“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
This is brave, this is proof
This is who I’m meant to be, this is me” – The Greatest Showman, This is Me
We get to choose how we respond to the criticism…
In business we all have critics, but we get to choose how we respond to the criticism. Some criticism is constructive, at other times it is the result of one person’s single bad experience. Here is an example…
Recently (January 2018) I went to a Disney Institute class that was supposed to teach me how to do customer service the way Disney does it. We all know that Disney has the best customer service in the world and they have had years to perfect a magical experience. So when I arrived at the Embassy Suites in Denton to register for my one day class, I was surprised at how “How Hum” the initial experience was. There were 6 people ahead of me in a line that wasn’t moving, but there were 6 women behind a counter who seemed to not know what was going on. I impatiently waited thinking in my head, “If this is how the entire experience is going to be, I’m not impressed.” I had paid $340 for this one day event and since it was Disney I was expecting a marching band and greeters in costume. I had envisioned piles of scones and fountains of hot coffee spiced with cinnamon and honey. Instead there were a few Mickey and Minnie Mouse balloons and a handful of Mickey Mouse ear hats for us to take photos in for social media. What a snore.
Once I got inside the venue I was underwhelmed by the layout, the start time, the initial intro, and even the manual. My Disney Institute manual was in black and white, for $340 they couldn’t even spring for full-color pages? What if I went to Disney and everything was in black and white? Was this an Ansel Adams event or a Disney event?
Earlier in the week I had booked a big job and as someone who does design for a living time is literally money. So I was giving up good money-making time for an event that was costing me both time and money. After a few hours I left the event underwhelmed and disappointed. This professional development class seemed geared toward new business owners who hadn’t been to multiple conferences and business marketing events. I’m sure if I had stayed that I probably would have learned more, but I couldn’t get past my initial first impression which then forced me to prejudge the rest of the show.
Enter The Greatest Showman…
I got to see this movie because I heard good things about it and I’m a Hugh Jackman fan. I mean, he is Wolverine! – my favorite X-Man even as a kid. The movie is a visual powerhouse from the start. Instead of holding back and forcing you to wait for a big musical moment, the show starts with a bang, they literally “begin with the end in mind” which is one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. P.T. Barnum, played by Jackman, is a tailor’s son who is forced to live on the streets after his father takes ill and dies early. He works hard and eventually gets the circus up off the ground. What I love is that despite his critics – and there are many – he continues to pursue his dreams. He even changed the name of his “Museum of Oddities” to P.T. Barnum’s Circus after a critic called his act a “circus” meaning it in a critical way. Instead of cowering to the taunts, he took what others said and used it in a positive way. Which reminds me of one of my favorite mostly unknown Bible characters named Banaiah. To put it frankly, Benaiah is a badass, he kills lions and is one of King David’s guards. One day he even kills an Egyptian that is seven feet tall. Instead of using his on little club, he takes the Egyptions spear and kills him with it. That is what P. T. Barnum does in The Greatest Showman, he takes the words of the critic away from him and uses his own weapon against him.
As business owners we can’t cower when someone criticizes our dreams, instead we can take those words and make ourselves stronger. The stones that people throw at us, we can use them as stepping stones to pave the way to our eventual success. I believe in order to be the best some criticism is necessary. It forces us to take a look at ourselves through others eyes – no matter how wrong or critical they may be. We can examine ourselves, looking with a microscope, and determine if that person is judging rightly or not. We may find that our harshest critics are correct.
Once I was working a piece of graphic art and the client kept asking me to add new items. They items were images or legal requirements since they were a financial institution. I was often annoyed by these additions because I was finished with the piece and thought it was perfect. But, I found that after I was forced to rework the art with the new items, logos, typography, whatever it was, that I often made it better. I was forced to scrutinize and get creative and I would surprise myself with little ways of being clever. It was a real lesson in humility and growth and while it wasn’t criticism, it was similar in that something needed to be changed and instead of saying, “No it can’t be done” I took the changes and made it better.
That brings me back to The Greatest Showman. In the story P. T. Barnum starts his “circus” as a museum full of wax figures and stuffed animals. He tries to sell tickets, but no one is buying. One night as he puts his daughters to bed one of the girls says, “You need to put something alive in your show.” This little suggestion changed the entire trajectory of P.T Barnum’s Circus. Instead of dead oddities he found living oddities. The movie makes it seem that all of Barnum’s intentions were good and altruistic, but if you read a little bit of history on him, he was exploitative of his employees and often created fraudulent back stories to sell his show – and maybe there is a lesson there as well. I don’t think it is right to be fraudulent, but when it comes to telling your story is a business owner it is okay to be creative. Give your audience a full-color backstory. Don’t provide a manual in black and white. Don’t overpromise and under deliver.
I have been self-employed for the last 9 years. I got laid off from Texas Instruments in 2009. Barnum got laid off too. He took an idea and made it flourish despite the critics. In my own life, I started a graphic and web design business and I’ve never had any graphic and web design class. Skillshare.com and YouTube have been my teachers. I have spent countless hours doing things the wrong way, but eventually I got them right. While I have had no formal training in design, I knew that I had a good eye for style and design. I understood color and balance and fashion and I had a passion for all things beautiful. I took that passion and turned it into a very successful business that year-over-year has increased in revenue. I’ve gotten to create videos for the Arizona Sun Devils and Tony Jeary International. I’ve gotten to design dream book covers and trade show displays. Over the years I’ve learned that my biggest critic and my biggest enemy is myself. I have not always applied the knowledge I’ve learned. Instead, I have had to let experience teach me the hard way.
I hope this post is helpful as your pursue your dreams and that you never settle for second best. When the critics come, don’t cower, don’t strike back in anger, but instead, use those words as opportunities to grow. And when the critics are wrong and their words are weapons, take those weapons and use them against them. And if you haven’t seen it, go see The Greatest Showman immediately.