During an overnight airplane flight, I perused the entertainment selections and discovered the audio book Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte. I liked what I heard and found Ms. LaPorte to be an articulate, poetic exponent of living a juicy, authentic life. She had my attention.
One of the ways to recognize your talent and passion, LaPorte suggests, is to consider what other people have criticized you for. I had heard, “What you thought was wrong with you may be what’s right with you,” but the idea of using criticism as a compass to greatness takes the lesson to a whole new level.
Consider, for example, humor writer Dave Barry. In junior high school Barry was the class clown, often dismissed to stand in the hall after disrupting the class. One day Barry’s teacher told him, “You’d better get serious, Dave Barry. You can’t earn a living making people laugh.”
Fast forward five decades: Barry’s weekly columns have been syndicated in more than 500 newspapers, he has written 30 popular books, and The New York Times dubbed him “the funniest man in America.” Oh, and by the way, he also won a Pulitzer Prize.
“The Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan, shy and unpopular as a child, was teased by his friends for spending more time with dogs than he spent with them. They nicknamed him El Perrero, or “dog boy.” Since then he has starred in a wildly successful television series broadcast in 80 countries, written five bestselling books, produced a line of pet products, established dog sanctuaries, and donated large sums to charities.
Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and other genius inventors were chastised by their early teachers for not paying attention in class. Their minds were about other things. Einstein later declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Let’s reframe the verbal and emotional arrows that others cast at you for not fitting in, and regard them as arrows pointing you in the direction you were born to walk. The world rarely welcomes genius in its early stages; more often it is ridiculed. Jonathan Swift said, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Einstein echoed, “Great spirits have always encountered violent resistance from mediocre minds.”
Another way to appreciate your holy weirdness is to recognize that your biggest challenges can become your most helpful assets. Nearly all successful teachers have risen to greatness by passing along the skills they gained through overcoming their undesirable traits. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous had to get beyond their own drinking problem; weight loss teachers were overweight; yoga teachers were stressed; relationship gurus have had bad marriages; and on and on. Your biggest problems offer you the most fertile opportunities for personal transformation and service to others. So don’t criticize yourself for your problems or apologize for them. Turn them into rocket fuel for awakening, a dazzling livelihood and world upliftment.
You will gain far more by authenticity than by conformity. Conformity is safe, but boring; realness is risky, but empowering. After I gave a lecture an audience member told me, “I took a course in public speaking, and as I observed you giving your talk, you violated eight of the ten rules of public speaking. But of all the speakers I have heard, you are my favorite, because you are the most authentic.” I took his statement as a compliment. (I didn’t ask him which rules I broke. I refuse to spoil my career with training.)
I know many people who have either quit or been fired from “straight” jobs because they couldn’t survive as a cubicle dweller. Then they went on to become successful entrepreneurs, selling unique products and services they never would have developed if they remained in their cube. Sherrie Baxter became sick living and working in the rainy Northwest. She contracted Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In finding her way back to health, Sherrie discovered full-spectrum light bulbs that compensate for lack of natural sunlight. As a result, she now has a thriving business (bio-light.com), providing SAD sufferers with the products that helped revive her.
In the New Testament we are told that Jesus told a sick person, “This is not an illness unto death, but unto greater life.” Thus, we might regard the barbs and pains you have been dealt for not fitting into the cookie cutter mold. That mold is appropriate for some cookies, but not for all.
There is nothing wrong with you. Self-criticism is based on illusion. A Course in Miracles asks us to remember, “Let me recognize the problem so it can be solved,” and then, “Let me recognize that the problem has been solved.”
Every experience is a gift, including criticism. If criticism is valid, you can take the feedback and improve. If it is not valid, affirm your strength and your purpose to the contrary. Thank the world for criticism. It is your arrow to positive destiny.