The more you put your real self out there, the more it hurts if people don't agree or appreciate your ideas and efforts. Clients see red where I see brown; break room chatter slams an attempt to help my team; people say they had expected something different from their experience with a stylist or assistant at my store; silence greets my attempt to reach out.
Rejection always stings. Some people deal with it by closing themselves off, but then they lose the valuable piece in every review, the piece that gives hints on how to become better. I want to use critiques as input, but not let them derail me. Yet I'm hypersensitive, define myself by my work and treat every little thing I put out into the world as a creative little piece of my soul - whether managing, hair, or ideas. My preferred reaction to rejection used to be buttoning my emotional trench coat up to the sky and running away, never to be heard from again. Not an approach that is easily available when you are responsible for over 300 clients and 30 employees!
So how does someone like me thrive in a hair salon? I have developed a slippery outer surface.
If you get inside that surface, things are really sticky and everything you say matters to me intensely. Only a few people who really count get all the way inside. They comprise my personal network of supporters who may judge me the hardest, but do so out of love and a desire to help me grow. When someone proves their worth as a mentor and earns my core trust, they get let inside.
What keeps me from crumpling into a ball of despair, and often, is that when someone else flings a complaint at me, I let it slip right off my slick exterior and dissolve into 2 buckets beneath me labeled "FACTS" and "FEELINGS". That is, my first step is to just silence my own feelings and encourage the other party to let it out. Once it's fully out, I isolate the facts from what the other person feels, and analyze both separately. I force myself to try to imagine why they may feel the way they do even if I disagree about the facts. I do all of this before allowing myself to feel my reaction, but when I feel it, I let myself feel it 100% - hopefully only in my own head. Finally, I decide how to express my emotional reaction. This depends heavily on whether I think the person complaining actually wants to make things better, or wants to pull me down. It also depends on whether I think they are honest. (Yes, we do get people who just want every haircut to be free, and someone recently tried to return a 3-year-old hair product!)
It's by having these standards that I've been able to build up a network of supporters who pick me back up on the days where my process just isn't enough to stave off doubt or disappointment. What I want most for myself and everyone I come into contact with is just this: that we will keep putting our true selves out there, even though it's harder than how most people live, and even though it means we will step on lots of toes. I'm not trying to be cool and I'm not trying to be right. I'm trying to keep trying.
And not just professionally. My dad wrote me the following in an email this week, when I was talking about taking on a new (exciting) risk in my personal life. I expected critique, but instead got the reassurance I most needed:
"We only get one life. I would rather go for what seems right and makes sense than overly protect myself and miss out. Knowing you can and will bounce back (and knowing you have lots of support) makes leaning forward a better bet in my opinion than missing out."
Leaning forward and sharing your creativity will earn you criticism. I promise. How you deal with that criticism will make or break you. It will give you greater traction or it will make you trip.
Developing emotional armor in all the right places ~ that's my favorite thing about getting older.