting earlier that week. It seems silly when I type it out, but I tend to feel extreme about the feedback I get. If somebody praises my effort or something I’ve done, I think “Hell yes. I’m crushing it! Everything is good.” If I get criticized at all, I think “Crap. I suck. What if I’ll never be good at this? Am I wasting my time?” Obviously neither of those things are true. But, I can’t help it. I wasn’t necessarily annoyed by the feedback itself, but more by the fact that I thought I was doing a good job. For some reason, in my brain, critical feedback means I’m doing a terrible job. It’s not so much that I think the person giving the feedback thinks I’m doing poorly. It’s more like I think “Well, if I’m screwing that up and I wasn’t aware of it, I must be screwing up everything I think I’m doing well.”
After coaching class, I went on a walk with the dogs and committed to taking a deep dive into the old brain. This took a great deal of effort because I struggle with holding onto a thought for a long time. The logical, conscious part of my brain is like, “Duh, of course critical feedback doesn’t mean you suck. You should always be trying to improve. Critical feedback means you are getting better. That is a good thing.” I even resorted to saying it out loud! It didn’t help. It was like whatever part of me that was annoyed knew the other part of me was trying to trick it into not being annoyed. What the hell do I do about that??
This was going to take more work than I thought. I wasn’t going to just be able to chant some positive mantra at myself and make it all better. What could I tell myself that would contain the right message and also be something I actually believe?
I felt like I had to start with figuring out why this is happening. Why am I annoyed? Because I am putting what I perceive to be a great deal of effort into something I really care about and now I feel like I’m not doing as well as I should be. Why do I react this way? I think it’s because I am taking this feedback personally. What does that mean?
In this scenario, I think it means that somewhere along the line I have learned to take feedback that was meant for something I am doing and I applied it to me as a person. The more I think about it, the more little memories pop up. It’s actually pretty crazy to think back on all the examples there are. So I’ll share them all with you here, in chronological order.
Just kidding 😀 I will share a couple though.
I played baseball from as young as you could play through my sophomore year of high school. I played basketball from 6th grade through all of high school. In both sports I can specifically remember that if I “messed up”, meaning I pitched poorly, struck out, missed a layup, played poor defense, etc., I actually couldn’t wait to play again. If I struck out, I wanted to bat again so badly! I couldn’t wait to get back on the basketball court after a bad game. Unfortunately, the reason was because I wanted to “make up” for what I messed up in the last game. If I was playing well, it felt so good. I think I had way more of my self-worth wrapped up in my performance than I ever realized.
Most of my youth was spent playing sports so they are the biggest experiences from which I draw. Overall, my teams were mediocre at best. I grew up in this weird paradox of a school system where the areas all around us were rural and spread out but somehow, our school district was big enough to have a school with 1100 kids. So our opponents were usually a mix of teams closer to us that were small and not very good (don’t get me wrong, those schools beat us too) and schools up in Lake and Porter Counties that were much bigger and had really consistent traditions of success.
Basketball was by far the sport into which I put the most time and effort. I’ll spare myself the math and just say we played a ton of games and spent a ton of hours practicing. We lost a lot and, frequently, by quite a few points. We also had quite a few heartbreaking losses. Once, we played a game at home and we were winning by double digits with under 2 minutes left. Pretty secure, right? Our student section even chanted “THIS GAME’S OVER! *clap* *clap* *clapclapclap*. Weeeeeeeeeeeell. Their best player went insane, making every shot, and we decided we no longer cared to have the ball in our possession on offense or make free throws. They came back and won. Once, a team we were beating by nearly 20 in the second half came back to beat us on a buzzer beater layup. Once, a team scored 60 points on us… in the first half. Once, a team got to 32 before we scored a basket. And the granddaddy of them all, once, I shot at the wrong basket while we were being trashed by 30+ points.
I had a lot of practice losing, and responding to it. As I have never been a super competitive person or a very hard-charging, type-A personality, my reaction to losing, at times, was to adopt a two-fold mindset. One part was to say that losing didn’t bother me. The other part was to convince myself that I tried my best. I’m not saying I didn’t try hard. I put in more extra work than anyone else on my team. I did all the extra leagues, AAU, stayed after practice shooting, came in on Sundays and got extra reps, etc. But the combination of these two lines of thinking, I believe, were a way for me to protect myself from the pain of failure.
I think that when I was criticized I would take it like I wasn’t doing enough and/or I wasn’t trying hard enough. I believed I was trying very hard so that felt like a personal attack. I never viewed it as somebody trying to get me to reach my full potential. I thought I was already trying to do that so if somebody told me otherwise, they were just being a jerk. That is a pretty messed up mindset to have because it carries with it an assumption that the person doesn’t want what is best for my growth. They just enjoy tearing me down.
So, moving forward, I am going to adopt a new mantra to carry with me when times like this strike. It could always change and evolve but I had to think quite a long time to come up with something that I would genuinely believe. Right now, that is “I AM good enough. But, I could be better.” This mantra is obviously very personal to me so it may not make sense for everyone. It may seem mentally weak or even childish that I need to remind myself that I, as a person, am good enough to be great at the things I care about. But I need to be reminded. It also needs to remind me and EXCITE me that I could be better. That last part is huge for me. I have to remember that I am good enough to excel at the things I care about now and then be psyched that I could be even better!
This post is especially relevant with you guys filling out your surveys. Also, please keep in mind you don’t need to wait for a survey to let us know whether we are crushing it or whether we could do better somewhere. If you don’t feel comfortable telling a coach directly, tell a different coach and ask them to say it for you. Your critique will likely benefit many others!
Love you, Uncommon.