A Little Happier: The Only Thing Worse Than Getting Corrected Is Not Getting Corrected

A while back, I had dinner with my daughter Eliza and one of her friends from college.

This friend wanted to be an actor, so we were talking about her college acting classes. She told me, “Some students were very serious about acting, like me, and some people were taking acting class just for fun. With me, my professor was pretty harsh, and gave me a lot of criticism; with the other kids, he just told them, ‘Good job.’”

This observation reminded me of something I heard from a professional ballet dancer. In ballet, you get “corrections,” and, he explained, you want corrections. Corrections shows they’re paying attention to you. If an instructor is down on the floor, turning your foot, they care. If they leave you alone and tell you to stand in the back row, they don’t care. 

My sister Elizabeth, who is a Hollywood writer and producer, often complains about getting “notes” from the studio and executives, because there’s often a lot of work involved in addressing those notes. “But,” she says, “the only thing worse than getting notes is not getting notes. If they don’t give any notes, they don’t care about the project.”

Often, criticism is a sign of respect and interest. Giving criticism is a demanding task: It take time and energy to articulate relevant feedback, and it’s emotionally draining to give someone information they may not be eager to hear.

The fact is, if something is no good, or I don’t particularly care, I rarely bother to make suggestions for how a person might do something better. But if I care a lot about a project or a person, I’m more likely to try to make suggestions—sometimes, welcome or not.

I try to remember this principle when people are criticizing—or not—criticizing me. To tell someone what’s bad is often a sign that you think it’s good. Or at least worth improving. Or at least worth paying attention to! As my sister the sage might say, “The only thing worse than getting criticized is not getting criticized.”




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