Increase the SPF on My Sensitivity, Please by Melissa Swedoski
Recently, I’ve been pondering if I’ve gotten more sensitive as I’ve gotten older. About my looks, certainly. I check the lines, the dark spots, the wrinkles, the grays, a lot more thoroughly than I ever did. If I think someone is either sizing me up, wondering how I’m married to this younger man next to me, or how such an older woman can have these two little babies, well, yes, my sensitivity level shoots through the roof.
But beyond that, have I gotten more sensitive about criticisms that are aimed at me? As a writer, you have to brace yourself for criticism, especially the unkind version. Once you present your work to the world, someone, somewhere is going to jump up and down to let you know that it’s terrible, ridiculous, unfounded, you name it. No matter how good an idea you have, someone will think it’s the worst. No matter how many awards you receive, someone will question your credentials. This is nothing new.
When I was in my 20s, I took criticism a little harder, partly because I was young and hadn’t developed my thick hide just yet, and partly because I honestly thought I was putting out the best possible product that I could, and it was unfathomable to me that someone would think it was unworthy.
In my 30s, I had gotten tougher. I had no problem telling someone that I was right and s/he was wrong. I was stronger in my belief in myself; I didn’t require validation from outsiders. Once we bought our own little weekly newspaper, I developed a new mantra: “Everyone thinks they know how to run a newspaper.” But for the most part, my word was law. I bent a few times under pressure, I admit, but sometimes the good of your business and even your family requires you to give in, just a little.
Now, in my 40s, I’ve left that full-time job behind and acquired a new one, raising two daughters in a world that sometimes seem so fraught with peril and problems. A world that still discriminates based on gender and race, a world that doesn’t necessarily offer a happily-ever-after anymore.
In my new job, I question myself constantly. Even reading articles offering support, I find myself thinking, “I can’t possibly do that. I am failing my children.” I’m not even talking about Pinterest here, which is more like an online version of “Hoarders.” I’m talking about the breastfeeding vs. formula, disposable vs. cloth diapering, pros and cons of attachment parenting, what to buy, what’s a waste.
I hear that 35-year-old voice in my head saying, “Who the hell cares what other people think? This is your life. Do what you know is right.” She’s a good friend, but she doesn’t come to visit nearly often enough. Instead, I hear that 27-year-old voice saying, “Um…well…let me ask a few other people what they think I should do.” Argh.
Recently, I allowed my blog to undergo a critique by a group of other bloggers. I thought I could handle it. I knew that it wouldn’t be all hearts and flowers. But I wasn’t really prepared. Most of the comments were helpful, people offering their views on simple things like colors and fonts. And then there was the one. The person who hasn’t been blogging that long, but has already received an award. The person who is also a painter “in real life,” and therefore freely uses her artist’s eye to let you know what’s wrong with your handiwork.
Did it hurt my feelings? In a way. Did it disrupt my afternoon? Yes, until my husband kindly talked me out of my tree. Did it make me question my abilities? Absolutely. And that just stunned me.
When did I become the person needing outside validation? Did becoming a mother increase my sensitivity level? Damn hormones. Or did giving up a full-time job, where I was sure of my skills, for a full-time job that I had absolutely no skill set for, open old wounds that had never really healed?
If anyone has tips on how to desensitize, be sure to let me know.