Today I am battling with criticism and rejection.  A few days ago a close friend of mine, who I invited to be a part of a small group for me to pilot some new material I’ve been working on, contacted me to say that it ‘wasn’t for her’.  My reaction?  Well, I was taken aback to say the least.  But I called her and we talked about it and I fully understood that it was simply that she was not really ready to be doing the kind of work I was presenting and that it was stressing her out.  Later she popped around with a little bunch of flowers, which was super sweet and kind, and we talked a little more about it.  She told me as gently and kindly as she could and I took it as gracefully as I could.  All was well, or so I thought.

I am one of these people who often falls into the trap of understanding things intellectually while not really experiencing the emotional truth of how I feel about something.  My head gets it, I try to move on, only to discover that my heart does not get it and is not ready to move on.  Consequently it is often days, weeks or months later that I realize, ‘hang on, I feel really hurt by this.’ I have become expert at attempting to avoid the pain of criticism and rejection of my work by unconsciously telling myself “it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine”.

Well, it’s not fine for me today.  I feel ready to give up.  I feel like a fool for putting my very new creative dream out there in the world.  I feel fear that I am committed to putting it further out there in the world and that I can’t turn back. I feel hurt and betrayed by my friend (though I know she intended no ill will).  And I feel weak because I should be stronger than this and be able to stick my chin out and handle it.  That’s how I feel.  And do you know what, I actually feel a little lighter for having just written that down and acknowledged it.

But I am also aware that my feelings are not the total sum of me. They are my feelings, and they deserve to be heard and listened to in their hour of darkness.  But the object is to parent that vulnerable part of myself through that space, with sensitivity and compassion, back into a place of openness, wholeness and productivity.

I subscribe to Julia Cameron’s description of our vulnerable creative selves as our ‘creative child’.  Just as it’s possible to damage a child’s creative spirit forever by being overly critical, so is it just as easy to damage the creative spirit in our adulthood, especially when that creative child is just being birthed and still in it’s very vulnerable infancy.

As a consequence I have become very careful of how I respond to other people’s creative work when they ask my opinion. And I really struggle with how to express that opinion when my perception is not glowing. So I really empathize with my friend, since I asked her to give me feedback.  But when the response was not glowing, even though it was not that bad either, I still feel like a four-year-old that just got told that the drawing they did was shithouse.

I have been living with the process of putting my work out there in the world for a long time.  I remember one time that I showed a retailer a range of clothing I had designed and she said it was ‘stale’.  I thanked her for her feedback, held my head high, and drove back to the studio explaining to my employee who was with me at the time how important it is to be able to receive feedback as it makes you a better creator. By the time I arrived home that evening I was crippled with feelings of rejection and criticism. I had no idea how I would ever find the courage again to create something and put it out there in the world for others to have an opinion on.   Trouble is, if you are a creative professional, that is pretty much your job description!  Without putting it out there to garner peoples’ buying or non-buying reaction, it’s really just a hobby that you are doing.

About eight years lay between that experience and the one I am having today.  So what is different?  Well, for starters I have accepted that I am sensitive and have stopped berating myself for the way and stopped telling the irrational four-year-old in me to harden-the-ef-up.

I learnt to parent that hurt creative child in me, acknowledge her feelings of rejection and let myself feel that pain for what it is- pain. I try to practice something that the Tibetan Buddhists call ‘maitri’, which is best translated as “cradling yourself in the arms of loving kindness”. Isn’t that a beautiful concept! Comforting the hurt part in you the way you would comfort a distressed child.

Once pain is felt, it tends to lessen in weight and dissolve.  Just as it did earlier in this post when I allowed myself to acknowledge how I was feeling.

Then I find I can parent ‘little Susan’ through the process of finding her courage again and carrying on with the creative work that I know I was put on this planet to do.

That’s what I do.  I’ve been practicing it again right now as I have been writing this, and I feel so much better…..