Critical Care for Creative People

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As long as someone somewhere is trying to accomplish something, there will be critics. And as long as there are critics in this world, you’ll hear or read negative, even ugly, comments on just about everything under the sun. If you’re a creator, inventor, entrepreneur, athlete, leader, business professional, or ___________ (fill in the blank), your work and quite possibly you yourself, will be criticized at some point. Critics will take special aim at you — whether you deserve it or not. And a few will try to get in some cheap shots. Fact of life. So you need to learn to be bulletproof.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, like many leaders before him, came under frequent attack while in office. We can imagine the political criticism of his policies, whether legitimate or unfounded — along with all the slurs, jokes, and trivialities that accompanied it — had to get old fast. But Reagan never seemed to get frazzled by his critics. In fact, the media labeled him The Teflon President, because nothing nasty that anybody was spouting seemed to stick. Reagan simply let everything slide off his back.

There are two kinds of criticism: valid and invalid. If you encounter valid criticism (Truth), try to learn from it and improve. “To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring….” (Proverbs 25:12 NLT) However, if you encounter invalid criticism (unwarranted, untrue, or immaterial), take it with a grain of salt. Never allow such barbs to pull you down. Think about the motivations behind invalid criticism:

1. Money: There are professional critics who get paid to “evaluate” books, movies, music, sporting events, food, restaurants, public figures — you name it. The best of these critics try to be honest, unbiased and realistic. The worst are nit-pickers who find great pleasure in exposing the minutest flaws and tearing things apart, usually to be entertaining. Face it, critics get paid to be critical. Many feel if they can’t find something wrong, they’re not doing their job thoroughly. Weigh the value of their OPINIONS, and discard any unjust or unfounded criticism. Then move forward.

2. Jealousy: We need to explain this one? Seriously? Okay, there will always be people who are envious of your accomplishments, especially if THEY aren’t successful. Writing or saying bad things is often an attempt to minimize what you’ve achieved, and justify their own shortcomings. Some people try to lift themselves up by lowering others. Soar above it!

3. Fear: No one wants to be left behind! Your friends and family may fear you’ll succeed, while they won’t. By the way, fear and jealousy are critical collaborators. Negative comments from a fearful person should elicit a degree of compassion. Smile and encourage these cowering critics. Don’t take their words to heart.

4. Competitiveness: You may not know this — heh! — but people are competitive. We’re born that way: a baby will compete for a mother’s attention; children quickly learn games rooted in competition; teenagers compete for friends and acceptance; students for scholastic honors and college placements; and adults in the workplace jockey for career advancements. It’s best to not allow this motivator to rule your life and control your thoughts and actions. Many do, though. So, when they try to minimize your achievements, don’t allow their negative comments to DISTRACT you from your personal goals.

5. Pessimism and negativity: Some people are just plain negative. Some actually have a critical spirit; and these people will always find something to complain about, something to nitpick. Antidote: continue to be positive; let these people pick their nits. You have more important concerns.

There will always be critics in your life, people who don’t want to see you rise higher; who may even hope you fail; people who want you to stay right where you are! Understand the motivations behind invalid criticism.  Love the critic, but let the criticism bounce off you. How did Jesus respond to His critics? For the most part, He didn’t. He stayed focused on His mission and mostly ignored them. Go, and do thou likewise!

“We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us.” (2 Corinthians 6:8 NLT)

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A Fabulous Furry Fable! (Encouragement for Creators)

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Here’s the tale of a talented natural scientist, conservationist and wildlife artist, who wrote and illustrated a whimsical little book which no publisher wanted.

Helen Potter was born in 1866, into a prosperous Unitarian family. As a child, Helen and her younger brother Walter played with a menagerie of small animals that included rabbits, squirrels and other wildlife. The two frequently studied the shapes and habits of their furry friends, and soon began to sketch them. This marked the beginning of Helen’s love of nature and the countryside, and it later shaped both her education and her avocation.

Helen privately studied languages, literature, and history with her governess, but natural science became her passion. She spent hours illustrating insects, mushrooms, and fossils she found. She eventually graduated to painting a variety of animals, both real and imagined, in watercolors. During her early twenties, Helen realized she could earn money by printing and selling greeting cards featuring her artwork, so she produced a series of color Christmas cards adorned with her illustrations of mice and rabbits. A year or two later, she realized she could illustrate children’s books.

In September 1893, while vacationing in Scotland, Helen wrote a letter to one of the children of her former governess, a young boy named Noel, who’d been ill. When she ran out of things to tell Noel, she started telling him a story about four little rabbits and their adventures. Helen liked her impromptu story, and in 1900, she decided to revise the tale and try to place it with a publisher. She had definite ideas regarding the size of the book, as well as how the text and illustrations should be laid out; so she created a little homemade booklet of the story, complete with her watercolors of cute rabbits, to promote her ideas to potential publishers.

Helen approached every book company she could think of — including the firm of Frederick Warne. They all said NO! Warne and Company was more eloquent, though: we don’t want your “bunny book”! Following a year of rejections, Helen decided to publish her little book herself, in a very limited black and white edition which she distributed among her friends and family, who in turn shared the book with a few of their own friends. Eventually, an old friend of Helen’s family saw the book, and asked if he might try to find a publisher.

He made the rounds of all the major publishing houses, encountered the same disinterest, and ended up back at Frederick Warne & Company, where L. Leslie Brooke, a prominent children’s book artist who worked for Warne, saw Helen’s self-published book and recommended it to his employers. After months of stalling, Warne finally, and perhaps even grudgingly, agreed to publish the book — in color and according to Helen’s specifications — but only in a small print run. So, on October 2, 1902, nearly a decade after she’d conceived an entirely new type of fable, one featuring anthropomorphic animals who still retained the appearance and characteristics of real animals, Helen’s children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was finally published.

Helen Beatrix Potter’s little book was an immediate success, and quickly went through five additional printings to meet the demand for what ultimately became the first in a series of 23 fabulous furry fables. Our personal favorites are The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester.

More than a century later, the entire series is still in print, still popular, and Frederick Warne is still the publisher of these very profitable books. And The Tale of Peter Rabbit recently provided the inspiration for a hit movie. Not bad for a “bunny book” and it’s sequels!

“Behold, I am doing a new thing…. I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19 ESV)

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