Once upon a time, my goal was to lead a life that was completely criticism-proof. Once I had the “right” job, credentials, relationship, and so on, no one would ever accuse me of falling short in any area. I’d get nothing but respect from everyone I worked with and knew.
Of course, this plan didn’t quite pan out. As wonderful as my job and education may have looked to the world, and as hard as I worked, there would always be someone who’d come up with ways to find fault with me — whether it was a client, boss, intimate partner, or someone else.
“Spiritual Bulletproofing” Didn’t Work Either
So I tried another approach. I decided that, instead of trying to create a life no one would ever criticize, I’d make myself immune to criticism. I’d find some spiritual practice, or personal development tool, that would help me grow a skin so thick that nothing would ever get through.
Unfortunately, this didn’t work either. As it turned out, no amount of meditation, going to men’s groups, forcing myself to do scary stuff, or anything else completely took the sting out of people’s jabs. It became clear that, probably, I was never going to feel completely okay with getting ridiculed, condescended to, and so on.
This seemed like a depressing discovery at first. But eventually, it led to a valuable realization: If there will always be people who criticize me, and I’ll never be 100% “zen” about it, I might as well just do whatever I want with my life. How liberating it felt to give up my painful quest to build a “bulletproof life,” or numb myself to the pain of people’s putdowns, and just live the way I wanted.
It’s Okay To Get Hurt
This points to an area where a lot of personal development ideas, in my opinion, go astray.
On one hand, so many tips and tricks out there are meant to help us avoid criticism — ways to ask questions in a job interview to make sure we don’t get rejected, things to say when talking to the opposite sex to make sure we don’t get “shot down,” how to deliver a presentation that won’t bore anyone, and so on.
On the other hand, on the more “spiritual” side of personal growth, we see many practices intended to get rid of the “ego” — the part of us that gets attached to our status, relationships, possessions, and so on. Once the ego is cut down to size, the thinking goes, we won’t get offended or hurt so easily, and we’ll feel blissful even as our significant other is yelling at us.
Unfortunately, I think, neither of these approaches can get us what it promises. There will always be people out there who can hurt us with things they say. Getting hurt in that way, and in other ways, is just part of the human experience.
I’ve come to believe that self-growth, in its highest form, is about accepting that we’re nothing more, and nothing less, than human. No matter how developed or enlightened we become, we’ll never be fully rid of our neuroses, hangups, and sensitivities.
The big paradox here is that, the more I accept that getting criticized and hurt once in a while is just part of life, the less I’m bothered by things people say, and the freer I feel to forge my own path. Living is much simpler and easier when I can embrace my humanity, in all its perfect imperfection.