A couple of years ago, I was invited to give a talk at an event in Port Elizabeth. I spent hours preparing and practicing my presentation. Woke up early to catch the plane to PE, so that I can get there early, refresh and mentally get ready for my talk.
When I got on stage, I felt prepared having worked so hard. 10 minutes into my talk, there is the gentleman sitting on the second row who started to yawn several times. So I’m asking myself, after working so hard to prepare for my talk, woke up so early to come here and this guy is yawning, I asked myself why he came to the event. So I was a bit shocked. But as I was talking, I realised the lady sitting next to the yawning gentleman actively taking notes on her pad, she was listening attentively, following the talk and nodding. I then concluded that I should not take the yawning gentleman personally, my talk is not for him. He didn’t get it, the lady next to him got it.
I then took a conscious decision to focus on people who get it. No matter what you do, there will always be people who don’t get it and that’s okay.
The famous comedian is killing it at a club that seats 400. One guy in the back, though, is not laughing, he is just not impressed, he doesn’t find the comedian funny. He doesn’t get the joke, he doesn’t get it.
Miles Davis was shunned by a few people in the audience, even at his coolest.
The theater critic at the Pretoria State Theatre might not like this play, the one that made people cry and was sold out for the entire period it was in circuit.
And just about every blog post and book collects a critic comment from someone who did not like it, did not read it or did not agree with it (or all three) and is not shy about speaking up with a sharp tongue.
Social media has amplified critics, people are good at playing angry bird on social media. We have become experts in criticism, at trolling at other people. Criticizing comes very easy for people now.
For those people, the message from the creator of the work is clear: “It’s not for you.”
If critics troll at your work, it’s okay, it’s not for them. There will be people who will find it very interesting.
The biggest two myths I have learned this year is: “Everybody will like it” and “No one will like it.”
It is not true that everyone will like what you do, and it is also not true that no one will like your art.
“It’s not for you,” is the foundation for creating something brave and important.
You cannot do your best work if you are always trying to touch the untouchable, or entertain those that refuse to be entertained.
“It’s not for you” is easy to say and incredibly difficult to do. You do not have much choice, though, not if you want your work to matter.
As soon as you are willing to say ‘it’s not for you’, you have freed yourself to make your creative work. Not everything you make will be for everybody, nor should it be.
Even more to the point, if you are trying to make something that’s for everybody, then you may be compromising your art, which means you are sacrificing possibility on the altar of pragmatism.
When you are first sharing your work with the world, critique stings. You have very few data points by which to judge whether or not your work is reached and impacting its intended audience. However, as you share more broadly over long periods of time, you begin to see patterns emerging within groups of people who resonate with your work, those who don’t, and those who are indifferent. (As your voice becomes more refined, the indifferent crowd often grows smaller.)
The key is to be willing to listen to critics and incorporate valuable feedback without allowing their comments to stall your progress and growth.
It’s easier to tear something down than to build something new.
“The best way to complain is to make things.” —James Murphy
In those areas where you have discretion over the kind of value you create, have the courage to follow your instincts, to take risks, and to stand up for your work. If you want to see something change, then make something.
Most of all, when a critic arises have the courage to say “it’s not for you.”
Haters gonna hate.
Do your work, your best work, the work that matters to you. For some people, you can say, “hey, it’s not for you.” That’s okay.
If you try to delight the undelightable, you have made yourself miserable for no reason.
In 2016 if you want to write, write, if you want to sing, sing, here is the microphone.