Criticism Is Oh So Luxurious
"Beyoncé: She's No Ashanti" is what then New York Times journalist and music critic Kelefa Sanneh wrote in 2003 describing his disappointment by Beyoncé's debut album.
Based on his review of "Dangerously In Love," compared to Ashanti's sophomore, "Chapter II," he was confident that Beyoncé was the lesser of the two talents and perhaps her "misstep," as he referred to her album, showed a chink in her armor as a solo artist.
Fast forward to today. Would it be an understatement to say that this critic got it wrong? The most egregious being a comparison of these two artists.
When I first read about this story in Huffington Post, something struck me.
Sanneh's criticism seemed extravagant. I pictured him sitting in the comfort of his home, draped in an ultra-soft throw blanket, surrounded by down pillows criticizing a person within an inch of her professional life and getting everything wrong. But knowing that his getting it wrong would have narry a consequence for himself.
This was the first time that it occurred to me that criticism was a luxury--the state of great comfort as you express disapproval of others. Something that I believe is accurately personified in the cover photo:
Scrappy kids cloaked in lush fur coats, but given away by their tell-tale grungy denim, hard-worn sneaks, and junk food and toys at their heels.
This is how I imagine critics. Draped in the luxury of not tackling someone else's risks associated with taking action. And filthy underneath their critiques.
Why am I going on about this?
Because of you.
This year you're doing something bigger than last. Something risky that has been eating at you for a while. You're starting a new career, picking up a new hobby, opening a business, moving out of state, cutting your hair, marrying, divorcing, adopting. And you've been criticized for it or will be criticized for it.
Listen. Life can never be long enough to play someone else's game and abide by someone else's rules.
Assuming you make healthy choices, if you lived to be 207 your life is your own and should revolve around your vision for it. But as it is, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention's report on life expectancy that was published in December 2016, you definitely won't live to be 207 and probably not 107. If you're blessed to make it or surpass it, your life expectancy is 78.8 years old. So you're 35 or 40 now?
I'm not going to crunch the numbers, but I'll say this:
Now is the time to put away the need for validation, especially from people who aren't taking risks. Now is the time to stop being guilted into doing what others want you to do. Now is the time to get comfortable with criticism because it's going to happen and your job will be to keep moving despite of it.
Your choices will be criticized. Keep going.
People will talk. Stay focused.
No one knows or understands your vision like you do and they aren't chipping in on the price you're paying. Forge ahead.
Even the holiest of people who walked the earth weren't exempt from criticism, so what's to stop the world from taking stock of you?
Nothing is stopping them, which might explain why there were three Instagram posts that were literally back-to-back in my newsfeed today about being yourself. It's as if everyone who is daring to do something great conspired to drown out negativity with affirmative words.
On the off-chance that someone reading this thinks that I'm pandering to poor decision-making, we're all owed the courtesy of living through our own mistakes and our successes. What we're not obligated to do is live someone else's vision for our lives.
Criticism has its place in society. Criticism calls out inhumanity, cruelty, and injustice. Criticism offers opportunities for improvement. When done well, criticism can be positive. But I'm talking about oft-times mean-spirited, inaccurate, uninformed, and unnecessary judgement.
What if Beyonce had read that review of her first album and let it discourage her from making her next album? I want to believe that Beyonce didn't keep going to prove anyone wrong. She kept going because her spiritual obligation was to fulfill her vision--not yours, not mine, and not the naysayers.
When I find myself occasionally indulging in critiques of sequined Uggs, situations, people, places, football teams, art (the list is endless), I remind myself that I'd probably be less critical if I were:
(1) Creating my own projects (creating makes you more empathetic to others who are doing the same)
(2) Too busy tending to my own affairs to be overly concerned with someone else's
Don't let anyone's critical words stop you. And don't ask for permission to live your life.
As businessman Master Choa Kok Sui said, "Watch out for people who criticize. Those who criticize the most, do the least." Amen!
Photo credit: Jon Feinstein via CC Flickr