It was my first semester of graduate school—I was young and still intimidated by those in positions of authority. I also hadn’t learned to take criticism in stride so when a professor (he was also the head of our graduate program) poo-pooed my idea for my graduate thesis, I was devastated. See, I loved fashion and the environment so I wanted to meld the two for my graduate thesis and study sustainable fashion. Back in 2003, there weren’t many designers on the map who were incorporating sustainability—in fact ‘sustainability’ was just beginning to become a buzzword in fashion circles. I wanted to study the economic and material possibility of mainstream designers incorporating green materials into their clothing. I thought it was a brilliant idea; this professor thought was superficial and unimportant. He suggested focusing my attention elsewhere because fashion just wasn’t a pressing concern. And he made this suggestion in front of my entire cohort in the most dickish, condescending tone possible. I was mortified. I’m an introvert, so it took a lot for me to muster the courage to share my idea. When he shot it down, I wanted to cry (which I did within the safety of the walls of my apartment for several hours after class). When I had the opportunity to assess him as a professor at the end of the semester, I unleashed a torrent of criticism—what I couldn’t say out loud to him was put on the page.
Looking back, I should have spoken to him directly during office hours and explained how I felt. However, at the time I thought the better course of action was to stew on it for a couple of months until my anger turned into a boil and spilled over on the page. I guess my review became the topic amongst the professors in the grad program because one of them brought it up later on. Do I regret what I said? Yes and no—I don’t regret the sentiment, but I do regret how it was delivered.
Ten years later, I’ve reigned in my pen and my sharp tongue (just a bit) and have dealt with my fair share of criticism. As a writer, you’ll have to handle a good share of criticism from experts and idiots alike. Here’s how to handle it like a pro, especially if you have a thin skin:
It’s not personal. It can be tough to separate your ideas from you—after all, when you’re passionate about those ideas, they become part of you. However, when people criticize your ideas, they’re only criticizing your ideas, not the rest of you.
Use criticism to make your points stronger. Criticism can help you solidify an argument or find a new angle. Try to see through the b.s. to get to the crux of their argument.
Smile and nod. When someone is being a dick about your writing or your idea, it helps to smile and nod. This throws them off. The more you want to punch them in the throat, the bigger you should smile.
You don’t have to accept their ideas. Like the old adage says: Opinions are like buttholes—everyone has one and they all stink. You always have the option to say, “Whatever, dude.” and make like a honey badger and not give an F. Especially if they know nothing about the topic they’re criticizing.
If you believe in your idea, just do it. In hindsight, I should have just plowed forward with my idea and completed my thesis on sustainable fashion instead of microfinance. I kicked myself for not following through when Vogue did a special “green” fashion issue a couple years later. Oh well, live and learn.