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Ah, the infamous "Naysayer".....! As you move through your creative journey, most often than not, you will meet up with him or her. These are not people who provide healthy criticism of your work to improve it. These are the people who are not fans of what you are doing altogether, no matter how good it is. They are somehow threatened by your interest to do something creative and will do everything in their power to discourage you from doing it.
Not long ago, I shared a creative dream with a rather recent acquaintance, expecting her to be as enthusiastic as my long-time friends and colleagues. We were talking on the phone catching up and when I announced the creative project there was dead silence for a minute or two. She finally said, "what made you want to do that?" It was an odd question...somewhat accusing like "why do you want to jump off a cliff?" I explained more about the project...expecting an "ah hah" or "okay, I see"...but that wasn't the case. Later she said that she didn't know why I wanted to do something I didn't have a level of understanding of it (in accordance to her). She then proceeded to compare how she perceived I handled a personal situation and use that as a barometer of how unqualified I was to pursue the creative project...two totally different things. Unfortunately, I did temporarily allow her words to concern me. Was I really unfit to do this? Is she right? But why was she the only person I shared this with being negative about it? What's really going on here?
After meditating, reflecting and talking to people who really knew me and were either objective or strong proponents of my creative life, I was reminded that her role was to really keep me on my toes, trust my intuition, and measure my commitment to the project. And that's what naysayers do....they remind you of your purpose in life as a creative and to move forward regardless of what "they' say or think. (Note: the only exception is if the person is providing sound advice about what you propose to do which might physically or mentally harm you or others or is against the law).
So how do you deal with a naysayer that throws water on your creative dreams or goals? Here's some thoughts to help:
1. Consider the source: How well does this person know you? What role do they play in your life and if any to your creative dreams? If they are a person that is a casual acquaintance versus your mother, spouse, etc. The role they play will have a lot to do with the weight that their words carry. Are they an expert in the field that you are pursuing? If so, is their opinion recognized professionally? Do they know your creative side or just another side of your life (i.e. in the office, on the tennis court, etc.)? Depending on the source, you will need to decide how active or involved they will be in your creative life and adjust accordingly. In my case, the person was not very familiar with the extent of my professional endeavors, only based on what I would share about in a passing conversation or via social media. She did not have a professional background or experience in my field or the area that she believed I was deficient in to make any assessment about my ability to do the creative project.
2. Ask yourself what they are not saying. Does the person feel threatened because your free time is no longer spent with them but in your creative endeavors? Or does the person secretly want to pursue a creative dream and is jealous of what you are doing? Is there a lot of changes going on in their lives (caretaking of a sick relative, taking over the raising of young children, separation or divorce, loss of job, a major move, health issues, children in trouble, etc.)? Life circumstances such as these can make some people stressed, anxious, regretful or even resentful of others and cause them to say critical things to others intentionally or unintentionally. Also, consider the personality of the person...if they have always exhibited some narcissistic traits, their response to you may be part of their regular behavior. My naysayer had recently made some major life changes that may have contributed some to her response to my announcement.
3. Decide how much the naysayer continue to be privy to your creative life. Depending on how you answered #1, decide what role they will continue to play in your creative life. You might want to let them know that what they said was hurtful and talk about your feelings, if it is safe to do so, and depending on how well it is received, make the choice that feels right for you. You may decide that you will no longer share anything about your creative life with the individual and stick to neutral activities or topics of discussion. You may learn that the person feel shut out of your creative life or miss the time you both spent together. If that is the case, consider how to make more time in your schedule to spend with them....or even how to get them involved with helping your creative practice (i.e. if you are writing book, think about using them as a beta reader or getting them involved with organizing your first book signing). If they are in a position to support you financially, you may want to consider your options by talking to someone you trust, whether it is a therapist or another professional, especially if it a part of ongoing or escalating mental or physical abuse. Or you may decide that you no longer want them in your life period. Again, depending on the situation, weigh your options carefully and make the choice that supports not only you but your creativity as well. After sharing my feelings with my naysayer, we decided that a continued friendship would not be beneficial and have since parted company. I haven't looked back but view it as wakeup call and an educational moment for me as I move forward with my creative endeavors.
4. Know who your fans and cheerleaders are. Those who truly know and support your dreams are the ones you need to have close. These people are not afraid to give you constructive criticism when you need it and are always visibly excited about what you are doing. They may or may not be "influential" but their energy and belief in you is what you need. If you don't have these people around, seek them out in creative groups or other organizations that bring together people with like minds. Believe me, your "people" are out there...you need to find and connect with them to move you forward.
5. Think about who can and cannot share your creative dreams with. In the age of social media where so much is being shared with everyone with a few clicks, it is easy to feel that sharing your creative dreams shouldn't be an issue. Unfortunately, it is in many cases....the "haters" and those who are naysayers thrive on your vulnerable moments just to kill or overly criticize what you are doing. Think about who needs to know about what you are pursuing. Ask yourself the questions in #1 especially how well they know your creative life and are they people who have consistently appreciated your creative gifts. You may also want to consider "rolling out" a major creative project slowly regarding who you share it with. Perhaps only a handful of people you trust can know it the beginning and when it's close to being unveiled, everyone else.
How do you deal with the naysayers in your life? What advice can you give to others who are dealing with this situation? Please share in the comments below.