Don’t take it back

The importance of giving and receiving constructive criticism outside of our professional lives.

On my way out to spend a summer surfing in Oregon, my plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Billings, Mont. The pilot announced that we were experiencing a malfunction in engine two. âÄúCould everyone please fasten their seat belts, assume the crash position and remain calm?âÄù The lady in front of me began to cry while the man to my right began to tell me how I was going to love Oregon, like if he pumped me up enough, weâÄôd be sure to get there safe. I stared out the window and tried to breathe. There were a few announcements after that, but I donâÄôt remember them. I just remember my own thought process. I rationalized that if I had to die, the Big Sky Country of Montana wouldnâÄôt be a bad place for my ashes. It was one of my favorite states. Next, I realized that at age 22, I had no major regrets. I loved my family, I had amazing friends and I had done my best to seize every day. Yet rather than serving to pacify me, this was the one train of thought that became the most disturbing. Who the hell lives a life without regrets anyway? Either I have to be Gandhi or one arrogant chick. I am neither, but like many young adults, my perspective about my life is skewed because of what I perceive to be a lack of constructive criticism. As a recent college graduate, I know what IâÄôm good at. I can write a decent essay, but IâÄôm absolutely atrocious at math. I can speak fluent Spanish, but keep me away from a chemistry lab. Yet I still cannot consciously claim that I know who I am or how my actions are perceived by others. This is because we rarely encounter a space where constructive criticism is given within the context of our personal lives. Granted, thatâÄôs what friends are for. But when is the last time a friend has sat you down (sober), looked you in the face and told you how you can improve your interactions with others without you taking the slightest offense? Illumination of your fundamental personality flaws, which we all have, can also come from family members. But these are fairly easy to shrug off instead of address when you know your family is always going to be there, no matter what. We have come to expect and understand constructive feedback only as it applies to the professional workplace. And although it is valuable in this setting, whether youâÄôre completing your TPS reports on time is not necessarily poking at the core of your character. Not only do we need to create a space for constructive criticism in our personal lives, but we also need to adapt the art of giving it and receiving it. When we give constructive criticism, we need to deliver it with our names and faces attached âÄî none of these anonymous online or texting rants âÄî and we need to project it in a way that does not attack anotherâÄôs identity but points the recipient in a direction that complements the many good qualities they already have. When we receive constructive criticism, we must resist the urge to respond or become defensive. The prescription disclaimer might read something like this: Constructive criticism is best taken after a long period of incubation and with the expectation that it takes time for a person to change. It rarely happens overnight. And donâÄôt sandwich constructive criticism between two compliments, just get to the point. Our youth may yawn behind us, but do not believe the myth that our transformative years are over. Never stop stirring the pot. Always ask yourself and everyone else how you can be of better service to those around you as a professional âÄî but more importantly, as a human being. This may seem like common sense, but youâÄôd be surprised at how many of us are out of practice. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected].