Criticism Can Be Your Friend, If You Let It

Photo Credit: Sinitta Leunen via Unsplash

Love Letters To My 20s: A Fortnightly Column On The Stigma Surrounding Our Twenties

“Uncomfortable and liberating- exactly what growth is supposed to feel like.” – Florence Given, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

Criticism is a weird one.

It can simultaneously hurt your ego, crush your passion, and embarrass you, whilst also allowing you to evolve into a new, more-refined version of yourself.

In your twenties, unsolicited criticism is rife and can be especially damaging to what you think of, and how you conduct, yourself. Admittedly, the last year of my life feels as though it has been made up of everyone putting their two pence worth of criticism in, without getting the go-ahead from me first.

The worst part is, there is no clear pattern to when people criticise the things that I do or say. At first, I thought that it was only the ‘big’ things that I needed to be careful talking about; chats about career choices, graduation, family, children, and relationships were massive no-nos when it came to having conversations with (if I’m honest) most people. Eventually, I realised that it doesn’t even stop there. People will criticise everything about you, if you let them; from what you choose to wear, to how you spend your money, to giving up on something that is no longer making you happy. Remembering what I had told myself that I ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ say in front of different people was exhausting.

I came to learn that everyone has an opinion of everything, and my heart sank when I realised that this is largely down to the age of social media.

We twenty-somethings have entered the ‘real world’ during a time where everything is online. Everyone I know has some form of social media, providing the world with a readily available, perfectly polished chunk of who they are, ready for judgement via likes, retweets and favouriting. Even if you ignore the opinions of tweenage trolls and samurai keyboard warriors, completely normal and well-meaning people will (both consciously and subconsciously) pass their judgement on others based off what they see of them online. This horrible, green corner of our minds is starving for that hit of voyeurism, and when we get our fix, we use our high to compare how our fake life is doing, in a made up social competition, against other (you guessed it) fake lives. If we don’t judge someone else for how they’re handling things, we hate ourselves for doing so poorly instead.

When your Instagram post hasn’t got ‘enough’ likes on it, how many times have you felt sad, or even gone as far as deleting it so you can repost it at a time that the algorithm will approve of it? How many times have you wondered why your best mate hasn’t commented on your selfie with “OMG stunning !! Xx” within five minutes of you posting it? I used to do stuff like this all of the time, adding to the pile of yet more evidence that social media has turned us into a generation of approval-hungry, people-pleasing twenty-year-olds.

Now, in my opinion, the internet has far more positives that heavily outweigh these negatives, but my point is: all of us are going to get criticised no matter what we do, on and off social media. Maybe we should all just start to make ourselves really, truly, authentically happy by doing and saying whatever the hell we please, whilst putting up our middle finger to anyone who gives us unsolicited criticism?

However, there is an incredibly fine line between dismissing those that repeatedly and unnecessarily criticise you, and being ignorant to the advice and information of those trying to educate you on something that you might have gotten wrong.

Trust me, I get it.

No one likes admitting that they have done something wrong. Your pride takes a hit that winds you for a little while, and you feel like the whole world is watching for what you do next. But the more we are open to improving ourselves, and the more we say “Wow, I didn’t know that. Thank you so much for letting me know. I’ll go and learn more!”, the easier that getting something wrong gets.

Your twenties are the time where you learn, grow and evolve. Spoiler alert: you are going to make loads of mistakes. Shit tonnes, in fact. “It’s a part of growing up,” you’ll hear your Dad’s voice say in your head. But that does not mean that we should never apologise, listen to opposing opinions, or understand that sometimes, unintentionally, we upset and offend people.

As a teenager, I used to be mortified of getting something wrong, or offending people. Now, even though I am by no means ‘good’ at admitting to making mistakes, I see my weak moments as an opportunity to shed a skin and indulge in the pure, authentic, and beautiful growth.

Becoming a new and improved version of myself every time I trip up is exciting.

It makes me want to get something wrong more often.

Words by Morgan Hartley.

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