I was at an event recently and ran into another photographer -- someone who I'd never met before and had never heard of. We started talking and began sharing our portfolios with each other. Before I knew what was happening, this person was tearing down my work in front of a room full of people -- and not in a constructful way. She couldn't find one nice thing to say about my art.
I was stunned. And really embarrassed. By the time she was finished, the room was quiet and everyone was either looking at us or trying awkwardly not to listen. It hurt. Bad. I didn't know what to do or say, and I was in an environment where I couldn't just walk away. So, I grinned, beared it and eventually changed the subject.
In the grand scheme of things, this is water under the bridge. But I feel compelled to share this story for all of creators, makers, artists, photographers, lovers and dreamers out there who are where I was just a few years ago.
You see, I've dealt with my fair share of bullies in the past -- bullies that have been and done far worse than a stranger at a neighborhood party could ever hope to do. I know from experience the crippling power of a bully/hater/critic's psychological torture. But I also know how empowering it can be to stand up for yourself. I've always had a positive self esteem, but it took a lot of practice -- and some serious help from people who love and support me -- to realize I could wear all the things I love about myself like armor. That's why I feel so strongly about this blog post. If these words help even one other creative build up a shield against a hater, then I know I've done my job.
Sure, the person who shredded my work in front of a room full of strangers isn't a bully, but the sentiment is all the same: mean-spirited negativity is like venom, and once injected, finding the anecdote isn't always easy. Whether or not that person reads this blog is immaterial. What matters is this: I have no room in my life for haters, and I have a right to keep my life free from people who want to tear me down. We all do.
The night of that event, I didn't lash out. I didn't cry in the corner or bad mouth the other photographer behind her back. Instead, (after getting over that initial sting) I kept my head held high and remembered these four things:
1. Opinions are like... bellybuttons.
Okay, this is the SFW version, but you get where I'm going. The point is, art is subjective, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Ciphering through the noise can be challenging, so it's important to ask yourself a simple question: Does this person bring value to my life?
If the answer is no, F it and move on.
2. Your mom is right. Haters are jealous.
If there's one thing I've learned in my 31 years on this Earth, it's that bullies do a fantastic job of projecting their insecurities onto others. When you're seven and come home crying because of something someone said or did, the psychological motivations of bullying are difficult concepts to grasp. But as an adult, the pain others carry is often so easily detectable. Knowing that someone may be insecure doesn't lessen the sting of harsh words, but it can add empathy to the equation. With empathy, anything -- fear, embarrassment, anger -- can be turned into love, compassion and understanding. Now that's powerful.
3. Art is a process.
A veteran dancer once told me something profound: art is a process and we're all at different stages. In art, and life, we're all constantly learning, growing and evolving. Tearing someone down for something they haven't mastered right now isn't going to help them or you.
4. What other people say about you says more about them.