With arms out, your heart exposed, you reveal yourself or your work to human scrutiny. Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. calls it “standing in the target zone.” It’s not easy. You go for that interview; you take that test; you offer up your love; or in my case you ask for feedback on a draft of a book. And you get a response.
Sometimes the balloons fall, confetti rains down, and they place bouquets of flowering praise into your hands. You step right into the target zone; you win—the job, the A, the love, the accolades. You feel valued.
Other times they throw eggs: hard-boiled, rotten, or fresh and usable. Spritely and alert, you dodge them, and evaluate their worth. They aren’t about you; they are about what’s between you and the words. So you toss the rotten criticism, digest the hard-boiled truths, and set aside the freshest critiques for later. You step out of the target zone soiled but ready to move on.
But other times—wow—other times you step into arrows, sharp and fast. Some are aimed at the target. You’ll deal with those later. But your guard is down; maybe you were expecting balloons. Suddenly, before you can grab your shield, one heads right at you. You take it personally, in the chest. You think, “You weren’t good enough for the job; you’re stupid; no one loves you; you are not okay, or talented, or worthy.”
If you’re quick, you can pull loose the arrow, stave the wound, and recover. You remind yourself that the barb isn’t about you; it’s theirs—their perspective, their point of view, their wounds, their opinions. You can take the arrow, clean it off, and learn what you can from it.
Sometimes, though, the wound festers, especially if, while you were pulling out the first arrow, two more hit their mark, one in your Achilles’s heel. This poison courses through your body. It hollows out your gut, robs you of your voice, and leaves you weakened, with a vise grip on your head and heart. You want to quit. You know better. You should have been vigilant, should have stepped out of the target zone, should have thrown up your shield and protected yourself. Now what?
You heal. It isn’t quick, but you heal. You step back, take stock, and you forgive. Forgive the archers for their aim and yourself for being human, for assuming balloons and making it personal—the job, the test, the lover, the book. You did your best, and you will begin again.
We live in a world of the instant critique. Want a hotel, a dinner, a book? Search the internet and the opinionated masses provided listings of one to five star judgments from which we can choose. Find an agreeable viewpoint on a web site and we post it on our Facebook page, or just “like” what appeals to us as we scroll the home feed. Suddenly, Facebook (or Twitter, or the website we light on) reads our preferences and presents us with more of what we want or need or agree with. We get filtered, faceless bursts. Not so, when we’re standing in the target zone.
Here is what I learned from the arrows. (And after some reflection, my attachment to the balloons.)
- If I ask for feedback, if I put myself in the target zone, I need to be specific about what I want…and if I only want a bouquet, I’m not ready to put myself there.
- If I think I am ready, I will request the information in small doses, step back when I sense my guard is down, and even walk away.
- I will try to remember that I am not the judgment I receive.
- I will listen, digest what I hear, and give myself time to evaluate
- I will refrain from explaining myself, making excuses, or, if I am wounded, retaliating.
- I will move on, make my choices, and enjoy where they take me.
And I will be judicious in my judgment. We are fragile souls. We want approval, love, and the kind attention of others. We want to be okay.
- I will not give feedback unless it is requested (and believe me, I asked for it!).
- I will offer my opinions up with genuine praise (and if I can’t find it, I’m not looking closely enough).
- I will make all my comments specific and avoid advice, respecting the recipient’s ability to move forward in his or her own way.
It is called being constructive. It isn’t easy, but a bouquet opens the heart, a boiled egg nourishes the body and provides for growth—and an arrow can wound. My words are my words—I can’t guarantee how they’ll land, but if asked, I can shoot for the target, not the soul.