I Don’t Like Constructive Feedback—There, I Said It
When you deliver work to a client via Fiverr, they obviously have the option to accept the submitted work as is or ask for edits. If a client chooses the latter option, you receive an email from Fiverr with the subject line “We’ve got news about your order”. Not something more explanatory like “Your client has asked for edits” or more upbeat like “Time to revise!”. I’ve worked on the platform for a year and a half, and seeing the words “news about your order” in my inbox still gives me anxiety.
A pang of fear shoots through my stomach, and I open the email right away, wondering what I’ve done wrong. 9 times out of 10, the client just wants to swap out a photo, add in a reference link, or change one word. The edits are almost always miniscule and easily fixed with a few extra minutes of work. But there’s something about the pending feedback, not the harmless history preceding it, that freaks me out.
The work I do is very transactional. Most of the clients I work with communicate with me exclusively through email. I don’t see their faces or hear their voices. With most, I don’t even get full background on their businesses. They need an article, I write it, the job is done. If they like it, they come back for more. If they don’t, we both move on. The nature of my digital workplace doesn’t allow for a lot of emotion or exchange. I either nail it on the first try or I don’t. I’ve nailed it on hundreds of first tries, which makes constructive feedback from new clients all the more frustrating.
What did I do wrong? How do I fix this? Does this mean I’m a bad writer? Why didn’t I get this right the first time around?
My defenses go up, the lion in me gets revved up and ready to pounce. And I know that, 99% of the time, this reaction is all about me. My insecurities about receiving feedback, my desire to deliver perfect work without any edits, my inherent expertise about my industry that’s sometimes questioned by people who don’t possess said expertise.
Though, this lack of fondness for constructive criticism didn’t develop in my freelance career. It has always been there.
I don’t like constructive feedback.
There, I said it. And you can think what you want. That I’m some spoiled millennial that wants a trophy just for showing up, special snowflake, thin-skinned, yadda, yadda, yadda.
It’s not that I don’t see the value in it. I know that, in most instances, constructive feedback is being given to make me a better person or better writer or better whatever I’m sucking at.
Yet still, understanding the value of something doesn’t make it easier to accept. I understand why we need to pay and file taxes. But it doesn’t hurt any less when a huge chunk of my earnings go to Uncle Sam. I understand that a hangover is brought on by dehydration as caused by excessive drinking. Doesn’t make that headache pound any softer.
Apparently, I’m not the only millennial who feels this way. Bloomberg first asked the question, “Can Millennials Handle Criticism?”, back in 2008. Their answer? Of course not. Because we’ve only been told good things about ourselves for years. For many of us, the first negative criticism we’ve ever heard happens at work. Sounds like a pretty valid explanation. Except for the fact that those millennials didn’t grow up in my house.
I was constantly criticized by my father. Once, when I was four years old, I got stuck while trying to crawl through a rocking chair. At first, I struggled and tried to wiggle my way out. But once I realized I needed help, I had the 4-year-old’s equivalent of a mental breakdown. My dad was there to pull me out but not before grabbing a Kodak disposable camera and snapping a few photos—a mean-spirited way to reinforce that crawling through the undercarriage of a rocking chair was a bad idea.
As I got older, he was more forthright with his criticism. I was a straight A student who occasionally brought home a bad grade or two. I once earned a D on a quiz, and my dad threatened to beat my ass if I ever had another D on anything—in my life. I think my shortcomings were pretty clear in that moment.
Don’t apply to that school—it’s too expensive and if you don’t get enough scholarship money, I’m not paying for it. Don’t move to New York—it’s too expensive and you’ll have to come back home if you fail.
Long before any boss ever laid the verbal smack down on me in an office setting, my dad had more than warmed me up. He’d primed me to be berated and take it all in stride. I thought constructive criticism was part of everyday life. But I didn’t like it any more then than I do now. It’s not like I could say anything. I mean, we all know the outcome of talking back to a Southern-raised, black, military father. In case you couldn’t guess, you don’t get taken out for ice cream.
When I worked in retail, I was swimming in feedback. About my performance. About my team’s performance. About my business. About my clothes, my language, my enthusiasm, you name it. If it could be critiqued, it was. And I nodded with a vague smile on my face while receiving it. Then, I’d head to a safe place (a room or office with a person-any person-who would listen to me bitch about the feedback I’d received). I probably spent more time talking about feedback I’d received than giving it or trying to change it.
My relationship with feedback is negative because a lot of the feedback I’ve received in my life has been on the constructive side. Contrary to that ’08 Bloomberg piece, I don’t think an even mixture of positive and constructive feedback during childhood would’ve made a difference. Constructive feedback is a euphemism for ‘you fucked up’ or ‘this is what you did wrong’. There’s often a connotation that constructive feedback is tied to bad performance reviews, low raises, missed opportunities for promotion, and so on and so forth.
I’m not looking to be praised every day or told how great I am. I’m not looking for anyone to gloss over suggestions of improvement just to get to the good stuff. I know I need to hear it all, and I’m willing to hear it all. But sometimes, hearing it just sucks. And the fact that I feel that way doesn’t make me weak or whiny. (I’ve encountered my fair share of Baby Boomers and Gen Xr’s who disintegrate at the very mention of feedback.)
I’ve heard that my 30s is the decade in which I’ll run out of fucks to give about what people think about me or my work. I think I’ll always care but I’ll eventually learn to take it with a grain of salt. Until then, I’ll keep hating it.