The first thing I do when I get out of bed every morning is get the water boiling for coffee, and then read whatever email came in during the night. Last week I woke up to a lovely email from a customer who was so happy with the pottery she bought from me that she wrote me an email to tell me how talented and wonderful I am. Never get tired of those emails. Then I opened an email from my blog that contained a comment from an anonymous source, and this is what the comment said:
"Your pottery is starting to look like old lady slip cast ware."
My first reaction was to laugh, then hit the "trash" button. I've had some hard comments on my blog from people in the past, but I always let them stand because I think they are valuable and interesting, even if I don't agree. This one was just obnoxious so I deleted it from the blog, made my coffee, and got on with my day.
Except... I realized about halfway through the day that the comment was haunting me. Was I wallowing in happiness that someone took time from their day to tell me how awesome I am? No. I kept hearing the old lady cast ware comment, over and over. And I was having a variety of negative feelings and responses. For instance, anger: "Fuck you!" Defensiveness: "You don't even know my work." Condescension: "Keep your negative comments to the other students in your grad school classroom." Fear: "Shit, I'm turning into an old lady." Sneering, "You can't even stand behind your opinion, you have to comment anonymously, you miserable person." And then a combination of all of the above, "Screw you, twerp-- at least I have a body of work, and here in the real world where I live, it sells! What are you selling, besides coffee?"
Finally, about halfway through the day, I had to stop and contemplate how was managing this comment and allowing it to ruin my day. I was also interested in how I was letting this comment play out against an equally positive comment, and the irony that I read both within 2 minutes of each other. I love it when lessons really smack you in the face like that. Unfortunately, I'm me, and more inclined to let negative feedback make me feel bad than let positive feedback make me feel good. I think a lot of people would feel the same way-- but why?
Negativity taps in our most basic fears about ourselves, fears that are even hard to talk about sometimes. I live with my own voice telling me I need to do better work than I'm doing, and when another voice comes along and says the same thing in such a negative way, some of my worst fears are realized: I suck. For whatever reason, the negative carries weight, it's powerful-- or rather, we allow it to be more powerful than the positive.
It's a loop, and I knew I was running on a squirrel cage and I still have some work to do before I can keep myself from jumping on on the first place. I also knew it would take a day-- or maybe two-- to shake that shit off, but I did!