Over the years a woman has grown tired. Her life has shifted, and along the way she loses her verve and she knows it. Her blog has devolved into an orchid she has to tend to because it’s her sole source of income and she needs this money. How did she get to this place, she thinks. She takes on partnerships — some of which leave her readers shaking their heads and doing a double take — because the money’s good and she’s got the traffic, and one day her readers start to leave comments about this shift, about a voice that has fallen to a whisper, and a blog that no longer inspires. Long-time readers leave lengthy comments lamenting the fall of a blog that was once so great, and then something else happens — a slew of other women attack the detractors, call them haters (Ignore the haters! You’re awesome! I <3 you! Read my blog! Your hair's so shiny! Where did you get that shirt?) and bullies (Stop being a mean girl!). Those who cared enough to leave a thoughtful comment recede; the curtain quietly falls and the motley lot remove the blog from their Google readers. The blogger responds in a series of exclamation points that she’s trying! her! best! OK!
A sister duo pen epic posts defending their expensive finery. So much so that these posts, their heated defenses and endless rationales, become a weekly occurrence, and readers start to express their exasperation. They call out the shameless shills and posts, which feel forced by the hand of a marketer’s enviable budget. Readers remember what the blog used to be — creative, fun, a place where one could find the unfindable — and are heartbroken that the energy that once drew them to this space has dovetailed to SEO tactics and ad banners. The comments section is the equivalent of a high school cafeteria where a host of women shout, “girl on girl crime” as if they have Tourette’s. Apparently, any form of feedback or dissension is immediately dismissed as unfounded hate and cruelty, detracting from a “positive, supportive community.” The bloggers get upset, stomp their well-heeled feet. No one understands what they’re trying to do!
PLEASE STOP THIS BULLSHIT RIGHT NOW. RIGHT THIS SECOND.
Bully. Hate. Girl on Girl Crime. These words and phrases are potent; they have the power to hurt and maim. They’re weapons that should be examined with care. “Slut shaming,” posting nude photos or images that disparage a woman’s character or body, rallying a group of people for the sole purpose of humiliation and torture, stalking through social media, threats, consistent, systematic abuse — these are but a few actions that fall under the auspice of bullying, hate, and girl on girl crime. Leaving constructive feedback about the evolution (or devolution) of someone’s blog, unequivocally, does not. Telling a blogger that her site has become a haven for shills is not girl on girl crime, it’s real truth.
Three years ago I started collaborating with the president of the agency in which I worked. Although I technically didn’t report to him (as a partner, I reported into the CEO, who was not a deft manager), the president stepped in and assumed the role of mentor. For three years, he consistently pulled me into his office and gave me feedback. He called me out on my bad behavior and bullshit, and then showed me how I could have handled the situation in a different way. He gave alternatives, suggestions, and solutions. At first I was annoyed. Even though I endured nearly fourteen years of performance reviews, I felt offended and singled out. In the heat of the moment I mentioned as such — I stomped my little feet and did the offline equivalent of calling him a hater, who didn’t understand the CLEAR GENIUS THAT WAS FELICIA SULLIVAN, to which he responded: I’m investing in you. This is my time, my asset, and I’m using it to help you be a better leader. Would you rather I not invest in you? Is your ego that great? Because I can take my time and use it on someone else.
You guys. That was some real truth.
You better believe I shut the fuck up. Since that conversation, I proactively asked him how I could have handled every meeting, conference call and pitch, better. During performance reviews, I nodded my head impatiently through the praise and asked, How can I do better? It was only when I took a measured stepped back and objectively evaluated my actions, it was only when I set aside my ego and fear, did I become receptive to constructive criticism and feedback. I sought it out and used what made sense for me in order to be a better leader. In three years I grew a thicker skin than I had cultivated in fourteen. Now, this man is my dear friend and mentor, even after we both resigned from our respective positions.
A few weeks ago I listened to Grace Bonney’s podcast on “Choosing Your Words Wisely,” and it reminded me of our immediate, visceral tendency to defend ourselves when confronted with words that challenge or call out our actions. Instead of listening to what others have to say, we wait for our turn to speak. We immediately negate, dismiss, eliminate, instead of taking a breath and trying to understand someone else’s perspective. This weekend I read my friend Alex’s post, on a bunch of men who left negative reviews of an establishment (“In what can only be described as a coordinated attack on a small business, a group of 15 primarily white privileged males left a number of negative reviews citing discrimination on the basis of Google Glass. I’m forced to assume they have little actual understanding of the word, discrimination”). Alex also wrote about another community that labeled a loving father who took nude, playful photos of his child, a pornographer. Pornographer, discriminator — these words are real, powerful and bear consequences. Think about the words you say and how you use them.
Time is a precious commodity, and if someone uses their time to help make you a better blogger, professional, or business owner, consider their feedback the equivalent of a performance review, an investment in you, and don’t you owe it to them, to yourself, to pay attention? Hearing less than complimentary things about oneself is hard, but does that mean we close our eyes to it? Does it mean that we only let in the light and flee the dark? Does it mean we misuse the harshest words to silence our best critics?
Words are powerful, don’t abuse them. If your readers, consumers, bosses, peers, and prospects take the time and effort to give you constructive feedback, listen to it. REALLY LISTEN TO IT. Examine yourself objectively. Ask yourself how their words can help you be a better person or deliver a better product, and discard what is useless and irrelevant.
Constant light is beautiful at first, but its glare is deceptive and ultimately blinding. Think about that. Think about the permeance of blindness, of living a life of imbalance.