July 12, 2019

Action Letters, Listening

033 On Feedback

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Photo credit: Art by Nina Chanel Abney
Photo credit: Art by Nina Chanel Abney

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane.”

– Ann Lamont

When Alicia Garza said that to survive in Maine we must take up our space and be our authentic selves my heart skipped a beat, and I let out a breath I had been holding for about 6 weeks. This month I have been stuck in another loop of incredible amounts of feedback on my looks, my work, my voice, my tone, my behavior, my presence, and my energy, to name a few.

In our work for more just communities, we need feedback to help us learn and grow. And, as young people, people of color, low-income folks, women, LGBTQ+ folks, or other identities that folks feel they need to “fix”, we can find ourselves on the receiving end of feedback that is not in our best interest – that is meant to edit/cut/copy/or paste the status quo onto us.

How can we make better sense of the feedback we receive – some useful to us, and some not?

I have grown immensely from the work of Social Transformation Project on Feedback. And, I thoroughly enjoyed the reality checks of my conversation with Cathy Kidman in this month’s Brass Tacks. When I went to Cathy with this question of feedback, she invited me to first go inward and get right with myself. What would I do when there were parts of myself that scared ME? That was an incredibly useful place to reground myself.

We must create our own tuning fork internally to understand what we need to take from the feedback of others and what we need to leave behind, all while navigating the minefields and pitfalls of perfectionism or denial. We can get lost in listening to all the different words of others. We need a compass, a resonance, a wavelength of honesty and care for ourselves that helps us know when a mirror or piece of reflection is here to help us in our journey.

When processing feedback, I have often received the advice to “consider the source”. Sometimes this useful advice can backslide into – I’m only going to listen to people I trust, or like. That has often been a sheep’s clothing for my own wolf of perfectionism. Once I’ve stepped back from perfectionism, how do I listen without backsliding into a familiar place of catholic guilt and self-denigration. OUPH – that’s a tough one for me.

I have found a small activity useful: sitting quietly with myself and literally finding my tuning fork: bringing forth the wavelength I’m resonating at and then replaying the feedback in my mind and seeing which parts of it land and which don’t. This has been one way to be honest and caring with myself. It take practice, but the more frequently we move towards stillness, the easier it becomes to hear our own frequencies.

As I sat with Cathy, I was thinking about how I found myself in a time when my energy had become imbalanced. I had stopped doing the practices that I knew grounded my body and my mind, and it was impacting my presence in the world. Before I could hear the feedback of others, I had to first admit to myself that I was afraid of my own imbalanced energy. I couldn’t begin to look at myself clearly until I set aside my fear of myself.

When I did, I had to hear some pretty tough things about myself that were coming from people I cared about and some I had just met. At first it was hard to understand the feedback because most people are only able to speak to you about the symptoms of whatever root cause is up for you. I was hearing lots of symptoms of my imbalanced energy, but addressing those wasn’t going to get at my root cause of anxiety and discomfort.

So I had to listen to the symptoms, and find time to sit with myself and ask – what’s really going on for me underneath? All roads led back to the simple truth: Yes, I was trying hard and doing the best I could as a young, working mom – and I had let some bad habits of pushing, rushing, and anxiety takeover.

When I heard Alicia’s words, I remembered my authentic self is not a quiet, calm yogi, nor is it my anxious pusher – my authentic self comes from a grounded energy that is connected to my roots and is building the future I dream of when I’m reading the 8th book of the Expanse series. I’ve been playing with bringing my energy back into balance and I can actually say after I got over the fear, it’s been rewarding and at times even fun.

Alicia and Cathy reminded me that within a storm of feedback, hurt, and fear – I can always find my own inner tuning fork. Do you have ways of hearing yourself clearly while processing feedback?Let’s connect

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