Stand Up for Yourself

I stand as a spokesperson in my hometown for the 20-somethings. For the young adults. For the men and women who are no longer students yet not respected as adults. I have conversations with them, for them, and about them. I do it because I feel like much of my identity is wrapped up in being in my twenties. I let that characteristic define me, and I seek to define that characteristic for others.

In addition to feeling that my identity is wrapped up in being a twenty-something, it’s also wrapped up in being a blonde, an introvert, a Californian, a writer, an intellectual, a college graduate,a single, a Christian, and a woman. I take on each of these words and spit them back at the world in a way that lets people know that this is who I am. These words influence my perception of myself, and my perception of others’ perception of me. If that last part makes sense to you, kudos.

There are times when I’ve been called defensive. There was a time this past week where I was called defensive. It came from someone that I feel doesn’t understand many of the words above that I feel are so integral to my identity. This person told me that they wished that I was “yourself, only slightly different” and I immediately went to a place where I felt like I needed to justify myself. To explain why those qualities were good and not bad. To make myself look good, and not to be weighed down by the judgement that I should be someone other than who I am.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending myself against the claim of defensiveness. I know that I have lots of room for growth and maturity. I will admit to being defensive. I’m working on being able to hear criticisms and not rush to argue about whether or not they’re valid. Sometimes they will be, and sometimes they won’t be. Sometimes I will need to speak up, but there are times where that won’t do anything but waste my breath.

I had a youth pastor when I was younger who gave the group of us on our leadership team a great quote about leadership. It’s stuck with me all these years, and it’s one that I am still working on. The quote ran

“You’ve got to have the skin of a rhino and the heart of a lamb [to be in ministry]”

I think he also added “and the roar of a lion”, but maybe I’m just adding that last part to motivate my naturally soft-spoken self to speak up a little louder. I’ve thought about this quote in relation to the leadership positions I’ve found myself in throughout the situations life has offered, and this one is hard for me to master.

Much as I try to stand up, speak out, and live the life of a leader, I spend a lot of time wishing that I didn’t have to develop that thick skin. Wishing that there wouldn’t have to be any criticism. Wishing that we could all get along. I know that we as people are simply too complex for that to happen and so instead of wishing for these things, I hope that the differences don’t divide us too much. That I can learn I don’t have to define or defend my identity, but that I can instead be secure in who I know myself to be and let the rest of the world move on without having to listen to me defend myself.

As I work on this, I’m trying to remind myself of these three things:

1. Life is a work in progress.

2. Be willing to extend grace to myself and to others.

3. Know that criticism isn’t the end of the world, even when it’s personal.

 

Anyone else have tips on dealing with criticism? What criticism have you received that has shaped you for the better? & lastly, when someone criticizes you – what do you do? – defend yourself, or let it roll off your back?

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