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The surprising lessons of hate mail

Posted in the following categories: Life Lessons, Personal Development

“A bit assholic.”

That was the response from a reader and former colleague to a newsletter I sent earlier this month. He didn’t bother to explain what he thought was wrong with what I wrote—and resorted instead to calling names.

I regularly receive messages like this from some keyboard warrior somewhere in the world.

When I first started writing online, this sort of hate mail would really hurt. Shame would wash over me, and I would assume I must have said something horribly wrong. I would write back in an effort to find mutual ground, but that would make things worse.

Since then, I’ve learned two important lessons.

First, don’t respond to hate mail. Engagement only adds fuel to the fire. Now when I receive hate mail, I ignore it and block the sender from my email list.

Second, and more importantly, when you create anything meaningful, someone, somewhere, will try to make you feel lousy about it.

Stephen King routinely finds himself on the receiving end of hate mail. “Not a week goes by,” he writes, “that I don’t receive at least one pissed-off letter (most weeks there are more) accusing me of being foul-mouthed, bigoted, homophobic, murderous, frivolous, or downright psychopathic.”

When Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass—one of the most influential and original works of American poetry—the reviews he received were awful. “It is impossible to imagine how any man’s fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid filth, unless he were possessed of the soul of a sentimental donkey that had died of disappointed love,” wrote one particularly colorful reviewer.

There’s only one way to avoid criticism: Stop putting your ideas into the world.

Fear of criticism is a dream slayer. It slays dreams by preventing you from getting started, from taking on a challenging project, or from raising your hand during a meeting to voice dissent.

Don’t get me wrong: Criticism is helpful when it’s given in a spirit of generosity, with the intention of improving your work. A generous critic will deliver her feedback without personally attacking you (assholic) and by explaining how you can improve your work. That kind of feedback is precious.

But the conformist criticism from the peanut gallery—the type of criticism that tells you that you have no business doing what you’re doing and that you should go back to coloring between the lines—should be ignored.

Conformist criticism says more about the criticizer than the creator. When people appear to judge you, they’re often revealing a part of themselves that they’ve judged into silence—a part they hammered down to conform and fit in. When that part sees its promise fulfilled by you, the tendency will be to attack rather than to praise.

To put your creations into the world is an act of courage.

It’s to say, “Here, I made this,” and risk the possibility of being shamed.

But if there’s any shame, it’s in not sharing something that can move others and enrich their lives.

P.S. Speaking of putting your creations into the world, earlier this week, I shared the bonuses for bulk pre-orders of my new book, Awaken Your Genius (100+ books). If you missed that email, you can find it here.

The bonuses include a private dinner with me, a 1-on-1 coaching or consulting call to get my advice on whatever you need, and a small group dinner at our home with amazing guests. I don’t do any coaching or consulting, so this is your only opportunity to get personalized feedback from me (or engage in delightful conversation over dinner!).

👉See the list of bonuses here. (Scroll down to see the 100+ pre-order bonuses).

These are first come, first served. Only a few spots remain in each category, so grab them before they’re gone!

P.P.S. A huge thank you to Workhuman for sponsoring the 100-book bonus category. Workhuman is on a mission to create a more human workplace. I’ve given several keynotes at their events and loved partnering with them.

If you’re an HR professional, check out Workhuman Live, which will be held in San Diego from April 17-20, 2023. It’s the world’s leading HR conference, with three days of inspiring sessions, keynotes, workshops, and networking. To get 25% off the registration fee, use code WHL23-OVarol25

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