Every year at around this time, I sit to reminisce about this column and if I am inspired enough, I write a boring think-piece commemorating the month in which the idea of this column was conceived.
Sometime this month, this column turned four, but it only occurred to me the other day because July has been such a hectic month. This year, as the column steps into its fifth year, I thought I would share with my dear readers — to whom I owe my existence — some important lessons that I have learnt in the course of writing a newspaper column.
The first is that not all critics are haters. As someone who has been on the receiving end of tornadoes of opprobrium and vituperation, it is only fair that I share one or two tips that I picked up over the years. I will admit, the hardest thing I have had to deal with over the four years was how to handle criticism.
Naturally, you don’t become everyone’s favourite if you are writing a column whose claim to fame is controversy, hints of insults and shades of arrogance.
In the midst of the barrage of hate mail, mean tweets, malicious blog posts, rumours, gossip and lengthy Facebook statuses about me, I gleaned an important lesson about criticism; critics make you better.
To have to encounter criticism on a weekly basis about my work not only made me a better writer, it balanced me because I realised that not all critics mean harm and not criticism is hate.
If you take criticism with a strong heart, and if you critically think about what your critics are saying about you, then you realise that critics often have a point.
So forget what your pastors and motivational speakers tell you about ignoring critics. Critics have nothing to lose when telling you the truth about your work, so they won’t spare you when it comes to feedback. Critics give us knowledge about ourselves that we never had before, and if you know better, you do better.
NOT AS SMART
The second is that you are not as smart as you think you are. An equally important lesson that I have learnt is that I am not always the smartest or cleverest person in the room (although sometimes I am tempted to think so), and I have learnt to sometimes just shut up and listen.
Listening is hard, especially if you are a young, passionate and ambitious person brimming with confidence. Bringing myself to the realisation that I do not know as much I thought I knew, and that I am not really as sharp as my mind misleads me to think has brought me more peace than I could describe in a paragraph.
I have also learnt that it okay to be modest and even more important to remain humble. In the same vein, for someone who was really good at retorting back at critics on social media, I have learnt to hold my peace because not every tweet, Facebook post or blog post deserves a response.
We like to tell people the truth about themselves, but can we take the truth when it is dished out to us?
For someone who has built a reputation around being a cocky smart mouth with a sharp tongue and a knack for “telling it as it is”, taking the bitter truth about myself was a difficult pill to swallow.
We all savour the thrill of telling other people the hard truth about themselves, but are we strong enough to take the same truth about ourselves?
The second hardest thing I had to learn how to do — besides learning to shut up and listen — was to take the truth about myself. To be comfortable with some bitter truths about yourself should be a life goal.
At some point in our lives, we need to surround ourselves with people who will call us out on our nonsense — you know, people who will dish out tough love — and tell the truth to your face.
We all need people who will stand up to us and tell us, “Look you’re cute and all, but you are also full of baloney and you need to change”.
CHANGE IS GOOD
Finally, I have learnt that change is good, so I try to embrace it. I have said this before; to avoid change is the surest path to ruin.
For a person who easily gets bored, change and dynamism almost often come naturally to me. So imagine the changes I have had to go through in the four years I have been writing a newspaper column —I cannot condense it in a column.
Since I do not want to belabour the point, I will leave my readers with one challenge; this time next year, don’t allow yourself to remain in the position you are today.