Critiquing Criticism

An artist friend of mine was recently given the opportunity to have his
portfolio reviewed by someone thought to be revered in his relevant industry
me. My friend reported the reviewer was thorough and had a lot of comments. Not
all of the comments were positive. Some of the criticism was, reportedly, given
in a less-than-sensitive manner. After asking some specific questions, I
further learned the reviewer also had some encouraging things to say.

Nobody likes to hear negative things about ourselves. It hurts our feelings
and bruises our egos. But then, again, do we want people to just tell us what
we want to hear and not be honest? Maybe? How, then, are we to grow and

For myself, I have a system for processing criticism. First of all (and
perhaps most importantly), consider the source — is it someone I respect?
Someone whose opinion I care about? Or is it just some random internet troll or
someone I think is an idiot? If the latter, disregard it and shake off the
sting. Haters don’t warrant my consideration.

If the source is someone I respect, after licking my wounds, I examine the
criticism with as much objectivity as I can muster. Even if they could have put
it more delicately, or in a nicer way, is there some validity to what the
speaker is saying? Have they made a legitimate point about an area in which I
could improve, or how I might have done something better?

If there is some area or way I could become a better person, or artist, or
professional, how can I make a plan to improve that area? Maybe it’s more
training, reading, mentoring, or practice. And how, or where, can I implement
that plan?

It’s kind of like these goats from Crete in the photo above. They are sent
out in this seemingly barren area to forage for food. At first glance, it might
seem there is nothing but rocks. And there are, indeed, a lot of rocks. Those
are the mean, hateful comments that have no constructive use. But if you
carefully sort through all those rocks, you may find some little morsels and
tidbits that are fit for consumption and useful for growth. The key is learning
which is which and not despairing when it seems there is nothing but rocks and


Creating into the Void

As a creative, we inherently want an audience; someone to appreciate our work. We put a lot of time, effort, and metaphorical blood, sweat and tears into creating. Whether you are a writer of novels, screenplays, plays or songs, you write for an audience. If you are a visual artist, be it physical or digital, you want people to view your product. In this age of social media and the internet, it is technically easy to get your art out there. However, at the same time, there is so much out there that it is hard to be noticed in the flood of content. How do you get your art recognized and viewed in the midst of so much? I certainly have not broken that code, although I expend a fair amount of energy trying to figure it out.

So here is the million dollar question: if you are creating into the void, into the abyss, does your art have value? If your product is not viewed by anyone (or by hundreds, rather than thousands or millions, as is expected), is it worth creating? Is the value of my creative content inherent? Or is it tied to the number of clicks or likes it receives?

To answer that question, each creative much take a step back and ask ourselves: Why do I create? Do I create to gain approbation and accolades from others? Or do I create for me? Do I create because I have a need to do so and because I am a more complete person because I have created? For me, I think it’s the latter. I just need to create. I just need to write. If other people read it, that’s awesome; I love to hear what people think of my writing. But even if hardly anyone reads what I write, I still want to write. Human beings are the only creatures who can create (other than the odd finger painting orangutan or water colorist elephant). Creativity is part of who we are. If even one person reads my work and likes it, I have achieved something.

Even if I get discouraged sometimes at my lack of following, even if I become unmotivated from time to time at creating into the abyss, I have concluded I still need to create. Who knows: maybe I will be one of those sorry folks who don’t get “discovered” until after my death. Maybe my big break is just around the corner. In any event, I type on. I hope you, too, will keep creating…whatever it is you create. The world is so much more colorful with creativity in it.

Life is Short; Don’t Procrastinate

A friend of mine recently passed away. It was unexpected. Or, at least, I was not ready for him to go. To be fair, he had cancer. But he was fighting it. Apparently, he fell while alone at his home. He never recovered enough after that for me to communicate with him.

I keep thinking of the things I should have said to him, the lunches or shopping trips we should have had together. I wish I would have made more time for him when I was in town. Not that I didn’t make time for him; I just wish I would have spent more time. And I would have, had I known our time together was limited. Even now, it seems like I can just call him up or drive by his house. But I can’t.

All this reflection made me think about the topic of procrastination. Procrastination is really just the belief (or misconception) that we still have the time to do something later, rather than today or right now. On a micro, day-to-day level, procrastination causes us stress. If we run too close on a deadline for school or work, we get stressed out trying to get it done last minute. If we don’t leave early enough for work or a meeting, any delay in traffic causes distress.

But procrastination on a macro level is worse; it may cause us to completely miss out on something good. If we put off spending time with loved ones, they may not be around any longer. If we don’t treasure the time our children are young, they grow up and move away. Some people put off having children and then realize they are unable to be parents for one reason or another. If we wait for a good time to pursue that degree or career path, that time may never come and we will not have the chance to achieve our dreams.

I am guilty of waiting for the circumstances to be ideal to take a particular course of action. I think that if I wait for all the “stars to align” I will be taking less risk. But perhaps the opposite is true; if you hesitate too long, you risk not being able to take the course of action at all.

While hiking in the desert, which is pretty barren, I came across a little cluster of flowers. They, along with a bunch of stickers, grew out of a hollow in some rocks where, apparently, some small amount of water had accumulated. The habitat was not ideal. The water supply was scarce. The surroundings were bleak. But these little flowers went ahead and did their best. They sprouted, grew and bloomed. They are beautiful. I, too, need to go ahead and do my best to grow and bloom using the resources and circumstances at my current disposal. I should not wait for a better time or a better environment to do the things that I want to do or achieve. Nor should you.

Inoculated for Life

I recently received my second COVID booster, the one for the variants. As I was laying on the sofa, shivering from fever and feeling sorry for myself, I started thinking about vaccines in general and the science behind them. According to the WHO, a vaccine is when a person is deliberately exposed to a weakened or inactive part of a particular organism/antigen that triggers an immune response in the body. When we feel bad after receiving a vaccine, it is because our immune system is working and attacking the bad organism. Although this process is not much fun, going through it protects us from the actual disease down the road. Some vaccines are more effective than others — some prevent us from getting the disease at all, and others (like the flu vaccine or the COVID vaccines) may not prevent us from getting the disease, but if we do get it, the symptoms and severity will likely be less than if we were unvaccinated.

I think there are life parallels to the vaccination process. When (not if) we are exposed to struggles or troubles in life, we are learning how to handle those troubles. I realize some children have horrific childhoods, and that is heartbreaking. But for most of us, the troubles we face as children or teenagers are relatively minor — we don’t like what is for dinner, we experience academic failures, we get picked last for the kickball team, we don’t get asked to the dance, a boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with us. When we are in the heat of that moment, these troubles seem huge and we can even feel devastated. But, with the wisdom of hindsight, we realize those troubles were nothing compared to the troubles we would face as adults. However, in going through these difficulties we, hopefully, learn some coping skills.

Similarly, as adults, we also encounter other real, but still relatively small problems — we get a flat tire, our homes need expensive repairs, our commute to work is grueling, our dating relationships don’t work out, we don’t get along with our boss, our babies don’t sleep well, our pets die. These are the side effects of living in society. Somehow, the vast majority of us figure out how to deal with, and survive, these troubles and stressors. We may complain, we may moan, we may even feel, at times, that the sky is falling. But we also learn that most troubles eventually pass and realize we can survive.

I started thinking…maybe these “little” troubles we experience on a regular basis act like vaccines; they prepare our defense and coping systems for the big troubles that may come around. If we develop resilience by going through life’s relatively minor travails, we will then be better prepared if the real tragedies come along. Divorce, bankruptcy, premature death of a spouse or child, life-threatening illnesses, natural disasters — the big stuff we hope and pray will not touch our lives — are, perhaps, a bit easier to weather and conquer if we have had practice in dealing with struggles. Imagine if you had never experienced any trouble or stress or disappointment or failure in life and then, suddenly, big earth-shattering disaster rocked your world; you would probably not be able to cope!

So, when trouble comes my way, I am going to try my best to tell myself that the experience is working to develop resilience and coping strategies in me — that I am being inoculated for life.

Find Your Joy

As we approach the holiday season, people start talking about “joy.” It made me start thinking: “What is the definition of joy?” It’s not a word we use in our daily conversation, or at least not the people I hang around with. People don’t generally say “I am so joyful,” or “I really experienced joy today.” And, yet, joy is something we think we should have and we feel bad if we don’t have it.

Webster’s Dictionary #1 definition is: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”. The #2 definition is: “a state of happiness or felicity.” I am sorry, Webster’s, but I think it is a very sad state of affairs if our happiness or felicity is dependent upon external circumstances, such as what we have or how successful we are. If it is, we are all bound to be frequently un-joyful. I prefer the second definition.

True joy, and consistent, non-mercurial joy has to come from within and can not be a mere reflection of our circumstances. In reality, we, as humans, are very limited in how much we can control our circumstances, try as we might. However, we can seek to find our own joy. Particularly when things are chaotic, or hectic, or stressful, I find joy in the small things, like a cozy fire, a cup of herbal tea, a good book, relaxing music, puppies. Where you find joy will be personal and specific to you. But in order to find this type of joy, we have to slow down, take a beat, and be very observant.

If, like me, you are a follower of Christ, you know that true joy comes from God dwelling within us. If we love God and love each other and keep His commands, God’s joy will be in us and and that joy will be complete. John 15.

Go find your joy and be complete.

Before the Phoenix can Rise

We have all heard about the phoenix rising from the ashes. Of course, it’s a metaphor for coming back to life after apparent total destruction. Too many times we burn down our own lives through our bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. Sometimes others burn our lives down through their bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. And, occasionally, circumstances such as health problems, job loss, or natural events burn our lives down. When we face such catastrophic times, we are, understandably, devastated. We feel overwhelmed. We mourn the things we have lost. Sometimes we feel like giving up.

But, maybe, we can look at these seasons in our life in a different way. In order to have the opportunity to be a phoenix, by definition, we need to first face total destruction. We can’t rise again as new creatures unless and until the old version of us is destroyed. It’s kind of like trying to restore an old house — you can add on, expand, renovate and redecorate to try to make that old house better. But sometimes you get to the point where it just becomes apparent that it is easier, and probably more cost efficient, to tear the old house down to the foundation and start again. In that way, we don’t have to work around the old plumbing, electrical, shifting foundation, or persistent mold. We get to start anew and re-design and re-build the house that we really want.

So it is, also, with people. Sometimes in order to rebuild ourselves into the person we want to become, we have to do a complete tear down. Maybe we have to walk away from a career, or from some relationships. Maybe we need to root out unhealthy bad habits. Maybe we need to take a break from the rat race of life and take time to reflect and reevaluate. And sometimes the bad things that cause disruption and “burn down” our lives force us to do just that. If that happens, we have the opportunity to rise again from the ashes and re-create ourselves as the person we wish to be. Not that it is easy. Not that we won’t be tempted to give up. But if we focus our thoughts on the goal — of the phoenix we want to become — we may receive the strength to rise.

You are NOT Worthless!

I have spoken with so many different individuals lately who have expressed feelings of worthlessness. Maybe it’s just my perspective, but it seems to be an epidemic. Life is full of difficulties; we all face challenges and times when we struggle. We can’t control many of our circumstances and we are bound to have times when we feel discouraged, beat up by life, stressed, or even powerless. I have faced my challenges and know there will be more to come. However, it breaks my heart to hear more and more people say they feel “worthless.” They say things like, “I am a waste of air,”,”No one cares if I live or die,” or “I wish I was never born.”

I imagine the source of this level of hopelessness may be varied. Perhaps it comes from abandonment, traumatic life events, failed relationships, or other types of loss. In today’s global environment, it is easy to feel small and insignificant. But I also suspect our current culture of social media greatly contributes to this problem of feeling worthless. On the internet, we see surface-level images of people designed to make others admire them. Judgements and criticisms are made in a snap second, without any real knowledge of a person. We have no idea if that person’s accomplishments are real, or what struggles they may have behind that glossy image they show the world. If we do not have sufficient “likes” or “followers” in this internet world, or if people say unkind or even cruel things about us, we can feel as if we are not valuable, that we don’t matter.

Every single human being on this planet has worth. Our Creator does not make errors; he does not have “seconds” in the production line that should be cast in the trash. How financially successful, or politically powerful, or even popular we are should not be the measure of our worth. Likewise, the fact that some ignorant, callous individual may tell us we are worthless does not, by any means, make it so. It must be tremendously painful and disheartening to feel as if one has no value.

How can we discover that inherent value in ourselves? First of all, maybe we can make a list of all our strengths and abilities. Then, we can think of people in our lives that actually care for us. Finally, and I think this is very important — if we want to feel worthwhile, and of value, we should seek out ways to make ourselves needed or useful. Look for others who need assistance in areas which we can provide it. These “others” can be family, friends, neighbors, or total strangers. There are many volunteer organizations that can use an extra set of hands. When we take a break from examining our own pitiful situation and look outside to others’ pain, we gain a certain perspective. Even more beautifully, if we can be part of the solution (in whatever small way) to someone else’s difficult circumstance, we immediately receive a feeling of being needed, useful and…. worthy.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

Walking on Water

The Bible, in more than one Gospel, gives an account where Jesus’s followers were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee during a storm. Jesus came to them, walking on the water. One of his disciples, Peter, said to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) Jesus summoned Peter to come to him. Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:29) Jesus reached out his hand to Peter and pulled him back up. “You of little faith”, he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

How many times am I like Peter in this story? I think my faith is strong. I am sure I can walk on water and bravely step out of the boat. And, at first, I am succeeding. Look at me! I’m a spiritual rock star! And, then, the wind kicks up. The storm rolls in. I notice the waves all around me and I freak out. When I take my eyes off Jesus, and focus on the danger around me, I begin to sink. But, fortunately, and reliably, He is always there to reach out his hand and snatch me from the raging sea. It is my lack of faith that causes me to despair. May I remember that my faith will allow me to do what is seemingly impossible, and that my lack of faith will allow me to falter. When you face the storms of life, keep your eyes above the waves and summon your faith. Hopefully, you, too will be able to do the impossible.

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Calm in the Storm

This past week I have been watching the coverage of Hurricane Ian and the survivors. I was particularly intrigued by the interviews with people who did not evacuate and rode out the storm. People stayed for a variety of reasons: old age, infirmity, lack of the funds to pay for gas and a hotel, as well as those who were skeptical of the predicted strength of the storm, wanted to protect their property from looters, or were just plain stubborn. People knew the storm was coming; it was predicted days in advance. They did what they could to prepare: they boarded up windows, assembled sand bags, stocked up on food, clean water and batteries. They tied their pleasure craft securely, away from the shoreline. They charged up their cell phones, laptops and power banks. And then they waited. Just before the storm came, the weather was reportedly gorgeous. Folks walked their dogs, enjoyed the beach, and took selfies in front of the mounting surf. And then Hurricane Ian reached landfall. It was a Category 4 (out of 5) storm, and among the top five storms to hit the U.S. It turns out people were, in fact, not prepared. Calls for help swamped the emergency hotlines. Panic ensued.

It made me start thinking… I try to mentally prepare myself for life’s metaphorical storms. I know storms are inevitable. I know they will come. I can’t avoid troubles in life. And so I try to prepare myself. I hone my skills and coping methods. I familiarize myself with Bible verses and Scripture passages that can reassure me. I practice my yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. I tell myself I am ready to handle adversity. But, then the storm comes, am I tempted to panic?

I think most of us, when the storm actually hits with a fury, are tempted to panic and may even start down that path? But how can we snatch ourselves back from the proverbial edge and not lose our cool? In my experience, first of all, we need to remember and recall our preparations. Soldiers do the same drills over and over so that when real combat ensues, they will automatically recall their training. We must do the same thing.

So, what do we do when the storm hits? First, calm ourselves. Do deep breathing, meditate on calming thoughts, do yoga, listen to nature sounds. Second, once our heart rate has slowed to a normal level, do activities to gain perspective. Review Scripture verses and passages that remind us God is in control. Remind ourselves of other trials and adversities we have gone through and survived, or even, thrived. Remind ourselves that the current situation is probably temporary and will not last forever. Finally, take action. Do what we can to improve our situation, or, at least, mitigate the damage. If possible, reach out and help someone else; helping others almost always gives us perspective.

The storms are going to come. May I prepare myself to the best of my ability and may I do my best to remain calm in the face of the tempest.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.” Isaiah 43:1-2

Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

I See You!

Not long ago, I was at a Women’s’ retreat in Napa Valley. I was with some amazing, accomplished, Godly women whom I did not know well, or at all, before that weekend. Over the course of our weekend of activities and self-reflection, various members of the group allowed me to see their perceptions of me. Because they are kind and positive people, those perceptions were flattering. I felt honored and seen. A few of the ladies also shared their visions of what they thought I could achieve in the future and what impact I could possible have. I have to admit, their vision far outreached the dreams I have dared to dream for myself. It really made me reevaluate as to whether I sell myself (and my God) short by not setting higher goals.

I have generally been a proponent of not paying too much attention to what others think of me. I certainly don’t want to allow myself to be limited by the skepticism of others or brought down by the haters. However, sometimes it may be beneficial to at least listen to what others are saying. Maybe they will see me better than I see myself. The flip side (and the side requiring more bravery) is that we might learn some hard, but true, facts about ourselves. Maybe we say or do things that, unbeknownst to us, hurt or offend others. Maybe our view of ourselves is overinflated. The tricky part is being able to gain perspective. In seeing ourselves as others see us, we gets a different perspective. The next step is to honestly and bravely examine that other perspective. Is it valid? Is it partially valid? Or is it just empty flattery or hateful lashing out? To discern the difference requires introspection and some knowledge and understanding of the source. If we can make that distinction, a lot can be learned from seeing ourselves through the lenses of others.