1 reason you have a hard time with haters.

Frame

Sometimes criticism crushes me.

A one star review wrecks my day. An online barb served up via Twitter knocks me off course. A comment via email throws me for a loop.

Why do I get stuck so easily by random strangers and their words? Because I’ve confused my art with my identity.

That is a mistake.

Your art is not your identity. It’s not who you are, it’s a byproduct of knowing who you are. The difference is subtle but critical.

If you believe that what you make is who you are, when people criticize it, you receive the criticism very differently. They are not commenting on your book or business or blog, they are commenting on your soul. Your very identity is up for grabs for the faceless Internet masses if you make the mistake of thinking you are your art.

You are not.

I am not.

I write books. My latest is called “Do Over.”

That is my work.

When someone criticizes my books, they have not criticized me.

They have commented on something I have created. Not who I am.

The challenge of course is that to create your best art, you have to put your identity into it. You must lean into it with your heart, opening a vein, pouring into the project with the very best of you are. But once it is created, once it is finished, you have to divorce yourself from it in a way. You gave it your heart, but you did not leave your heart with the project.

You took your heart with you. So that you can create something else with it next time.

That is the tension of art and life. In order to create something meaningful you have to put yourself into it, but at the same time you have to let it go.

Because that thing you made, is not you.

You are bigger than a book or song or a project or an anything.

Your identity is not up for grabs.

Your art is.

And those are two very different things. 

Don’t forget that.

33 Comments
  • Amy Campbell
    Posted at 08:51h, 23 October Reply

    Jon,
    the reason it resonates as true that I AM my work, is that my work is so much a part of me…it comes from my brain, it’s inspired by my spirit and it pumps in my veins with my heart in the hours I toil. I like YOUR version better…I wish it felt more true than the alternative. Today, and every day of my professional life, my work has been ME, personified in some fashion. My quality standard. My essence of beauty, or whatever. I may need more than ONE blog post on that to change it. I also may not be alone in thinking that it’s NOT a little fine line of thinking easily crossed over. It may require incredible work and insight. YOU sir, may need to author another book on this very subject.

    • Melody Grace
      Posted at 23:59h, 23 October Reply

      Can I have an autographed book on this subject? I’m with Amy…now, get to work and write it. 😉

  • David Mike
    Posted at 09:03h, 23 October Reply

    Someone (Jon Acuff) told me once to just say “You might be right.” Then walk away.

  • Isabel
    Posted at 09:08h, 23 October Reply

    I like that and reminds me of my book “Identity Crisis in the World of Entrepreneurs”. What I realized is that when people start to find their true identity in what they DO instead of who they are BEING, we get tangled up. Just lets say you suddenly can’t do what you feel is your life purpose – What then? There is a reason why so many people get depressed. We have to identity ourselves with something way bigger. When I coach I often ask: What if you wouldn’t have to help anyone, make them understand or make people happy (add whatever you feel is your life purpose)? The world is perfect as is – now what would be your life purpose, your identity? We are called to bring the Kingdom of God to this world. We can’t do that if we don’t understand our identity in our BEING. I mean, you probably won’t say to God when you get to Heaven that you don’t feel like you have a purpose here anymore and you would like to go back. Therefore our identity has to be created outside of what we DO.
    Great post, Jon!

  • Kristin
    Posted at 09:15h, 23 October Reply

    I think the thing I struggle the most with is being misunderstood, or feeling misunderstood. My work is my ‘truth’, at least for this point in time, and I just want people to get it. I was reminded today that my job is telling my truth. My job is not how others recieve it. And there will always be some who won’t get it.

  • Anna
    Posted at 09:47h, 23 October Reply

    This was the lesson my first improv teacher tried to tech us. Over and over she would say, you’re not what you do.

    Which is a lesson I don’t think I’ll ever master. But three years of trying and I can see tiny baby steps of progress.

  • Cherie from Queen of Free
    Posted at 09:49h, 23 October Reply

    Well that was what I needed to hear.

  • KC
    Posted at 09:49h, 23 October Reply

    Amen. Identity is a tricky thing. Love the concept of pouring our heart into something, but taking our heart with us when it’s over.

  • Zechariah
    Posted at 10:09h, 23 October Reply

    Thank you Jon. It is so easy to wrap my identity into my work. A great reminder today.

  • Rick Theule
    Posted at 10:10h, 23 October Reply

    Yep. The other day I wrote a similar blog post. The idea of “I am my work” is so ingrained in us. Time to flip things around. I have a Day Job. I have a Dream Job. NEITHER of them define me.

  • Melody
    Posted at 10:17h, 23 October Reply

    Criticism drives me crazy – because I don’t think I’m wrong. I drive everyone else crazy – because I don’t think I’m wrong.

    But really, when you’re walking up to someone and saying, “Your entire style is incorrect” – why? Go home if you don’t like it. I clearly didn’t make it for you.

  • STroll
    Posted at 10:35h, 23 October Reply

    The Information Superhighway is like a regular highway: smile and wave.

  • Emily
    Posted at 10:35h, 23 October Reply

    Such a hard thing to remember sometimes. My work/art can’t please everyone, and I shouldn’t strive for that anyway. It’s hard to separate my identity from my work when I put so much into my work and don’t have a lot of other things that take up as much time in life like my career does (i.e. no spouse, kids, etc.) It’s in this kind of time in life that this lesson is one of the most important ones to learn and remember so later when there are even more distractions, I can stand firm in my identity (and faith!).

  • Tammy Helfrich
    Posted at 11:16h, 23 October Reply

    This has been a huge mindshift for me over the last few years. Loved this line, “You gave it your heart, but you did not leave your heart with the project”

    It’s so important to put our hearts and souls into the work we do and do it well. But we don’t leave our heart there. Another subtle difference, but a very important one.

    Keep sharing your insight and what you are learning, Jon. It helps so many people see things differently.

  • Claire
    Posted at 11:21h, 23 October Reply

    I needed this reminder! Thank you! I work in a pretty tough niche industry (grief, divorce and loss) that no one wants to acknowledge or discuss to begin with and the clients who come to me are hurting and defensive. I have to remind myself daily that they aren’t attacking ME, and I’m not for everyone… Some days I’m better at this than others…

  • Deidrea
    Posted at 12:35h, 23 October Reply

    Fantastic, fantastic post! I had to learn this myself a couple years ago. And it makes perfect sense. After all, God creates many extraordinary things that reflects who He is, but they’re not Him. Our work reflects who we are, but isn’t us.

    And art is a matter of taste anyhow. If someone doesn’t like your art, it’s simply because God gave them another sense of style.

  • Christiana
    Posted at 13:43h, 23 October Reply

    Thank you so much I needed this.

  • Jessica
    Posted at 15:38h, 23 October Reply

    Thanks so much for the reminder, Jon. My insecurities always flare up if I don’t get likes or shares on my posts. I’m constantly having to remind myself why I’m blogging and not change my content to please my readers. It is about sharing my voice and the way I see the world through the camera lens. That being said it is hard to separate my work from who I am. But I am trying.

    On a separate note, my husband and I are taking a Financial Peace University course. We were so excited to see you guest speak that I think we freaked out a few people around us! We were all, “It’s Jon! Woo hoo!”

    Thanks for your work. You are appreciated!

  • Heath Padgett
    Posted at 16:27h, 23 October Reply

    Jon,

    This couldn’t have come at a better timing. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart in this post, even if it’s with you right now and not really here. This helped me today.

    My favorite line –> You gave it your heart, but you did not leave your heart with the project.

  • Shante Kiefer
    Posted at 18:25h, 23 October Reply

    Amazing. Simply amazing. I’ve had it wrong. I’ve been leaving pieces of my heart scattered throughout the land of projects and tasks. They lay waiting for review. But Jon, I like your way better. Thank you for this!

  • Erin
    Posted at 21:26h, 23 October Reply

    thank you for this. I need to remember it when I fear showing others my work

  • Eduard Trandafir
    Posted at 02:29h, 24 October Reply

    Thanks! We all need to remember this.

  • Marcus Smith
    Posted at 07:47h, 24 October Reply

    Jon – here’s another thing to keep in mind about “haters”: This is something I learned in art school. A teacher told us about an incident in which a person at one of her shows spent like 10 minutes just ripping into her over her work. At the end of it all, instead of getting upset over it, she said, “wow! you just spent 10 minutes talking about my art. I must have done something right!” With anything creative, if someone was touched by it enough to respond to it, either in a positive or negative way, you’ve done your job. It’s only when everyone is like, meh.. about it when you have to worry. I’ve been doing vlogging and sketch comedy (I use the word “comedy” loosely) on Youtube lately, and it bugs me when no one says anything at all about my videos. Can I get a hater? anything?

  • Jana Greene
    Posted at 12:41h, 24 October Reply

    Thank you for this! My book received a one-star rating for the first time last week, and I really felt the wind knocked out of me. It was pretty ouchie.

  • Katie
    Posted at 09:09h, 29 October Reply

    You have to divorce yourself from your work. Yes. I have found this again and again. It’s also the best way we can continue to grow as an artist/worker/creative. We must be able to take criticism, correction if it applies, and be willing to grow and change. Yes, we must separate from it. It’s a sign of maturity if we can.

  • Rob Schultz
    Posted at 12:53h, 04 November Reply

    I think that this is where you drop the mic, now, and walk away. Well said, sir.

  • Dr. Jim Sellner, PhD., DipC.
    Posted at 16:04h, 17 November Reply

    An indication of a strong authentically developed ego is when one can distinguish between “What’s me” and “what’s not me.”
    “Your book, blog is cr-p, not worth reading – throw it in the garbage.”
    Author: “Oh ummm, thank you. I disagree.”
    Th philosophical thing is this.
    Everytime I say “i am” someone will be inspired to say “i am, too.”
    Sometimes the “i am too” arrives in a poorly wrapped package.

    “Your book is fantastic. Great read.”
    Author: “You have good taste.”

  • Josue Molina
    Posted at 12:13h, 03 December Reply

    It’s very important for me to keep this mind. Because being a christian artist is by far the hardest thing to be.

  • Rebekah EVans
    Posted at 12:24h, 03 December Reply

    As a professional artist (dancer) I can not thank you enough for this. My physical body has been my and other peoples canvas to create art so to be able to separate from that and just be is freeing! This really spoke to my whole person!

  • jerry
    Posted at 12:29h, 03 December Reply

    Thanks Jon,

    I am a “photographer/digital artist” and I struggle with this all the time… thank you for putting it into perspective.

    BTW… I’m from St. Joseph, Michigan. And we recognized EVERY spot you shot from. 🙂

  • Suzewannabe
    Posted at 06:56h, 04 December Reply

    I will always keep in mind what you wrote in Start :
    “like someone driving by your house and yelling ‘I hate your lawn!'”

    Haha! Love it!

  • Suzewannabe
    Posted at 07:04h, 04 December Reply

    Before I finished ‘Start’, i blogged about Start and an annual review after losing 2 dads and having 2 surgeries:

    http://suzewannabe.com/2014/11/27/fear/

    God then showed me that I am not a geologist,; I am a teacher, guide and healer:

    http://welliebellie.com/2014/11/30/the-answer-from-god/

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