Taking my lumps and seeking advice
For the most part I can take critique. I can. In my 20s I was terrible at taking it but somewhere in my 30s I gained an appreciation for good critique — people telling me things that could make whatever it is I’m doing, better. For many people, and for me up until recently, critique usually comes from just a select few – a friend reading your article, a partner going over a story, a kid giving feedback on how exactly you could make dinner edible. But that’s changed. When you publish something like a magazine, your critiques come from all over, all the time.
And I should be okay with that. But since I’m also a person that likes to please everyone, getting feedback from dozens, hundreds, thousands of spinners can be a bit tough on the brain, you know? It’s impossible to please all those people but what about when your brain constantly tries?
I’m not complaining or whining. Really, I’m not. I’m looking for advice on how to deal with this internally, in my own head. I intellectually realize that I can’t possibly make every spinner happy. I totally realize that. But sometimes my brain is sneaky, uncontrolled, and it still wants to. And so when I get emails from spinners that think the print is too big, or too small, or that there should be less photos and more content, or that they’d like to see more big photos, or that there’s not enough weaving/crochet/knitting, or that they like the themed issues but only if they are interested in the theme, or that they’d like more advanced and technical articles, or that they’d like more beginner articles, or that they’d like it to be cheaper (I can’t fix that one without adding more ads), or that they’d like their mail carrier to deliver it quicker, or a hundred other things that I get emails about, my brain obsesses a bit.
Okay, who am I kidding? It obsesses a lot. I know it’s not rational. I do. But I can’t help it. I write and rewrite a response to them in my head for hours, sometimes all day. I can’t get past it. Some of my responses want to give them what they want, some are defensive, some explain in way more detail than anyone would want why I just can’t do it, or how it’s a delicate balance, or how on and on in my head.
I’m not looking for anyone to say that they shouldn’t write me, I’m glad that people do write, I actually value every email I get (except the very mean ones, but those only come in occasionally, twice a month or so), I’m just trying to figure out how to deal with it all.
Anyone have any ideas? Anyone have to deal with this kind of thing – being a people pleaser and hearing from lots and lots of people the various (and contradicting) ways to please them?
Jillian told me before I started the magazine that it would break my heart. It hasn’t broken my heart yet but it’s threatening to break my head! Actual advice very much appreciated!
Do the best you can. There is rarely only one right way to do something. Share advice that you know to be technically sound that has worked for you. Create a forum for open discussion and debate. This is a wonderful, enriching thing, and you should be very happy about it!
Do you track ideas and see which ones are the most common? Those obviously will be the ones the most people want and the best to implement – if possible. (Sometimes people, in droves, ask for the impossible.) Let people know you’re tracking their ideas – it’s something you can do about their request and they know they were listened to.
Also a FAQ might help to answer frequent questions.
Things in limbo tend to overwhelm me – so I wonder if something like this might help ease your mind.
You know the saying “haters gonna hate”? Well, it’s true.
There are always, always going to be people who are going to complain. Always. You could be giving them a giant stack of hundred dollar bills and they will complain that they have to go to the hassle of breaking the big bills, why couldn’t it be 20’s??? And that is their issue — not yours. Your magazine is beautiful and amazing and wonderful.
BUT you also do not need to personally reply to every such email. I’m not sure anyone expects that anyway. Come up with a polite, uniform response like “Thank you for your feedback! We appreciate your comments!” or something similar. You copy and paste it every time. Maybe you can also direct folks to a FAQ page or something when they’re complaining about mail delivery or any other questions you get constantly. Then you focus on the handful of ones that DO merit a response.
You can’t drive yourself crazy worrying about pleasing everyone all the time. Ain’t ever gonna happen! 😉
I don’t usually weigh in on conversations like these and instead take a back seat, reading and reflecting on the comments left but I felt compelled to write because I really respect the work that you are doing and want to see you continue doing it. I think you are in a conundrum because the above commenters are absolutely right that ‘haters gonna hate.’ However, I think (in my incredibly humble opinion) that there’s more than that just going on and that simplifies the issues too much.
In the past, I have struggled with this exact issue. I sought some counselling help for it and it came down to managing expectations. People will always try to inflict their expectations onto you and your work until you start to manage those expectations. When a person constantly opens themselves up to criticism, you’re going to get it. Or if one is constantly opening oneself up to wishy-washy answers, one is going to be barraged with ‘feedback’. I think people are looking for hard and fast.
Can I give you an example? My mother-in-law was going on and on about how we could accomodate more people to stay at our house if we moved the kids sleeping arrangements around and just ‘dealt with it’. I found it hard to say what I really wanted to say which was no. After talking to my counsellor (this was in the midst of my PPD), she said that was exactly what I needed to say because rather than coming out and asking ‘Can we stay?” which was what she wanted to know, I was being equally unclear. In the end, “No, we aren’t willing to move the kids around. This is the reasonable alternative ..” completely shut the conversation down in a respectful manner. The same is true of the crochet/weaving/knitting comment. This is what the magazine does, period. We are here to fill ‘x’ niche (spinning) and that is our focus, period.
It becomes about managing those expectations clearly, respectfully and in a way that clarifies your position, rather than coming at it from “Oh well, I’d love to help you and write my articles to you but you know we have all these other ideas and people to cater to and and and” (I’m not saying you do this by any means, but I am giving an idea of what can happen in ones head when we don’t check ourselves!).
In response, I started checking in with myself. I started asking myself what I would say if no filters or niceties were needed. Then I edited it to be clear, concise and kind. Then I said it out loud, clearly, when I was able to not be triggered. It sounds like a lot of these ‘critiques’ are triggering you personally. They are weighing on you in the day when you maybe are supposed to be thinking about other things. That’s being triggered. I found a scale of 1-10 (1 being not triggered at all, 10 being out of control) was a great way for me to defuse. “I’m a 6 right now. Wow. This doesn’t feel great. That really got under my skin.” immediately took me from a 6 to a 3.
Another technique I used was limiting the exposure. When I was feeling like a 2-3, I knew I was in the head space to deal with the ‘feedback’ and comments. I would open myself up to it and then once I felt saturated, I shut it down and removed myself. It really helped to start to manage my reactions. And with practice, I’ve gotten better and better.
There are many many people out there, myself included, who love what you’re doing and wouldn’t change any of it. They maybe don’t speak up enough so this is me speaking up: I love what you’re doing and hope you continue for many years! Happy spinning, Jacey.
That was an amazing response and such a clear way of laying out an issue that many people (especially women) deal with: being all things to all people all of the time and trying to do it all perfectly. Talk about anxiety producing! Those were some really great concrete strategies to adopt and thank you so much for taking the time to respond because now we all get the benefit of your experience. Amazing!
I replied to Rachel because I thought her advice was spot on. I also wanted to share a thought I had as I read your post. The idea of making a perfect product, perfect anything, is very destructive. It is simply not possible. Striving to make things better is a worthy goal. Remember though that goals need to be well-defined and achievable in order to be helpful. One of the things that you mention above reminded me that even defining what “better” is in this situation is going to be impossible. There is no one definition of better that will work. There may be definitions of better according to a large number of people that might be able to be implemented. But the process of thinking and rethinking responses that you mention is a major waste of your mental energy (you only have a finite amount). I think some of Rachel’s strategies are very well explained.
What have you created? Your magazine can be many things but what did you set out to create? People have many demands and few have constructive ones. Get really clear about what PLY’s mission is in your mind. There are many publications out there (and room for thoughtful people to create more) and it is good that they do different things. You need to possibly do less in order to be useful and powerful and not more. Let me end with a quote from an artist named Louise Bourgeois (you are making art when you spin but PLY is also an act of creation and art so I thought it was apt):
“You must put the essence of what you want to say into a painting. The rest is arbitrary. Chosen with discernment, but chosen, and choice involves elimination… Set out with something to say and not just the vague desire to say something. Things never simply themselves, they always complicate themselves on the way from the brain to the canvas.”
The work you do is wonderful and I love PLY and I look forward to it every season. You have made a beautiful thing and I want you to know that I am deeply grateful for it.
I just started your Craftsy Spinning class last night. I am a new spinner and am really wanting to be “good” at it. You have pulled me into the fold even deeper. I knit as well and am always intrigued by color, texture, feel, fashion, and fit. Thank you for your part of helping to educate me as I plug along with this new-found aspect of art.
Having started a niche needlework shop and run it successfully for some 10 years, I see you talk about some of the same issues I ran into. I think there are a large number of us talented people out there who can be classified as “Fixers”. We do want to please everyone. We feel rewarded when we are able to share and help others. The only problem with wanting to do this is we get into trouble. We can’t Fix everyone. We can’t Fix everyone’s idea of how things should be. We often spread ourselves so thin that we forget about taking care of ourselves and our own well being. Sometimes people are so wrapped up in themselves that there is no way they can be happy in this world. They are the “Takers”. We are the “Givers”.
So, my advice to you is not to beat yourself up because YOU CAN’T FIX EVERYTHING. Do your best and let the “Takers” comments just roll off your back. Those people will NEVER be satisfied in life.
Keep up the good work with the new magazine and your other endeavors. And remember to ENJOY yourself.
You’ve gotten some good suggestions, may I add one more?
I once had a job similar to yours providing a service within an organization. Pretty much everyone (hundreds of people) used the service and while it was not a personal passion like your magazine, it was important to me that I do a good job of meeting people’s expectations. We became a victim of our own success: we were so good at customizing things for people that pretty soon they thought we should customize every. single. detail. for their personal experience. Not gonna happen, unrealistic to expect it.
So. I developed a mental basket system – you could use actual baskets or computer files just as well. The “never, ever going to be happy no matter what you do for me” were the easiest to deal with, polite response and into the wastebasket. The “I love you more than I love my kids” – oh wait, we never got any of those, no basket needed. The “I have a terribly unrealistic idea that you can’t do anything about” – went into the “interesting idea, I’ll save it for future reference or send it on to someone who might be interested” basket. Then there was the “I have a suggestion” batch – by far the largest. So large it needed its own basket system.
That system was divided into “great idea, we should try that”, the “too expensive for now”, the “interesting idea, but not where the project needs to go”, the “technology not currently available” and the “I like the idea but I don’t want to get fired” baskets.
You can then decide how much time and head space you need/want to give each of them. And you don’t have to fret because you know you can pick up those baskets and go through them any time you want.
I know this sounds rather silly, but really, just giving a mental shape to them helps keep them from being overwhelming – sort of like cleaning out the junk drawer. You have a vision for your magazine and, while it may change shape over time, it is YOUR vision. Lots of people have responded to that by actually buying the magazine, so you are meeting a need. If you try to take action on all those other people’s visions, it will become something else, maybe good, maybe not, but not YOUR vision anymore.
Turns out I still have feels about this type of situation, hope my strategy has some value for you
And just for the record – “I love you more than I love ice cream”
Delegate. Find a person well-suited for the job, who can take all the critiques, respond respectfully, and only funnel the ones you need to specifically deal with to you.
How about start a spreadsheet, and track how many times per issue you get each type of comment/request? Then you know what to take seriously and what to put on the back burner.
Also, realize this is a problem nearly all women have. We feel like we need to do something about every comment, starting with family then branching out to the world. Focus on what is good for you, and what is good for the magazine, and forget about the rest.
Yes, I think letting someone else deal with it is wise – it is not as if you are ignoring it, you just let someone else sift through it and when there is reasonable constructive critique you get it onto your screen – if not, someone else deals with it. I am a people pleaser – but at some point you just have to do what you think best – and you are doing that and I think the vast majority of spinners out there agree with me: it is the best spinning magazine, it caters to a wide spectrum of interests, it is super well researched and it is yummy to flick through. The way you run it, the way you openly discuss costs and your policies is exemplary. Some of these comments that steal your energy and space in your mind are based on a lack of understanding of the task you are performing – reroute it onto someone else´s screen and keep your energy and your mind free for the formidable task that you are performing! You are putting a lot of yourself into it and that is part of its wonderful success! I am ALWAYS looking forward to the next issue and THANK YOU for your fantastic work!!!
I agree with Rachel’s points: be concise, be clear, be kind. Acknowledge where you are emotionally and why you are at that point.
As far as myself, I wouldn’t say “Haters gonna hate” because it sounds like these people enjoy what you are doing and it would be easier for you to brush it off if they were asking for the impossible, or improbable.
People think of themselves first. Many of the critiques come from a place of self- interest. “I can’t read the print, it should be bigger.” “I want to see more knitting projects because that’s what I like to do with my spinning.” “I don’t like spinning fine (or silk, or cotton, or insert theme here), so I don’t like this issue at all.” “This article was too technical, I’m just a beginner.” “This article was too introductory, I’m beyond that level.”
Now these are all individual, self-interested critiques. As Amy suggested, cataloging these as they come to evaluate the needs of your community is necessary. You may be missing something your demographic really wants. But what these people do not have is a responsibility and insight into the larger community. They are not receiving the e-mails about magazine, you are. They don;t understand why, you do. And I suspect this is where most of the headspace gets used up. You don’t want to brush off these individual concerns with “Well, the community response is that…” because you acknowledge that this individual makes up a portion of the community (‘Majority response’ falls into the same boat of rather disinterested community to individual concern.) And so you find yourself composing long emails in your head to individual members of the community you love so they feel heard..
I think you have excellent reasoning to WHY you are doing things, why you choose your themes, why you include the articles you include. Unfortunately, it can be hard to articulate those whys in a way that people will understand or appreciate. (In your response, the only self-interested critique you were able to refute was the one of cost, i.e. People want to magazine cheaper, but you would have to have a lot more adspace to make it cheaper. It’s an easily expressed give and take.)
Techniques to help? I’m not sure, because part of your natural response is to interact with the individual. I would suggest having a concise why response such as, “A Cheaper Magazine would mean more adspace and less room for articles. I’ve tried to come to a balance between the two that is the most cost effective for the magazine.” And in the case of dissatisfaction, if they have specific suggestions, themes, content that they can contribute. (and this may be how you always respond.)
I would like to finish by saying thank you. Your magazine is a delight to receive and I acknowledge that it serves a large, broad and varied community of spinners. My needs aren’t always met, but that’s perfectly natural. My selfish individual desire may be waiting for the Angora issue (or an exotics issue that has a small portion devoted to angora since I know that angora is a small subset of the community), but I’ll be more than happy to send pictures and contribute when/if that time ever comes.
This is a tough question. I have been guilty of a similar problem. Can you take comfort in the number of subscribers who are not critiquing. To me a genuine critique comes with a solution (options) not just a problem.
For me a good work out usually clears my head, anything from a good brisk walk to kickboxing or yoga. Spinning is pretty relaxing too:-)
Recently I was with two experienced spinners both of whom mentioned they don’t subscribe to any spinning magazine anymore. As they had never seen Ply I loaned them my back copies. They were bowled over and were going to subscribe. It was the scope of information and the quality of the photography that compelled them to have their own copies.