Praise & criticism: Why they’re not really about you

The other day, I received the following note:

“I love these! Everyone is looking good, and the kids are so animated. Once again, LOVE these! Thanks for thinking of taking them that day.”

Sounds good, right? What do you think it was in response to? Maybe the following family portraits?

Nope, the note was in response to a couple of snapshots taken in a parking lot with a timer, using a point & shoot camera that was sitting on top of a car. Oh heck, I’ll just show them to you:

Nice, huh? 😉 I particularly enjoy the car hood reflection and signs. And yet, I received oodles of praise.

In comparison, the response from the same person to the family portrait session from two years ago was:

“I’ve decided that I don’t want any of the prints. None of the pictures is what I was visualizing. I was hoping for a simple group picture of us standing together in our yard, less posed and more natural looking. Guess I did a poor job of communicating what I wanted. Sorry for the inconvenience, but thanks for your effort.”

Here’s the lesson: Praise and criticism say far more about the giver than they do about the receiver.

I’m going to say it again for good measure: Praise and criticism say more about the giver than the receiver

This is an important lesson, one I desperately needed a couple of years ago. I didn’t have it then, but thanks to Tara Mohr, I have realized it now.

The family portrait session above came precariously close to my burnout; in fact, I only realized just how close while visiting Brian’s family this year. I have never been a group portrait photographer. Although I have shot group portraits for weddings, they’ve never been my specialty or something I particularly enjoyed. I coordinated the family portrait session above as a favor, free of charge, and called in an assistant to shoot so that I could organize and be in the shots (big thanks to Tiffany at Hot Metal Studio!).

I’m not going to lie, the response to the portrait session screwed me up for a while. We all know how it feels to do something as a favor and have it go unappreciated; well, it feels even worse when you receive criticism for it. But, what I’ve learned since is that the criticism I receive says more about the person who gave it than it does about me. It reveals who s/he is and what s/he was feeling and thinking at the time instead of indicating who I am and how well I performed.

As long as we are happy with our results, it really doesn’t matter what others say. Of course being criticized still hurts in the moment, but I think knowing that it is someone else’s issue helps you move past it faster. What do you think?

Before I sign off, there’s one more thing I need to mention. Praise seems all good, right? The truth is that it can be just as dangerous. Suppose you get odes to your fabulousness every time you shoot a certain type of session. Having that constant positive reinforcement feels great, but it can also make you feel like you need to keep doing what you’re doing, doesn’t it? Even if it’s not something you enjoy.

Remember that praise also has very little to do with you. Sure it’s nice when someone is happy with your work — it certainly feels better than when they’re unhappy — but ultimately only you can decide if what you’re doing is worthwhile and valuable…or not. None of us can rely on someone else to do that for us.

More to come, including a cool exercise from Ms. Tara.

P.S., I’d like to wish a very happy birthday to my wonderful, sweet, brilliant husband today. Happy Birthday, love!