How to Handle Criticism Without Ruining Self-Esteem

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you get upset by harsh comments? Are you wondering how to handle criticism?

Sometimes criticism can be hurtful, but it helps you grow as a creator. In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon advises how to prepare for criticism and deal with trolls on the internet so you can learn from your mistakes.

Continue reading to learn how to deal with criticism to be a better creator.

Prepare for Criticism

When you share your work, you open yourself up to criticism, claims Kleon. He suggests five ways to learn how to handle criticism:

  1. Keep calm: It’s easy to magnify fears about what people might think. Instead, practice calming your mind and body.
  2. Invite criticism: By courting criticism, you’ll inoculate yourself to it and will learn how to take it better. 
  3. Don’t share anything too sensitive: If you don’t feel comfortable opening up certain parts of yourself, don’t. Wait until you feel ready. 
  4. Keep moving forward: Criticism will come; don’t let it stop you. Just keep doing your work—not everyone will be a fan. 
  5. Remember, you’re more than what you do: Maintain distance between your work and your identity. Be a friend, parent, and companion, not just a creator.

Dale Carnegie’s Advice on Dealing With Criticism

In his book How To Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers a few other tips for handling criticism. Two, in particular, stand out in comparison to Kleon’s suggestions:  

  1. Absorb well-intentioned criticism. This kind of criticism can be beneficial. Often, other people see things in us and our work that we can’t. Take the opportunity to improve if the criticism is justified. 
  2. Frame unfair criticism as praise. Often, this kind of criticism is motivated by jealousy or some other weakness in your critic. This should be a sign to you that you’ve accomplished something worthy of envy.

Dealing With Online Trolls

Online harassment and trolling have grown only more common in the time since Show Your Work! was published. A recent survey found that the percentage of Americans who experienced severe online harassment (including physical threats, stalking, and the like) rose from 15% in 2014 to 25% in 2021. In fact, over two-fifths of US adults have been harassed online. 

In addition to Kleon’s advice to block online trolls from your social media accounts, experts have suggested three other techniques to deal with this kind of negative attention:

  1. Ignore negative, taunting comments.
  2. Don’t respond to people who behave this way. 
  3. Make sure your social media followers aren’t anonymous. 

Regarding this last point, a way to ensure your followers aren’t anonymous is to periodically check on the accounts of all your followers and block anyone who doesn’t use their real name. This may require some sleuthing, but the effort can help keep your online interactions constructive.

How to Handle Criticism Without Ruining Self-Esteem

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  • How to succeed at your creative endeavors
  • How to make money off your creative work
  • Why you should share your creative process

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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