“You’re annoying and I can’t stand you…”

My sophomore year of high school was a great year. I was one of two freshmen in the Advanced Theater program, and had built a great group of friends who were upperclassmen and planning to do big things in life (remember, I was going to “make it,” before deciding to go to college). The transition of watching friends graduate, however, was tough for me. After some sentimental goodbyes to graduating seniors, I noticed something in my yearbook that I hadn’t seen that May while parading it around for all friends to autograph. Hidden among the well-wishes for a great summer and promises to, “KIT,” I found the following note written as a PS from one of the seniors who I had known most of my life:

“PS – stop riding people’s coat tails and pave your own path.”

This was just a small percentage of what was written from this friend, but somehow I seemed to ignore all of what he had written and became solely focused on this last little note. I was devastated. And mad. But I wasn’t devastated and mad because of what my friend had written, I was devastated and mad because my friend was absolutely right. I hadn’t done anything for myself that year, and allowed others to chart the territory that I was hoping to uncover. Related, let’s flash-forward to my senior year of college.

When I was in college, I was part of an organization that consisted of some of the top campus leaders at my institution. Admitted as a freshman or transfer student, this group of leaders were required to stay involved and make good grades. In return, we would all receive a scholarship that covered our tuition for all four years of college. Golden, right? And privileged, you might be thinking. Accurate observation.

Each year, we had a big retreat that helped kick off the semester, which also served as a chance to “induct” the new students into this exclusive group of undergraduates (“induct” and “haze” could be interchangeable here – Conservative gasp, I know!). My senior year retreat was bittersweet, as I was excited to be a big, bad senior, but I was also sad to start seeing this important part of my life come to a close. At the retreat, we all take time to make mailboxes, where over the course of the weekend, people can deliver and receive “mail” from classmates and peers. On the bus ride home that year, I glanced at what was written to me and was surprised to find a small, ripped piece of paper, noting, “…and I think the same way about you too.”

I was confused, and it was that next week when I realized the context of this mysterious piece of mail. A good friend of mine and I were hanging out one night and she said to me, “I cannot believe I haven’t shown you this. You’ll never guess what was in my mailbox at the retreat.” She then pulled out a little piece of ripped paper with something along the lines of the following scribbled on it:

“You’re annoying and I can’t stand you…”

Putting the pieces together (literally and figuratively), we realized the note was to both of us, and was intended to say, “You’re annoying and I can’t stand you…and I think the same way about you too.” We then spent hours and weeks trying to figure out the culprit who would deliver such hateful “mail,” and specifically in what was always a safe and supportive environment for both of us. Clearly this ghostwriter of a critic knew that we would, at some point, find each other with this message, which is probably annoying in and of itself. I digress. You get the point.

Feedback has been with me for years, and even when not-preferred, is continuing to happen all the time. For all of us. Feedback is essential, and over the past few months, I have been actively seeking ways to improve (personally and professionally) based on my own reflections and the reflections of others. Why not attempt to better ourselves and/or myself, right? Thus, this blog.

This is obviously easier said than done, and I have always really struggled receiving feedback. More than the struggle, I have always been super defensive when receiving feedback, and always feel like I have (had) to have an answer or articulately respond to any critical layers of an area for improvement. I am now more conscious of this mechanism, and have been working on reminding myself to, in those situations, view feedback as valuable and helpful.

For years, “slow down,” was an area where I needed to improve, and in this next year, I would say, “be intentional,” has become my new mantra. So often, we do things (whatever, ‘things,’ might mean) because we can. We exist, we grow, we work, we play. And in a lot of these areas, we do so because it’s supposed to happen that way (in whatever form, ‘way,’ might mean). It’s rare to stop, take in some feedback (whether it be unsolicited or solicited), and identify areas to grow, excel, develop, and succeed.

So, what feedback are you receiving, and/or struggling with? Is that struggle because you feel the feedback is misplaced, or because you realize the feedback is accurate and might really be an area where you should improve? As I reflect on some feedback I received this weekend and over the past few years, my continued challenge to myself (and others, of course) is to be open to the feedback of others, and in whatever form it appears. Though it’s not preferred to receive anonymous feedback, or publicly written notes in a high school book of memories, these sentiments are still valued and valuable. Be open to the reality that, at times, others have a better view of us than we could ever have of ourselves.

Taking it all in,

Michael

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