Criticism and Grace

Trigger Warning: discussion of body issues (self-esteem, eating disorders, etc.)

Way back in January of this year, one of my aunts posted on Facebook about picking a word for the year. The idea was that you pick a word that becomes, more or less, your year’s theme. Some people picked thankfulness, others picked joy, I chose the word grace. My thinking going in was that I would work on extending grace both to others and to myself. Now, as we are on the eve of the new year, I think it’s a great time to reflect back on the year and see how it went.

Generally, grace has been more evident in my life this year, although there are a few people that I still need to give grace toward whom I would much rather hold a grudge. Grr…so I’m still not perfect, but it’s been a learning process! I think I’ve most learned how to give myself grace, which honestly sounds like I’m just cutting myself a lot of slack and getting myself off the hook when I really ought to keep squirming on there a little longer. The thing is, I am usually my biggest critic–aren’t we all?–and I tend to punish myself disproportionately to the crime committed.

Zombie Barbossa knows what that's like.

Zombie Barbossa knows what that’s like.

I’ll be blunt: I am a perfectionist. I really really want everything I do to exude quality. I want to be exceptional. If I feel like I can’t meet my own expectations on any given task, I procrastinate as long as I can because the idea of not meeting that expectation makes me sick to my stomach for fear of judgment and criticism. (See: every final paper/research project/major essay in my collegiate and graduate experiences.) Oh yes, perfectionism is crippling. This is why my experience with NaNoWriMo this year was so liberating. I freed my writing from my own critic and recaptured the joy and release of writing that I once had before I got so darn cynical.

Beyond my personal writing, I have learned how to cope with criticism from others much better. In fact, I am eager to receive criticism/critique from others, which is a far cry from who I was just a few years ago. Back in the day, any criticism–no matter how small–was enough to crumble me into tiny, blubbering pieces, which is a horrible mental image. Don’t picture it if you can help it. Just don’t.

Moving on!

When I started grad school in January, I told myself that I was there to learn, no matter how painful, which is a very different attitude than the one I had when I entered undergrad. In college, I took my classes because I wanted a degree, and that end goal made criticism–read: anything that might keep me from achieving my goal of graduation–almost unbearable. But grad school is a whole new world of academia, and I told myself from the start that I would welcome criticism, and I have. Every time I receive negative feedback, I use it to improve. I don’t take it as a personal attack–because it isn’t–and I feel free to grow. Folks, this is life-altering stuff.

The third area where I have seen grace impact my life is one that I have not discussed at large, although I’ve trusted this information to close friends and some family. Candidly speaking, I struggle with self-acceptance where it comes to my body. I started out the year wanting to lose weight. Why? Because I believed that I would love myself more if I weighed x-pounds less. I lost and gained 10 pounds twice. Both rounds of dieting left me absolutely miserable, and I realized a few months ago that I struggled with how I viewed food. So, in the mood of grace, I decided to love my body and say no to dieting. Yep, never again!* I still plan to incorporate exercise regularly into my life, but I’m relaxing my hold on food and letting it just be food again. Funny thing is, I’ve never felt happier with my body.

So this is how grace has impacted my life. Instead of trembling at the thought of criticism, I embrace it. Instead of punishing myself for my flaws, I accept my shortcomings and work towards either improving them or letting them be. Remembering that I am fallible and recognizing that fallibility is not a world-ending flaw is probably the nicest thing that I’ve ever done for myself.

If you could pick a theme for how your year turned out, what would it be?

*The only exception I will allow for this is if I wind up with gestational diabetes during any hypothetical future pregnancy.

PS. If you also struggle with body image/self-esteem/etc., may I recommend you check out Health at Every Size? You shouldn’t have to wait to love yourself and live your life now.

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One thought on “Criticism and Grace

  1. Pingback: Day 17: List your highs and lows of this past year. | Ellayne Shaw

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