As a kid I hated getting criticism—it would fill me with shame because I wanted to be perfect and I usually knew exactly what I had done to deserve that criticism.

I hated sending thank-yous to my grandma and aunt in France (I’m half French on my mom’s side) after Christmas because I felt that they harshly judged the letters which I wrote entirely in French and would tell my mom how little I was learning in French class. My mom continued to judge my writing when I would send letters home to her every week while in college—she’d notice when I’d leave words out (even today still do this when I rush) and told me she knew exactly when I was having a busy time. It’s a wonder I became a writer at all!

Maybe they were setting me up for when I worked at the Charleston Chamber of Commerce and later at Belk Department stores after college. I hated the Chamber’s monthly evaluations, especially when Marge the HR lady listed out all of my faults and told me I had to initial them if I wanted to get a .30 cent raise from $6 to $6.30. The Belk evals were a bit better, but I still felt like they were ambush meetings to list all 37 of your weaknesses in one fell swoop. I do remember one positive comment: I was told I had the potential to leave the department I was in. So I did just that and worked out a system where I changed jobs at Belk every two years, so in 6 years I believe I only had two evaluations.

My last one was such a joke it almost cured me of my fear of criticism because it made me realize that EVERYTHING depends upon the critiquer. If the critique is an idiot or has her own personal revenge agenda or is on a power trip, then nothing she has to say is worthwhile. My last Belk boss gave me a 14 out of a 100 on my evaluation and told me I wasn’t meant to be a Belk manager—this was after I had slaved at that store during my first pregnancy working 14-hour days on my feet and had to deal with her constant dysfunction and personal attacks.

Partly because of Belk Boss I quit the corporate world, but still discovered finding the right critiquer remains important if you want to grow in your art. I looked for writing groups to get better at my writing and wandered into some where the other writers would attack my fiction, confusing the main character with the real me and telling me I probably needed to see a therapist. I quickly left these groups. I found another group where I felt my poetry wasn’t taken seriously so when it was my turn, I felt rushed along. So I left that group and found a critique partner, whom I still cherish today.

As a result of that success, I knew how to find violin, guitar and dance teachers who could critique me with firm kindness.

So what makes for a good critique?

  • Be specific and talk about the issue without involving personal cattiness and condemnation—you don’t want anyone feeling shame!
  • Mention what you are doing right—my family could have sprinkled a little positivity here by saying, “Hey, you know a lot of French for a 10-year-old!” or “It means a lot to me that you’re taking the time to write a letter every week.”
  • Use video and photos as your most impartial critique partner. Celluloid doesn’t lie!

All good critique will help you grow in whatever you set your mind to do—whether it’s giving a speech, playing a musical instrument or growing your business. The secret is to surround yourself with the right people who will offer kind, observant firm critique in a positive way.