Day 9: Not Taking It Personally

January 24th, 2016


 I‘m taking part in a 30-day writing experiment. The theme for me is “personal, not pretty.” See Kale & Cigarettes for details and the Facebook Group to read stories by other 500-words-ers.

My husband regularly tells me I need to be more thick-skinned. My response to this is usually, “Wrong. You need to never say things that hurt my feelings.” 

As a writer, any kind of creative, or just, you know, a human, it’s so hard not to take what people think and say about you personally. I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for about 8 years now, and I’ve started to notice that there’s a real rhythm to the feedback I get and the way I feel about myself. Sometimes, I go through periods where I am flawless. Everyone loves me; clients adore every single word I write; I am killing it.

Other times, for seemingly no reason, I can’t do anything right. This week has been a week like that. Right off the bat, I was fired by a client for the first time ever. I’ve never been fired in any capacity in my life. Except, you know, by boyfriends.

It stung. I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed for myself that I hadn’t done a good enough job on the project, and embarrassed for the client for having to fire me. He was a really nice guy. I could tell he had to get the nerve up to call me and let me know he didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere with the copy. I was gracious, and we parted amicably. Still, it was mildly degrading.

I have to admit, I had been hating the project. I had been desperately wishing it would just go away. After the client and I vetted each other for a while, and we agreed to work together, we embarked on a weeks-long process of trying to create branding copy for his business, a big-data company with a very esoteric application that I still, I am afraid to say, do not fully understand.

I write about tech all the time; I have a knack for it. But big data is a beast. It’s something the real brainiacs obsess over, and these guys were smart. After countless meetings and brainstorms and versions and revisions, I still wasn’t coming up with anything that would serve them: Make their company’s product sound simple, in laymen’s terms, without losing phrases like “cognitive machine learning technology” in the headlines. It was a losing battle for me.

When I got off the phone after being fired, I felt a queer mixture of things: embarrassment, like I mentioned, but also relief, liberation, and a strange sort of joy. I had gotten through it! I had gotten through being fired! I lived!

The next day, another client called me to tell me that the company who was publishing her book praised the manuscript for being in “much better shape” than most they get. I had worked hard on the editing, and felt pride on hearing this.

The next day, yet another client responded to my latest version of his bio with “What is this? I hate it!” I felt angry.

The point is, I have a strong reaction to every single one of these things. Criticism makes me feel bad about myself. And praise makes me feel elated.

But my reaction isn’t really serving the higher purpose: do good work, so that my job is rewarding, meaningful, and lucrative. I try to always take a deep breath and not take it personally. And about 1% of the time, I succeed. So, there’s room to grow. 

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One Response to “Day 9: Not Taking It Personally”

  1. Liz Robinson says:

    Ah, such a relief to read. I have weeks like this, too. I think this is a natural part of doing work that can often only be evaluated subjectively. In my opinion, you are a wonderful writer. I look forward to every post!

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