My Relationship with Feedback
It’s April 2016 and I’m in my childhood bedroom in upstate New York, staring at the competition score sheet for one of my dance solos. I’m 17 years old, a junior in high school, and have been dancing for almost 14 years of my life. The score sheet is covered in the scratchy black handwriting of a dance competition judge.
If I were bothering to actually pay attention, I probably would notice that there are plenty of helpful tips and critiques written on the sheet: keep your eyes up on your jumps, lift your chin higher on your turn section, tuck your hips to achieve a nicer looking leg extension.
Instead of reading the critiques, I’m much more focused on the score I received.
It’s low enough to put me noticeably behind most of the other girls in my age group, and I’m wracking my brain for an explanation as to why I’ve failed to score high enough to win a shiny medal or a big trophy. I’ve been dancing for over a decade of my young life and still, I’m missing the point of why I’m doing it in the first place.
A limited understanding of feedback haunted me for most of my childhood.
I believed that being critiqued was a form of failure and as a straight-A, overachieving teenager, failure wasn’t an option. I would shut down when I received criticism, especially when it came to my more artistic endeavors like dancing and creative writing, and I spent more nights crying over the feedback I received instead of working on anything productive.
This negative mindset on criticism didn’t help me get anywhere, it just made me want to give up on most of the things I had started and most of the hobbies I enjoyed.
I had said goodbye to dancing and had nearly gave up writing completely by the time I started college at Full Sail University. I left home at 18 years old to study film at a school over 1,000 miles away because I believed I had to make sacrifices in order to become the famous film director I had wanted to be since I was 12.
But the film program wasn’t all that I believed it would be for me. Spending time on set felt reminiscent of pulling teeth, directing was not nearly as glamorous as I thought it would be, working with cameras bored me, and everything I learned about the film industry made me want to work somewhere else.
I switched programs after about 6 months, entering Media Communications with the thought in mind that this would be my last-stitch effort before I transferred to a different college and tried something more technical and less artistic. My ego was bruised and my confidence was low and I expected that this program would just be more indication of how much I didn’t belong somewhere creative.
Because this was a last-stitch effort, I cared a lot less about my work being perfect; instead, I was just trying things out.
I opened myself up to the possibilities in front of me, I became incredibly honest about my lack of experience, and I actually read the feedback I received on assignments for once because... what did I have to lose?
Most of the topics we were covering in my classes weren’t what I was strongest in, so they served more as experiments for me. Can I take a good photo? Can I design an interesting infographic? Can I create an engaging website? I had no idea. I had never done any of these things before.
I didn’t have my heart set on staying, so I figured it wouldn’t matter if a bunch of people I might never speak to again heard about what I was interested in or what I was working on or what I might end up doing for a living. I kept reminding myself that if professors and classmates didn’t appreciate the work I was producing, I could always just go somewhere else. For now, I was already here, so I adopted the mindset that I might as well work hard until I can find where I could fit in or where I could go next.
But then I never left, because I was producing stuff I was legitimately proud of.
I didn’t get back into dancing, but I got back into writing so heavily that I made it an integral part of my life and my future. I took the initiative with my own creative ideas. I started a blog, I wrote a short film, I edited other people’s work, and I even got an internship.
Along the way, I asked others for feedback constantly. The feedback I received wasn’t always easy to hear and it was often very hard to work on, but I knew I couldn’t get better without it. I had to learn how to forge a path for myself that wasn’t reliant on being the self-conscious, overachieving girl I had spent most of my childhood being. She had gotten me to where I needed to be, but now it was time for a major change.
It’s not about the score anymore, it never should have been.
It’s all about improving myself and my work at my own pace.