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 Fool and His Money? (Diet for Dreamers)

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All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. —Walt Disney

Many of us are familiar with the story: a young Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job because he “lacked imagination”! Learning that one of the world’s most creative and successful entrepreneurs struggled through his own share of rejection, is incredibly inspiring for the rest of us wannabes. Unfortunately, Uncle Walt never worked for a newspaper. He did work for an ad agency, however; only he was never fired from the company.

It’s impossible to find a reliable source for this fanciful anecdote. Like most urban legends, someone somewhere got the facts wrong, and we’ve been repeating the “story” ever since. But it’s all good. Disney did have his share of misfortunes, and he did face many naysayers in the course of achieving his dreams — including two in his own family!

One obstacle Walt Disney dealt with repeatedly was financing. In the early 1950s, when Disney announced his plans to construct a 160-acre theme park in California, there were no investors lining up to help foot the bill — which ultimately grew to $17 million. Disney was turned down by so many banks that he finally devised an alternate means of funding the project: he created a weekly anthology show called Disneyland, which he gave to the fledgling American Broadcasting Network. ABC was ranked third behind CBS and NBC, so the “alphabet network” benefited greatly from airing the popular show. In return, ABC joined with Western Publishing (which had gotten the rights to publish comics and activity books based on Disney characters) in bankrolling Disney’s dream world.

Disneyland opened in 1955 and immediately became one of the chief destinations of vacationers from across the globe. There’s an ancient proverb that “a fool and his money are soon parted,” but that certainly wasn’t the case with Walt Disney. He may have had the most grandiose dreams, but he was no fool — contrary to what his critics thought.

Disney hadn’t always been the best business manager, though. Based on the financial success of his earliest cartoons, he and his brother Roy had purchased their own animation studio, Laugh-O-Gram, in 1922. Then Disney recruited the best animators he could find, paying each of them a salary far more generous than Disney could balance against his studio’s profits. Within months, Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt.

Further defeats lay ahead of Disney. His first breakout cartoon character was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a comical and “exceptionally clever” creation that was not only a hit at the movies, but which also made beaucoup bucks in merchandising. But Uncle Walt saw very little of the profits; he’d signed a contract with Universal Pictures which gave the studio complete ownership. Eventually Universal hired away most of Disney’s animators and then took over the production end of the Oswald cartoons. Universal had gotten a “Lucky Rabbit.” Walt had gotten the boot!

Such failed business ventures don’t exactly bolster confidence in one’s ability to succeed. Which is why the creator’s next project was universally greeted with dismay. Uncle Walt wanted to do something that had never been attempted before; he wanted to produce a feature-length animated movie — based on the children’s fairy tale, Snow White. He also wanted realistically rendered human characters and elaborate special effects. To create his unorthodox masterpiece, Disney would need to hire an art professor to train his animators in a more realistic style of design; and the studio would need to experiment with advanced processes and, hence, purchase all new equipment, such as a multiplane camera.

When the film industry learned of the project, they jokingly dubbed it “Disney’s Folly,” confident that such a movie couldn’t be made and that attempting such an audacious feat would ruin Disney Studios. And it almost did. The production, which commenced in early 1934, took the better part of three years, and before the movie was finished the studio did indeed run out of money. In order to finance the remaining work, Uncle Walt screened a rough cut of the film to a group of investors who applauded it.

Shirley Temple presents “Uncle Walt” with an Oscar for Snow White — with 7 mini statures to represent the dwarves!

Meanwhile, Disney’s brother Roy begged the creator not to gamble with the studio’s future. And even Disney’s wife pleaded with him to drop the project. But Disney refused to give up on his dream. He also refused to let his past mistakes define him, or to listen to well-intentioned advice from people who couldn’t catch the vision. Then again, perhaps he was just stubborn.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the most successful movie of 1938. During its initial run, the film earned $8,000,000 — which today is roughly equivalent to $135 million. Disney was often, precariously, parted from his money, but he was no fool. Just a dreamer.

Don’t allow yourself to be defined by past failures. Dream big. Follow your instincts and the leading of the Lord. “You will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way. Follow it, whether it turns to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21 GW)

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