Stepping Into Feedback

I was pretty proud of myself.  After all, I see myself as a natural.  A natural at writing.  A natural at creating educational experiences.  Well, just a natural.  

The assignment: create and write your own coaching tool.  Our basis was a children's book.  In my initial sit-down, the idea came easily.  I had a title.  I had thoughts.  I had a tool in my mind.   

I went home and took the example the teachers gave us.  I followed all the rules laid out for us.  I already had my logo.  I popped that bad boy onto my letterhead and pressed print.  To be honest,  I was the hero of my story.  All the others, they would be impressed. 

My big moment came.  I had experience at this group coaching thing.  I would present my tool.  They would love it.  Lives would be changed.  I would win the Pulitzer Prize of coaching tools.  (Okay, that last one is a bit of an exaggeration). 

Instead, came the feedback.  It wasn't awful, per se.  I mean there were compliments.  But there was more "You could do this..." and "this was confusing".  

The tears began to form.  I willed them to stop.  I told them to stop.  "Allen, get a grip." (When I talk to myself, I'm always a member of a team that goes by last names).  The feedback kept coming.  The tears kept coming.  The stares kept coming. 

Yep, right there in the middle of coaching class, I was crying.  I tried to hide it.  When the tears wouldn't stop, I willed the group to move on to the next presentation.  

They didn't.  Move on, that is.  They stayed focused on my tool.  Was it helpful?  How will you use this feedback?  What would help you at this point?  My only answer was to crawl into a hole.  I kept this to myself and weakly smiled.  

Finally, we were taking a break.  I could stop crying.  I could compose myself.  We could focus on someone else. 

To be honest, I was a mixture of emotions.  Disappointment that my tool still needed a lot of work.  Sad to find out I wasn't a natural after all.  Being good at this thing called coaching would take practice and hard work.

But mostly, horror that the real me had been exposed to all my coaching friends.  They had found me out.  I didn't have it all together.  I am a hopeless people pleasing perfectionist.  I take things personally.  I DON'T LIKE FEEDBACK AT ALL.  Unless, of course, you are going to tell me how great I am. Then, bring it! 

Sometimes, the bravest thing we can do is to stop and listen to feedback.  It's also the hardest thing we can do.  

I don't know about you, but I long to be the best I can be.  I long to be emotionally healthy.  I long to be a person who is always growing.  I long to be a person who continually becomes more like Christ everyday. 

We can't do that without feedback.  Feedback helps us see ourselves and our work as others see it.  It helps us face our blind spots and the places where we need to improve to be better.  Feedback helps us become who we were meant to be. 

So, what did I learn from this little experience? 

  • Being vulnerable is a catalyst to growth. Let's face it, we don't like being vulnerable.  We want to edit our life reel so the good parts come out.  Sometimes, we don't want to go through the learning process, we just want to have already arrived.   I want to control when I am vulnerable, like right here on the blog.  Crying uncontrollably in front of my class was not how I wanted to do it, in case you're wondering.  But,  unless we let our hearts see the light of day, we don't grow.  We don't change.  And while we think that people are drawn to our put together selves, people are more honestly drawn to a person who is a vulnerable mess over a perfect presentation.  People want to know that you and I are real and allowing ourselves to be a vulnerable mess is the best way to do that. 
  • You are not your work.  Maybe you knew this one already.  I thought I did.  I figured out that I'm still learning it.  We can take feedback personally.  Sometimes, I blame the feed backer.  Why don't they support me more?  And sometimes, I blame me.  Why am I not good enough already?  In the end, we take our work personally because we pour our heart in it.  But you and I are not our work.  I need a constant reminder to not take it personally, improve where I can, and realize I am a loved and accepted child of God regardless of whether my work needs a rewrite. 
  • Listening to the truth is more important than protecting our ego.  To be honest, I would have preferred to live in my dream world where i was still a natural.  I would prefer to come by every skill i need easily - without practice and rewrites.  But, I need the truth more than I need to not cry in front of my class.  I need the truth because I want to grow and become all that God wants me to be.  You and I need the truth because the truth changes us from the inside out.   And I rather live a life that's messy and real with the truth, than a life that seems perfect from the outside. 

I don't know where you are today when it comes to feedback.  Some of us struggle with the negative no matter what area of our lives.  We become defensive.  We are uncomfortable being exposed in front of others.  We've worked hard at showing the world only our good parts.  For others, we may welcome feedback in all areas except one.  Maybe it's our work.  Maybe it's our parenting.  Maybe it's how we show up as a spouse.  Maybe it's our family.  Whatever it is, you know what it is.  What do you become defensive about?  What do you bristle at? 

It takes courage to step into feedback.  We're putting ourselves out there.  We are considering the opinions of others.  We are considering whether we need to change what we do or how we do it.  It's humbling.  It's not for the faint of heart.  It's for those who are willing to step out of the boat and out onto the water. 

It also takes courage to realize that all feedback needs to come before God and HIs Word.  If you're a people pleaser like me, you can tend to take every piece of feedback personally.  You can get caught on a hamster wheel of trying to please all people.  As I said to one of my clients last week, "You can't please everyone, you are not pizza."  

The tricky part of feedback is to recognize where God is speaking.  It's bringing that feedback before the Lord and asking where He is working on a change in you.  Some feedback is meant to be put aside, because we please an audience of One before we begin pleasing others. 

The one foot faith part of all this is to trust that God will speak to your heart when the feedback is from Him.  It's learning to discern when it's time to work on you and when it's time to work on pleasing God above all others.  But mostly, it's a willingness to be humble enough to work on who we are and the work we do to honor God with our lives.