Confidence in the face of criticism

A few weeks ago, I attended an FEU webinar on Building Confidence. (If you don’t know what the FEU is, have a look at their website. If you’re in an entertainment union, you can get all their resources for free!). A webinar on confidence could not have come at a better time for me. time – trace – place begins next week and, as it’s the longest project I’ve been a part of so far, I’m getting a bit nervous! So all the tips (turn the nervousness into excitement, for example) were very useful!

But there was one particular point that got me thinking. When discussing what it means to be confident, the presenter said that a confident person accepts constructive criticism but doesn’t take it personally. In other words, they have a ‘I am not my work’ mentality.

My initial reaction was ‘How can you do that???’ Creative work is, by nature, personal to the creator. And if you’ve spent hours upon hours painstakingly creating something and somebody else points out its flaws, it’s difficult not to see that as an attack on you. But I agree that taking constructive criticism personally can hinder your progress, so I thought about the times my music has been criticised and how I reacted. When did I take it personally and why? How can I change that?

I realised that I take criticism personally the most when it comes from the person I’ve composed the music for. And I think that’s because I put a lot of effort into creating what that person wants to perform. However, if I get constructive criticism from somebody else I am less likely to get upset. For example, when I worked as a teaching assistant I would spend a lot of time composing during my breaks. One lunchtime, I was composing the first…there was for SHEtogether2017 and I asked the peripatetic music teacher to play through what I had written. He played it, paused and said, ‘It would sound nicer if you changed the last note to an F.’ I had a look at the music, thought about it and realised that this would make the piece sound more like it was in the key of F…and anyone who’s heard my music knows that I don’t usual stick to a key! In fact, sometimes I don’t use pitch at all:

He was sure that I should change the last note and I was sure that was the exact opposite of what I wanted. But I didn’t take it personally because I knew it was just a difference of opinion.

As I’m writing this, I’m remembering a TED talk I watched recently called ‘Why you should make useless things’ by Simone Giertz and wondering if I could take some on some of her approach to creativity. Of course, I don’t set out to fail or be funny but I have increasingly thought of my compositions as experiments which makes it easier to keep an emotional distance from criticism. After all, failure is a valid result of any experiment.

So I think the key to me not taking constructive criticism personally is understanding why I take it personally (I thought the person giving the criticism would like it) and thinking of my works as experiments (okay, they didn’t like that, so I’ll try this). Hopefully, this will help me to take more constructive criticism on board and try new creative opportunities without getting too nervous!



As I mentioned in this post, I’m going to be working on time – trace – place over the next two weeks, so there might not be a post here during that time. But you can still follow what I’m doing through the time – trace – place blog, Facebook and Twitter.

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