One simple way to figure out which criticism to listen to.


Criticism sticks.

Compliments slide right off our backs like water off a puffin. (Ducks have had their day.)

It’s a sticky substance, like great wads of gum that will bond you to the street if you’re not careful, preventing you from moving forward.

It would be easy to say, “Screw the haters!” or “Ignore all criticism!”

That’s the type of rhetoric that helps you build an Instagram account with motivational photos, but it’s not great advice.

Not everyone who disagrees with you is a hater. Sometimes they are just someone with a different opinion. Discourse in our country died the day we decided that if I disagree with you it means I hate you.

And not all criticism is toxic. Some of it is actually good for you. Some feedback is extremely healthy. How do you tell the difference between the poisons and the vitamins?

One way is to ask what it cost someone to give you that feedback.

The problem right now is that most criticism doesn’t cost the critic anything. I can leave a 1 star review anonymously on Amazon. There’s no proof I read the book. There’s a “Verified Purchase” label that proves someone bought it, but there’s no way to know if I even opened the book. It only took 42 seconds for me to leave a couple of bile filled sentences and then move on with the rest of my day. This is a fairly new phenomenon by the way.

A friend once asked me, “Do you want to know what Kurt Vonnegut told me?” First of all, I would start most of my sentences that way and second, how do you not respond yes, to that? I of course wanted to hear what the famed author had to say.

My friend, continued, “Kurt told me that if Mark Twain could have had nameless, faceless people writing reviews of his work on Amazon he would have jumped off a building.”

In Twain’s day, it cost something to criticize on a grand scale. You had to be a reporter or a book reviewer. You had to have a platform and platforms were difficult to come by. You might criticize Huckleberry Finn in the comfort of your own home, but you had no way to say something nasty right at the most important point of purchase on the planet, Amazon.

When I wrote advertising for the Home Depot, the point of purchase was one of the most important locations of the entire store. Right by the register is a magical space where people are making final purchase decisions. Twain could have never imagined a world where a stranger could stand by the register and say, “This book sucks!” every time someone tried to buy Tom Sawyer. That’s what a 1 star review next to the buy button on Amazon is doing.

The truth is that criticism that cost the critic nothing, is worth nothing.

That doesn’t mean 1 star reviews are useless. There are some 1 star reviews of my book Start that I agree with. You can tell from their feedback that they have read the entire book and prepared some thoughtful comments. They’re a verified purchaser, sharing their name. The feedback cost them time, the most limited resource of all, and their identity.

The angry tweet from a stranger? That’s 140 characters. That costs nothing and is worth nothing.

The facebook comment full of hate? That took 10 seconds. That costs nothing and is worth nothing.

The backstabbing gossip from a coworker in a breakroom? That costs nothing and is worth nothing.

If the feedback costs the critic something, it might be worth something. They might be giving you a gift, instead of just cutting you down.

If it costs them nothing though, its value is the same.

Move on quickly.

Don’t get stuck worrying about nothing.

P.S. If you liked this blog post, you’ll love my new book Do Over. It’s at minimum, 1 bajillion times better than this post.

  • Charles Mukhtar
    Posted at 08:10h, 04 August Reply

    In my opinion, if the criticism does not add value to me and those I care about the most, it is a poison. Costing someone something does not automatically mean this person is giving a gift. Some people will pay a fortune to break you down just because you are shining above them. Before accepting any criticism, I’d ask myself this questions, “Is it adding value to me and those I care about the most?” Only after answering this question, I’d accept or reject the criticism.

  • Bob Jackson
    Posted at 13:06h, 04 August Reply

    An author friend (NOT Kurt Vonnegut!) says she believes many of the anonymous, venomous critics on the web live for the thrill of the criticism and the validation they get from people who agree with them.
    So even when they don’t pay a cost… they receive a reward.

  • Sharon Kersey
    Posted at 15:05h, 04 August Reply

    Great article, Jon! I actually graduated from high school with your wife’s parents many years ago, and I started following you on Facebook through their posts. Your comments and insights into our daily lives remind me very much of another of my favorite authors, Andy Andrews. I love your perspective on things, and I wish you many more years of success!

  • Jennylou Raya
    Posted at 16:33h, 04 August Reply

    I’ve followed you for years and I think this is my favorite thing you have written. I’ve loved many pieces… the funnies.. the things I wish I could say out loud but don’t (and later you write the same exact thing that’s been in my head). No, I do not have your book and if it is bajillion times better than this, as you say, I just might. Thank you for writing.

  • Huong
    Posted at 17:12h, 04 August Reply

    Quite possibly the best quote from you, Jon. Besides, “Suburban manna” of course. 😉

    Book of Jon Acuff quotes NEEDS to happen.

  • Jewel
    Posted at 23:53h, 04 August Reply

    So true! I just went through this with my daughter last weekend. I gave a comment on her Facebook page against her standing up for something I totally disagree with. Just because I disagreed with her, and I wasn’t attacking Her, she is all mad and unfriended me and will not talk to me! Why can’t people listen to others views without getting SO upset?

  • Whitney Wagner
    Posted at 13:15h, 05 August Reply

    I love this! I will definitely have to remember this when my book is finished, because I am such a perfectionist and a people pleaser. I encounter this constantly at church too, and your wise advice will be much helpful there. 🙂

  • John Sellers
    Posted at 18:02h, 07 August Reply

    We’re just getting our website up and running and getting all the review sites ready so people can review us. It’s always worried me about people leaving negative reviews. I mean, our goal is amazing customer service and we do a great job- if anyone is looking for an electrician in Arkansas, let me know : ) but there are those who, if you look at them wrong, will leave a bad comment about you somewhere in the digital world. I don’t want that to happen to us. But… Thanks for this, Jon. This does encourage me to not worry about the small things. It costs them nothing and is easy for them to do. I’ll focus on the positive reviews!

  • Kate Tilton
    Posted at 07:47h, 17 August Reply

    “Discourse in our country died the day we decided that if I disagree with you it means I hate you.” This line is what brought me to this post. This is so true, so important.

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