Choose Critics Carefully

In my 20’s, I wanted to do everything. In my first career as a teacher, I sought out constant feedback from supervisors and colleagues about specific areas of improvement. I was – and am – ambitious. I love feeling like I’ve worked hard and done a job well. I’ve always found deep meaning in the work that I do, and I like going above and beyond to contribute to whatever team I’m on.

During and after projects, I constantly asked for feedback on how I was doing and what I could do better. I asked both supervisors and colleagues for input, and I worked my tail off to implement it. I wanted to do everything for everyone because I didn’t want to let anyone down.

One particularly hard year, I was sitting with my boss designing a survey for employee feedback. Morale was low, and the culture was on the verge of toxic. I thought we were getting together to design a survey that would ask about all areas of the organization; it turned, out, however, she only wanted very narrow feedback on one issue. Upon telling me this, she saw the surprise on my face and said, “Look, I know we’ve got issues. If I asked everybody about everything, I would never be able to do anything about it. Plus, I don’t trust everybody – why solicit feedback when I don’t actually want their opinion on everything?” In the moment, the idea of not wanting feedback from everyone was almost foreign. After that conversation, I thought long and hard about part of her message: why seek everyone’s opinion? Is it truly helping me improve? Or, was there some other reason I was constantly wondering what everyone else thought?

I began to examine myself. Why was I so quick to solicit feedback? Did I really need or want to hear everyone else’s opinion on my work? In many cases, the answer was no. I realized I was often seeking validation on the work that I had done. I was focused so much on what others thought because I wanted to know that I had done well. When I received adjusting feedback from others besides my direct supervisor, I was often overwhelmed with unnecessary action items. Instead of doing my best and being confident in my work, I was reaching out too much to others to help direct my work.

I’m still always constantly trying to improve. As a first-year law student, I see the mountain of information in front of me and am aware of my limited skill set. But, I’m more careful about who I seek input from. I don’t ask just anyone to give me advice on what I could or should do differently. By being more deliberate about seeking input, I’ve allowed myself to trust myself more and resist the need for outside validation.

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