Three Reasons Why You Don’t have to Freak Out About Feedback
Fallacy 1. Loss of The Hero’s Journey
I am an absolute control freak. I seem to have an intense desire to “go it alone” on almost everything I do. This may be because I love the idea that I don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to do – well - anything. If I want to change something in one of my creative projects, I just have to convince myself – and myself alone – that it’s warranted.
And in my mind, being able to accomplish something on my own is like being awarded a badge of honor, especially if, after an intense struggle, I succeed.
I have these film montage sequences scrolling one after another in my mind:
- a lone wolf, conquering winter, through raw instinct and physical strength.
- a single long-distance runner finally crossing the finish line, blistered, dehydrated, exhausted but – elated.
- an Iditarod sledder, covered in snow and ice, battling a blizzard.
The harder the struggle, the shinier the badge. It is heroic and epic – and I am a part of it.
This impulse has been a part of me as long as I can remember, ever since I was a child. I recall wanting to drive my mother’s car when we were parked at a gas station even before I was in preschool. As an adult, I always assumed my fiercely independent streak was due to my need to maintain order and control so I could be comforted by a sense of stability in my life.
Fallacy 2 - Loss of Artistic Vision
My thought was that the more people you involve in a project or even an idea, especially in the fragile birthing stage, the more it can morph into something else – far different than what you originally envisioned. And the more people you let know about your fledging creation, the more opportunity you have to be swayed by any naysayers who might alter or even deny your vision (usually with the best of intentions in mind). They can cloud your thoughts – and inject you with enough doubt so that you start questioning your own idea. They can even convince you it was never really worthwhile at all, and cheer as you crush your own vulnerable sprout of an idea, like some vile weed infecting your garden of creativity.
Fallacy 3 - Loss of Unique Voice
So, needless to say, I had a bias against getting feedback on a lot of my creative projects (like writing, drawing, home design– anything that truly mattered to me). Corporate writing projects, on the other hand, such as articles, client letters, research memos or government filings, were all exempt from this bias, as I wasn’t significantly invested in the results.
True, I wanted to produce a great work product, and provide thorough research and support for my attorneys. But, at the end of the day, it was rare that a finished project ever went out under my own name. I generally was a ghostwriter for all the attorneys I ever supported. It wasn’t my voice really and after a while my style intentionally matches theirs.
Change it, modify it, tweak it, re-do the structure – none of it mattered to me, except if a revision made something factually inaccurate – changed the client’s intended position – or indirectly exposed us to unintentional risk. My primary concern was only that I be accurate in my fact pattern and that I did thorough research. There, I had to be perfect.
The Truth was Fear
During this month’s GRO session, however, I realized my hesitation about submitting my writing for feedback was not truly about losing artistic control or my unique voice, as I had convinced myself – or my need for perfection. It was really about fear.
I was afraid to expose my work precisely because it was so important to me. I wanted it to be accurate, correct and altogether perfect. In my corporate job, I feared not being respected. In my creative life, I feared being a talentless hack. My endless desire for perfection was really my need to avoid rejection, if at all possible. Once I realized this, I started to view the process of receiving feedback very differently.
Reason 1. Feedback is Like an Interpreter
You can use feedback as a way to gauge whether what you are trying to say in your writing is actually reaching your audience, as intended. It can act as your interpreter to help you understand areas you might need to revise to have the intended effect. For instance, you might have believed using a professional tone was an appropriate choice. However, you might find it was actually perceived as too aloof and off-putting for your audience.
Or perhaps you stated an idea in a way that was clear only to certain members of your audience who, like you, have a similar level of expertise. Your text may need to be revised to take into account other less experienced audience members who need definitions for specific industry terms or some basic introductory material to fill in missing background information so they can fully participate in the discussion.
Reason 2. Feedback is Like a Cheerleader
Feedback can provide you with a certain boost in your confidence level, if you let it. Usually, there are at least one or two areas where you succeed in reaching your audience, as planned. You may have described something in a very artful or informative manner. Your headlines may be captivating. Or perhaps you structured the flow of the article incredibly well. Or maybe the examples you obtained from your research were very compelling. It may only be that the writing associated with the proof needs a few more edits to highlight why it is so appropriate for your article.
And even in the unusual instance where none of the feedback is positive, you can still choose to congratulate yourself on meeting a deadline and having the courage to expose your work for review. How you interpret your own actions and the feedback you receive is really your choice, dependent only on your own mindset and perspective.
Reason 3. Feedback is Like a Backup Brain
The wonderful thing about feedback is that people’s unique perspectives can provide you with valuable insights on how to enhance your work. It is very much like having a back-up brain that stores all these different viewpoints – ones that may never have occurred to you while writing your first draft. The different life experiences people have shape how they perceive your words. And those perceptions spark how their thoughts leap between ideas and connect them in new creative ways. Having numerous viewpoints is very much like having an expanded “mind map“ created by a group mind. It gives you the benefit of multiple layers of “thought bubbles,” aside from just your own. That added benefit really can help you “leapfrog” ahead in your own progress.
A Shift in Perspective
After completing the final presentation in front of my GRO colleagues (something I had been dreading), I realized that, no matter what, you still are ultimately in control of your work, regardless of what others might say. You have the option of choosing which items of feedback, if any, you want to incorporate into your work. You don’t have to assume every comment is appropriate for your own writing style just because someone else said so.
And even while this type of control may not be true for client projects, it is not your name that is identified with the client’s final marketing materials. So, the impact it has on you personally is minimal. As a ghostwriter for your clients, your job is to deliver excellent work by providing your clients with well-written, persuasive content, as well as informed options on how best to present their brand and products to their audience. And, just like you, they have the freedom to choose how they wish to use your text and incorporate your recommendations into their marketing projects.
By shifting my perspective, I was able to see that there was very little to fear about asking for feedback. The benefits far outweigh my initial concerns. Plus, you are able to move forward much more quickly by knowing what is working in your writing and how certain recommendations (which you couldn’t envision on your own) could really improve your copy and overall brand messaging. And feedback can spark a conversation with your colleagues that you never anticipated. It can open the door to building relationships – and potentially provide you with future opportunities through mutual referrals.
As for the hero’s journey, I didn’t have to lose that either. I realized it is still an act of courage just to keep going – just to keep showing up and trying to succeed. Stopping or doing nothing is the real failure. Plus, every hero has a wise mentor who steps in and guides them on their journey, from time to time, especially when the road gets rocky, or the path ahead isn’t quite clear. It’s an essential part of the story.