Ten years ago, my friend Sam Dogen wrote a blog post that subtly jabbed at me. Back then, my ego was delicate and fragile, unable to accept that he might be right. For years, I thought he was an asshole
Fast forward to when Sam reached out to be a guest on Unmistakable Creative. By then, I’d matured enough to grasp a crucial truth: never dismiss the value of a message because of the messenger. I recognized that Sam had insights worth sharing with our audience.
Months later, during an interview for his podcast, that contentious blog post resurfaced in our conversation. I conceded that he was right, and he admitted he could have been more diplomatic. But I’m grateful he wasn’t. He had the courage to tell me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear.
In our conversation, Sam said, “Isn’t that interesting though, when we are younger we’re less experienced and our egos are perhaps more fragile. But that’s when we need the most amount of feedback and criticism to get better. And that’s when we’re the least open to it.”
It’s a common pitfall, isn’t it? Many of us navigate life, open to what we want to hear, yet shut off from what we need to hear. And we’re oblivious to how much this receptive resistance hampers our potential in every facet of our lives.
The Paradox of Receptive Resistance
There’s no time when people need feedback more than when they are young or inexperienced. Yet, it’s also the time when people tend to be least receptive to it because their egos are too fragile and it doesn’t feel very good. This is what I call the Paradox of Receptive Resistance.
The “Paradox of Receptive Resistance” is a profound observation about the human condition, particularly during our formative years. It encapsulates the idea that during our youth, when we are most in need of and should be most open to constructive feedback and hard truths, we are often the most resistant to it. This resistance is largely due to the fragility of our ego and our natural inclination to seek validation and approval.
This paradox highlights the tension between what feels good and what is actually beneficial for our growth.
While positive reinforcement and hearing what we want to hear can be comforting, it is often the hard truths and constructive criticism that drive significant personal development. However, the bitter pill of valuable feedback can be difficult to swallow, especially when our egos are most fragile.
Overcoming this paradox is a crucial step in personal and professional growth, leading to sweeter fruits of our labor in the long run.
Sam was actually giving me useful feedback when he called me out in that blog post. It was ridiculous to think that I could spend 6 hours a day in the water and be surprised that my writing career wasn’t taking off. It took years for me to accept that I was ignoring the reality of trade-offs. If I wanted my writing career to take off, that would mean less water time and more writing time.
The Role of Ego
Three years after I started my first blog, a friend introduced me to Betsy Rappaport. Betsy had a reputation for assisting authors in bringing their books to life and securing book deals. I felt a sting of anger when she told me I wasn’t ready, as my ego struggled with the realization that I had much to learn. However, by the time I secured my book deal, I realized that Betsy’s words were not meant to hurt me but to guide me. Her criticism was a gift in disguise.
This led to the establishment of my daily routine of writing 1,000 words, which helped me to refine my skills and clarify the message and mission of what eventually became my first book, “Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best.”
“Whatever we seek to do in life, reality soon intrudes on our youthful idealism. This reality comes in many forms: incentives, commitments, recognition, and politics. But feedback, in all its forms, is perhaps the most crucial,” Sam reflected during our interview.
The paradox of receptive resistance often leaves us blind to the very things that could propel us forward. It is only by embracing discomfort and the truths we resist that we can break free from this self-imposed limitation and reach our full potential.
The Value of Accurate Criticism
Accurate criticism, though it may sting, is the most valuable feedback you can receive. It’s a common tendency for us to yearn for feedback that strokes our ego and reinforces our self-image. However, this type of feedback, as comforting as it may be, rarely leads to significant improvement.
To truly grow and improve, we must be willing to embrace accurate criticism, the kind that challenges our assumptions and pushes us outside our comfort zones. This requires a crucial shift in perspective – separating feedback on our work from feedback on us as individuals. This detachment allows us to be more open to constructive criticism, even when it’s harsh.
Another critical aspect of receiving feedback is considering the source. Not all opinions carry equal weight. Strangers on the internet, for instance, might not always provide the most valuable insights. As Seth Godin wisely pointed out, “anonymous feedback from people who I have no relationship with will cause me to do nothing but hide.”
Fear of public opinion shouldn’t get in the way of receiving valuable feedback. Instead, seek out criticism from those who genuinely have your best interests at heart. These are the people who will provide you with the unvarnished truth, even if it stings, because they genuinely care about your growth and development.
The Importance of Receptivity
When Penguin offered me a book deal, the agreement was conditional upon me collaborating with a writing coach. This led me to Robin Dellabough, whom I met at my literary agent’s office. Robin was upfront about her rigorous approach, promising to be tough on me – a promise that felt more like a challenge. Intriguingly, it was this very promise that compelled me to choose her.
Throughout the process of crafting two manuscripts, the closest she ever came to paying me a compliment was a curt “good.” More often than not, her feedback was brutally honest, bordering on harsh, with comments like “lazy, try again.” However, it was precisely this form of feedback that honed my writing skills. I was receptive to Robin’s critiques, and it was this receptivity that allowed me to grow and improve as a writer.
In the short run, the kind of harsh feedback that’s most valuable can feel like an emotional root canal. But in the long run, you’ll be much better for it.
Overcoming Receptive Resistance
The good news is that it’s possible to overcome receptive resistance by increasing your self-awareness and taking responsibility for your actions and outcomes.
Practice Self Awareness
The first step to overcoming the paradox of receptive resistance lies in self-awareness. Reflect upon instances in your life when you received harsh feedback that initially sparked anger but ultimately proved to be invaluable for your growth. Recognizing these moments can help you understand the importance of constructive criticism, despite the initial discomfort it may cause.
For example, when I went off the deep end after a breakup, my mentor Greg didn’t coddle me with platitudes like “there’s plenty of fish in the sea.” Instead, he told me I was acting like a teenager. When I said that I was human, he retorted, “Srini, you don’t get to make that excuse because of the position you’re in.”
As hard as it was to hear, that feedback proved invaluable later in my career. Greg was teaching me how to regulate my emotions. I learned that as a public figure, I didn’t have the luxury of letting my personal problems interfere with my professional responsibilities, whether I was being called a loser by some Indian mother on reality TV, pitching investors to raise money for my company, or dealing with a romantic struggle before a speaking engagement.
Take Responsibility Even When the Referee Doesn’t Call a Foul
An essential strategy for combating receptive resistance is adopting the principle of “Take Responsibility Even When The Referee Doesn’t Call a Foul.” In his biography about LeBron James, the author shared a story from early in LeBron’s career.
It was game three of the NBA finals, and LeBron had one second to hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. Bruce Bowen, who was defending him, fouled him, but the referee didn’t call it, and the Cavs lost. However, when asked about the call during an interview, LeBron took responsibility and said, “I should have played better.”
Even when you believe you’re being treated unfairly, it’s crucial to take responsibility for your actions and responses. By doing so, you open yourself up to learning and growth, becoming more receptive to feedback, and ultimately overcoming the paradox of receptive resistance.
As we navigate the labyrinth of life, the Paradox of Receptive Resistance often stands as a formidable gatekeeper to our growth. It’s a paradox that whispers sweet nothings, luring us into the comfort of what we want to hear, while muffling the raw, transformative truths we need to hear. But, like a riddle waiting to be solved, this paradox holds the key to unlocking our fullest potential, a potential that can only be realized when we muster the courage to listen — truly listen — to the critiques that challenge us, mold us, and ultimately, lead us to our greatness.