Putting yourself in the public eye, whether it’s as a sports competitor, martial arts instructor, writer, actor, film producer, etc, is a bold move for any person. What you create or impart is a representation of who you are, your knowledge, talent, efforts, and skills. The more people you touch, the bigger your potential impact on the world around you. Being in the public eye puts you in a position where you can have great power, but simultaneously puts you in a position of great vulnerability. For people to see you, you have to rise above the crowds. In doing so, it makes it easier for them to throw rocks.
When you decide to put yourself out there, the true you, your beliefs, your values, your blood, sweat and tears, you expose yourself to those who would tear you down. The worst culprits are those who aren’t brave enough to make a statement themselves so they criticize those who do as a way of bringing these courageous souls down to their level. As they say, there are 2 ways to have the tallest building in town; build yours taller than anyone else’s, or knock down everyone else’s.
Enough metaphors. I am both a martial arts instructor that teaches both at my own dojo and for large seminar groups comprised of students and teachers from other schools. I’m also a blog writer and published author. In my experience, my instruction has pretty much always been well received. If there were people who didn’t like what I had taught at seminars, or disagreed with my methods they either kept it to themselves or consulted with me for further clarification respectfully. When people have to face you in person, they are more likely to be respectful because there are consequences to their actions socially. As a writer, it’s a different story.
The Internet empowers everyone, giving each person the opportunity to make their voice heard. The anonymity, however, gives people more freedom to be rude and insulting because of the lack of consequences. No one knows who the anonymous critic is, but the person criticized is more likely to have attached more of their identity to whatever content they created or shared through whatever website, blog or social media platform. As writer, I am happy to say that my recently published ground defense book has been well received by the types of martial artists and law enforcement/security professionals for whom it is primarily intended. I have, however, also received some flak from Internet “trolls.”
If you’re inspired and you’ve got something to share with the world, something that you just can’t keep to yourself, I’d like to share some things to remember that will help you deal with the experience of putting yourself in the public eye.
Anything of value to humanity will be criticized. As more people start seeing your work, there will be critics. Some will have valid points you can learn from. Others will not. It’s a lot like dealing with spam email. If you receive a random email, and you don’t know the sender and there is nothing of value in it, you flag it as ‘spam’, unsubscribe (if possible), delete and move on. You don’t get angry at every spam email you get (or you will indeed become a very angry person), nor do you swear yourself off email altogether. As Aristotle put it, “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Recognizing this means you have to learn not to take it personally. The next point will help with this.
There is something to be learned from every critic. Consider the critic’s thoughts carefully. Consider their experience. If there is something to be learned from them, acknowledge the information, perhaps even thank them for their efforts if they offered their critique politely and fairly. But if the person is disrespectful, has no real expertise or experience, or if they haven’t really made the effort to read/understand your content, simply disregard them. If you feel a response is required, thank them politely for their thoughts in a dispassionate, generic way. There is no need to fuel the fire with defensive statements. In doing this, we learn composure, to keep cool under fire, a skill that will keep serving you if keeping spreading your work. If the person, however, is disrespectful, but makes a point that has value, try to learn from them, as tough as it can be. You don’t necessarily have to respond to them. I prefer not to validate people with poor manners, but you can still take the information on board to improve what you do.
Don’t become insufferable! No matter how much approval you get, no matter how much fame and fortune (if applicable), don’t let it go to your head and become so self-important that you treat people as beneath you and expect others to put you on a pedestal. It is an attitude that can creep up on a person subtly so do your best to keep your ego in check, and keep giving others the respect you would yourself like to receive.
To thine self be true. Shakespeare immortalized these words hundreds of years ago, but they remain as true today as they did during his time. If you’re going to put yourself in the public eye and take on all the risks and responsibilities that go with that, make sure you stay true to yourself and the purpose of your work. Everyone will have different thoughts and ideas about what you do, and it’s okay to listen to them, even incorporate them, but only do so because it is in line with your values and vision. Your perspective of the world is uniquely your own, and it matters just as much as anyone else’s. No matter how things go, even if your public experience goes completely sideways, if you stuck to what you believed in, you’ll always be able to hold your head high. There is no other form of respect more important than self-respect.
I’m not gonna sugar-coat things for you. Not everyone can handle being in the public eye. It can be an emotional roller coaster to say the least, especially when you first enter the domain. You’ll experience your fair share of irritations, upsets, hurt feelings, and if you only focus on the negative, this will become your experience of it. Don’t bother hunting the trolls. Negativity is their way of life. Just stay away from their natural habitat. Focus on the positive, learn from your mistakes, and grow as a person. Being in the public eye has the potential to elevate what you do to a whole new level, internally, externally and in your chosen path.
Have you any experience of putting yourself out there in the public eye? Do you have any other pieces of advice to share from your experience? If so, please do so in the comments.