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What To Do With Criticism

November 30th, 2011

I don’t care what anybody says, criticism sucks. And it especially sucks when you’ve poured your heart and soul into something, pushed it tenderly out into the world and BAM! some mean nasty says something unkind about it. (Unkind meaning anything other than raving praise of course.)

But, unless you want to live safely under a rock, the business of being unmediocre will absolutely include criticism. So the question is what to do with it when it shows up.

I’m not a big fan of the FancyPants Gurus standard, one-size-fits-all response of “People criticize me because they are jealous.” Some people may be jealous and some people may criticize because of it. But to say ALL criticism is driven by jealousy is sophomoric.  It implies that the FancyPants Gurus should never be called into question. Yeah. Not real comfortable with that.

Another option is to take all criticism personally and to the heart. This is another blanket, one-size-fits-all response that assumes all criticism is created equal and that all critics are somehow superior. It implies that EVERYONE who has anything to say about your work is smarter than you are. Responses that include words like ALL and EVERYONE are usually a tad extreme. Not comfortable with that either.

I think one of the reason we opt for these kind of extreme responses is that it’s easier. If either everyone is right or no one is right, then we don’t have to go to the trouble of actually assessing the criticism to see whether it is valid or complete horse shit. That takes work. and discernment. and willingness. And who’s got time for that?

I’ve learned that if I want to get better at what I do, I’ve got to have time for that.

In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d give you a brief outline of how I (mostly) handle criticism when it gets lobbed my way. (Oh – and it does. Recently, someone on a blog said that I have unresolved child/parent issues which drive me to question authority all the time. Good times.)

Sarah’s Highly Mature  Method For Handling Criticism

1. Criticism arrives. Again, remember that my definition of criticism is anything other than effusive praise.

2. I work myself into a perfect storm and will tell anyone who will listen how horrible, terrible and generally unpopular the critic is. Mercifully, this length of this phase has shortened considerably in recent years.

3. I go for a walk. The first half of the walk is a continued rant in my head about the injustice of the criticism and perhaps the tiniest bit of revenge plotting. Somewhere around the halfway point, I weary of this. I know it comes as a shock but I do get tired of listening to myself after a while.

4. The second half of my walk usually involves looking sort of sideways at the criticism. Not full on – can’t handle that – more like looking at it out of the corner of my eye. Hmmm…..

5. Then I, ever so gingerly, consider the source of the criticism. Is this someone who, up until ten minutes ago, I adored, respected or at least holds the respect of people I like? Or is this someone whose opinion never mattered a hill of beans to me up until ten minutes ago? Or is it some unknown person (these are the worst because I give them all kinds of super-powers in my head). The source has a great deal to do with accuracy. Though I’ve learned that the source doesn’t have everything to do with accuracy.

6. As soon as I feel strong enough and way less defensive – sometimes minutes, sometimes weeks – I pull out the criticism. Upon review, I might learn that it isn’t really criticism at all. Just a really helpful suggestion. Or I might find that the criticism is accurate. I did misstep. I did make a mistake. I did do something (gasp) badly. Or I find that the criticism is small and petty. Here’s a secret  I’ve learned though – if my knee jerk reaction is to write it off as small and petty, chances are there’s some truthful gem in there that I’d just as soon not examine. Icky. But true.

7. I smoke the peace pipe with the criticism, in whatever form that might take. I say thank you for the suggestion. I clean up if I made a mess. I feel pity for the small, petty person.

8. I move on.

In case you are wondering, this is not a linear list. I go backwards and forwards through it until I finally arrive at #8. Sometimes this process is done in an hour. Sometimes this process is done in months. I try not to rush it and I try not to dwell on it. Mostly, I try to learn whatever it is this pighead is supposed to learn to make what I do better.

So there you go. That’s how I deal with criticism. Would love to hear what you do with it. 🙂

The Treasure Hidden Inside the Treasure

November 28th, 2011

I’ve just returned from one of the most perfect weeks of my adult life.

My family and I spend Thanksgiving week every year on Cumberland Island, Georgia. It’s a remote barrier island with no stores – at all – and one dirt road that runs the length of the island. The only way to get there is by boat and you have to bring everything you could possibly need with you because there’s no store to run to if you forget.

Cell phone service is limited because the tree canopy is so thick you can’t get a signal and internet service is sporadic and dial-up slow at best. At worst, it is non-existent.

We spent our days on the beach at low tide where the boys swam almost every day. We had cookouts in the dunes, played wildlife bingo, hunted sharks’ teeth, held a dune diving contest, went on sunset safari’s and crammed as much fun into every waking moment that we possibly could.

The weather was a wonderful co-conspirator, delivering warm sunny days and cool evenings, perfect for being outdoors until children collapsed in exhaustion.

We were surrounded by friends we see each year on the island and our gaggle of children greeted each day as an opportunity to create adventure. I’ve never heard such laughing and shrieking in all my life.

In short, it was perfection.

Well of course it was, you may be thinking.

But see, I went into this vacation about as stressed out as I’ve ever been. so much on my mind, so much to figure out and sort through and plot. I planned on doing a lot of figuring and sorting and plotting while I was on island. I’m a multi-tasker, right? I can enjoy my days and still have my brain in full gear, right?

Apparently wrong. As each magical day trumped itself again and again, my mind was fully immersed and occupied in the joy of the moment. Flying kites, building sand castles, naming the birds in the sky were the only things my brain was willing to entertain.

And believe me, I tried to gently guide it other things. I even got out my legal pad and tried to “just jot a few notes”. No dice. The minute I tried, some delicious new distraction would present itself and I was off.

After a few days, I just quite pretending I was going to get any work done or even thought about. There were far more enticing people, places and things around me and that’s just the way it was.

And, I have to say that after a week of no work at all of any kind – not even business thoughts – my brain and spirit are filled up, ready to bring it, ready to think and solve and plot.

And the best part is, I think that whatever I come up with now is going to head and shoulders above anything I could have come up with before.

I know I often say “Eye on the prize.” But sometimes I think we need to take our eyes off the prize and just breathe and be. That is the unexpected hidden treasure I discovered amongst my treasured days last week.


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Hunting for Treasure

November 21st, 2011

I am on my annual Thanksgiving vacation to Cumberland Island, GA with my family. Tomorrow, we will hunt sharks teeth – one of my favorite expeditions on the island. The post below was written two years ago shortly after I taught my older son how to hunt. I hope you enjoy it. 

Hunting for Treasure

This afternoon I am teaching my son the fine art of hunting for shark’s teeth.  It’s a challenging pastime, to say the least, but as absorbing and all consuming as any good hobby should be.

Our hunting grounds are off the coast of Georgia where, ages ago, dredge from the bottom of a river was dumped during the construction of the Inter-Coastal Waterway. I’ve found teeth as small as a grain of rice and as big as my hand when hunting here. Most important, the teeth are plentiful which makes for an excellent classroom.

First, I show my son the unique “T” or “Y” shapes of most teeth. Then we review the particular shades and combinations of black and gray that are found only in these fossils.

The final part of our lesson is slightly more nuanced – especially for a seven year old. Holding a picture of the shape and color of a shark’s tooth firmly in our minds, we must start scanning the shoreline, filtering out anything that does not match our mental image.

This is especially tricky because the beach is littered with Grand Imposters – bits of black shell in the coveted “Y” shape or a smooth gray stone half buried in the sand. They appear to be the treasure we seek, but upon closer examination, they are nothing more than fool’s gold.

I think the reason I love hunting shark’s teeth is that it requires so much of me. All of my focus and attention must be laser sharp – there is no room for distraction. I must be fully present and in the moment – seeing only what is right in front of me. Anything less and my treasure will elude me.

My son’s attention span is short and the bright sunlight has given way to long gray shadows, making it difficult to spot our quarry.

Tomorrow, as long as the tides and weather cooperate, we will try again. My hope is that with practice, he will learn to overlook the Grand Imposters and train his eye on the particular prize he seeks. I tell him that if he can learn to do that, one day he will look down to see his treasure lying at his feet. He will simply reach down and take hold of it.

He smiles and takes my hand.

I Will Never Arrive (thank god!)

September 14th, 2011

Girl on hiking trip

I used to think that if I worked hard enough and excavated enough, I would arrive at a final destination. A place where I would always know what I was doing and always know what I was interested in learning about and talking about – both in business and in life.

Oh the foolishness of such thoughts.

Now that I am (much) older and (not-so-much) wiser, I finally understand that I will never arrive at such a place. Well, unless I’m dead I suppose.

I will always be shifting and changing. Responding to the environment and the community that is around me. I will be impacted by what I see and what I read. My experiences will always be re-shaping me into someone different. Like a stream constantly shifts and changes a rock.

That’s not to say I don’t have anchor points. Those places, those values, those vital parts of me that I know I can count on. Without them, I would just be a pinball in a pinball machine, dependent on bumpers and flippers to determine which way I should go.

I’m actually very glad that I will never arrive. Knowing and accepting that is both comforting and relaxing. Instead of saying “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”, I can sit back and enjoy the view. I can notice the details that are flashing past me. I can take in the moments that are fleeting at best.

Thank God. 🙂

Dementors, Courage, and Making a Way

May 23rd, 2011

The Young Turk is a fairly recent Harry Potter devotee. We are reading through each book at night and watching SOME of the movies. (Voldemort’s appearance in the graveyard gives ME nightmares. I’m not about to let him watch that part – yet.)

As always, I am struck by the deep insight into the real world that J.K Rowling deftly illustrates through her magical characters.

“There are dark days ahead, Harry “days when we will be forced to choose between what is right and what is easy.” ~ Albus Dumbledore

And is there any greater harbinger for “dark days” than the utterly horrifying dementors?

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of Harry Potter, here is the description of a dementor:

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.
—Remus Lupin

The reason I find these creatures so completely terrifying is that I’ve been around very real people who are like this.

In fact, I was surrounded by them during my very last gig in the employ of someone other than myself over 10 years ago.

I’d been called in to turn around an organization that had crashed and burned. Poor management, little revenue and blinding egos had driven this entity into the ground. So much so, that the parent company fired the local team and brought me in the re-build.

Now here is a critical fact you need to know: the mission of this organization was to help an incredibly vulnerable and under-served group of people. The organization existed to provide resources, support, direction, and most of all, hope.

When I came in, I certainly did not expect any help or support from the former employees – they got fired after all. The thing that surprised me is that they used their connections and influence to make sure I got no help from anyone else either.

Their position was something like this: if we couldn’t make it succeed, we are going to make damn sure she doesn’t succeed either. They became thoroughly and completely invested in my failure and the failure of an organization designed to do something good in the world.

They were not interested in the vulnerable population they were harming. This group was willing to suck the peace, hope and happiness out of these weary lives in their hunger to be right.

I wish I could say this experience was an isolated incident. Sadly, I see  these kinds of people every single day. They are so blinded by their own egos that they become committed to seeing other people fail. They become committed to draining the world of something that could be wonderful and bright and good.

I say this not to frighten you. I say this because I don’t want you to be surprised when they show up. 🙂

How do you fight real live dementors? (Sadly, I have yet to put together a decent Patronus Charm.)

There are two things they cannot stand: 1) courage and 2) tenacity.

Dig down deep and tap into the well of courage that I know you have and then throw in the audacious tenacity to make a way in spite of all. Stand firm in spite of the dementors and all the fear and doubt they want to spread.

Make a way.

Is this easy? Not at all.

“There are dark days ahead, Harry “days when we will be forced to choose between what is right and what is easy.” ~ Albus Dumbledore

If you are doing the right thing, you know what choices to make.

Oh – and in case you’re wondering how my story turned out, I quickly reached out to a whole different group of people to help me turn the organization into the beacon I knew it could be.  In two short years, our revenues were up 200% and we were helping twenty times more people than had ever been helped before.

And the dementors were dumbfounded.

As always, I’m intensely curious about your thoughts and experiences, so I hope you will share them in the comments. 🙂

P.S. If you want to continue this conversation about Courage, I would love for you to join me for a special call tomorrow:

The Gift of Clarity

May 16th, 2011

I’ve found myself talking about clarity a lot over the past week or so.

How to get it. How to maintain it. What to do when it simply won’t appear.

For years I struggled with gaining clarity – especially around my business. (And truth be told, there are days when I STILL struggle with it.)

Then one day I realized (with the help of an amazing coach) the number one thing that was blocking my path. and preventing me from gaining the clarity I so desperately craved.


I wanted 100% certainty that I was 100% accurate before I was willing to move forward on my own behalf.

My attachment to certainty far surpassed my desire for clarity. And it became a deathtrap, pinning me in a cycle of frustration and pain.

With encouragement and support, I slowly but surely released my grip on the need for certainty. I focused on taking just one step in the general direction I wanted to go. Then another. Then another.

Sometimes I was right. Sometimes I was wrong. But the forward motion started to gain momentum and my judgment about what next step to take got sharper and sharper.

Compare that to just sitting there, paralyzed, waiting for clarity to bop me over the head. Clarity, it seems, doesn’t arrive on it’s own. It’s something we must actively seek.

So if you are struggling for clarity, the very best strategy I can recommend is to choose a single step that seems most likely to take you in the general direction you want to go, then TAKE IT.

Then get your bearings, figure out the next step in the right general direction, and take it.

After a while, you will be walking, then jogging, then running to meet your destiny. 🙂

I have a lot more to say about Clarity – and the Confidence it brings.  In fact, they are the first two components of my Creating Irresistible Presence Equation.

So that I can share more practical strategies and introduce you to entrepreneurs who are employing them right now, real time, I’ve put together a free two-part call series that starts this Tuesday, May 17.

Find out more and reserve your seat here:

I’m also intensely curious about your relationship with clarity, so I hope you’ll share in the comments below. 🙂


When It Doesn’t Go As Planned

May 6th, 2011

I sent this out to my newsletter list yesterday (Not on that list? You can fix that here: The response was so overwhelming, I decided to post it here.

Last Wednesday a tornado unlike any other razed part of my city andneighboring communities with devastating force. 

The next day, I got on an airplane and flew to Chicago for SOBCon.My heart was pulled in two directions the entire time I was there. One part of me delighted in being with my friends, making new ones,and learning some really cool stuff. The other part of me was riveted to the television at every break, trying to get news from home and trying to figure out how to help. 

And, while all of this was happening, I had to make a decision aboutwhether we would hold or postpone our TEDxRedMountain event,scheduled for May 19. The program we had planned was wonderful and stimulating, butglaringly irrelevant in light of the disaster and the disaster recovery. 

Did we have the people, the time and the resources to re-invent andre-build this event practically from scratch? Or would it be betterto wait until things had settled down and everyone had more focus?
Combine this decision with hosting an amazing retreat for my privateclients earlier this week, and it just seemed easier to throw up myhands and say “Never mind.” 

But then, some unexpected things started happening. Offers of helpfrom total strangers. Offers of equipment from companies I hadnever spoken with before. Personal words of encouragement from Chris Brogan, Tim Sanders and many others. 

And just when I thought I was going to drown because I didn’t have the time to figure out how to organize and deploy thenecessary resources and still run my business, something amazing happened. 

Today I was supposed to take my son to a special dentist twohours away. It would consume my entire day. No internet. Nophone. No way to work on much of anything. Then I had car trouble. Nothing earth-shattering or terribly expensive, but enough that it wouldn’t be wise to go on a four-hour round trip drive. 

It seems that God (or whatever higher power you believe in)decided that I needed today to sit and think and organize andget sh*t done.  Which is exactly how I spent my morning. 

The event will go on. I will stay sane. And my family will havea mother who isn’t stressed out of her mind.
And none of it is going according to plan. 🙂 

Love you!

P.S. I’m working on a free call series around Clarity + Confidence +Courage = Cashflow for later this month. Watch your inbox for details.

Lessons on Winning

March 28th, 2011

And no – this  is not another frackin article about Charlie Sheen!!

The lessons on winning I want to tell you about came from my 8-year-old son, The Young Turk.

First, a little back-story.

This past Saturday, he competed in his very first BIG karate tournament. Which is, in and of itself, a very big deal. As long as I’ve known him, the Young Turk has shyed away from competition of any kind. The risk of losing was just too painful a thing to contemplate, so he just sat out.

Ah, but his very wise karate teacher, Master Joe, is a big fan of The Young Turk (YT) and his karate abilities. So he encouraged him to participate in a very small “in-house” tournament back in February. His Best Friend In The Whole World wanted to do it and talked the YT into doing it, too. (Oh the wonder and power of BFFs – but that is another blog post all together.)

Well wouldn’t you know the YT won two medals in that small tournament. And once he got a taste of victory, he was hooked!

He signed up immediately for the BIG tournament and decided to go to karate class four times a week. (As a side note, I agreed to the four times a week deal because I didn’t really think he’d stick with it. Well, I was wrong.)

He showed up Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He asked Master Joe to meet with him before class to go over stuff. He worked hard (well, most of the time anyway). And when His Best Friend In the Whole World decided not to go, he didn’t back out.

Which brings us to the Big Day – Saturday.

Eight teams from all over the Southeast converge on one high school gym. I take a look around and realized that there are some crazy talented kids at this thing. Hmmm…….

But the YT’s confidence is not shaken. His energy is way keyed up, but he is totally relaxed about his competition. I envy him.

First competition – Forms. All boys his age go through a series of steps and motions that are integral to performing karate.  The Young Turk is way above average but does not place.

He is still unshaken.

Up next – sparring. This is when the boys don padded helmets, gloves, foot covers and a mouth-guard and basically fight each other according to sparring rules.

The YT does well – but he is up against boys way bigger than he is. Still he wins a match. Then another. Then another. His confidence (and truth be told, his showboating) increase with each win. He lost his final match to the biggest nine-year old I’ve ever seen.

Result: The YT recieves a second-place trophy. Was he disappointed by second place? Absolutely not. To watch him, you would have thought he’d just won Grand Master, he was so proud and happy. Again, I envy him.

Next up: “Creative” Forms – an event that allows the competitors to choreograph a karate routine that shows off their best moves. The YT set his to his favorite song, ‘Dynamite’. Except his music wouldn’t play.

He didn’t bat an eye. He got up there and knocked it out of the park.

Result: Third place. Again, when his name is called for third place, he hoops and hollers like he’d just beat out the whole room. Not a shadow of disappointment. Just pure joy. And again, I envy him.

So what did I learn about winning from The Young Turk?

First: I must overcome my fear and get in the game. Having a BFF along with me makes that a whole lot easier.

Second: If I want something, I have to suit up and show up, again and again and again. And I must ask for help and guidance from those who have more experience than I do.

Third: I can get energy from seeing my competition but I don’t have to let it rattle my confidence.

Fourth: A win is a win is a win. Rather than bemoaning the fact that I “only” came in third or second, I can celebrate the fact that I placed at all. Because it really is a big deal.

Fifth: And after I celebrate with a Reese’s Blizzard at Dairy Queen, I can say “Next time, Mom, it’s gonna be first place.” And then I get to take a nap. 🙂


How to build relationships & make a gajillion dollars

January 12th, 2011

Sorry – if your purpose for building relationships is based on making lots of money, this post isn’t going to help you do that. Sadly, though, I see lots of experts, gurus, ninjas or whatever who teach that sort of thing. I’m sure if you google it you will find lots of people willing to take you down that path.

I’m not one of them.

See, every time I do a month-long guest blog series like 28 Days to Getting Your Sh*t Together, or pull off an incredible live event when everyone says “live events are dead”, people ask me how I managed to be friends with the kind of people who help me make those things happen.

Here’s the news flash: there isn’t a magic formula to it. There isn’t a system you can memorize. And relationships like the ones I am lucky enough to have don’t happen overnight.

I’m going to give you the secret to them, though, right here and right now: Help others.

Yep. That’s it.

So that you can get this super secret sauce working right now, here are some steps to get you started:

1) Identify a handful of people you would like to know better on twitter and/or Facebook.

2) Take the time to read what they are up to. Tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts will help you get to know them and what is important to them.

3) Help them spread their message. Re-tweets, Facebook likes and shares, etc. make this pretty simple. This is also a great way to engage in an actual conversation with someone.

4) Comment on their blog. These days, getting a comment on a blog post is really a challenge. By commenting, you help the author and it can also open the door to a conversation.

5) Repeat steps 1-4. Often. But not in a creepy stalker kind of way. 🙂

Do these steps enough and the people on your list will begin to engage with you. Unless they have no social skills or think they are all that and a bag of chips. In either case, I recommend dropping them like a hot potato.

One last word of advice: until you’ve built a solid relationship with someone, do NOT ask them to help you, promote you, support you or anything else. It’s like proposing too early in a dating relationship – ICK.

So there you have it: my super-secret formula to relationships. And if you make a gajillion dollars from what I just taught you, I fully expect a percentage. 🙂

What do you think are important keys to building successful online professional relationships?

Keeping The Faith

November 10th, 2010

Where to we go from here?

In talking about vulnerability, strength and courage, I am also reminded that there is SO MUCH B.S. out there that it is really hard to remember who we are.

In this online world I move in, I’ve watched terrible things happen in recent months:

– A well-known “expert” pretty much pirated one of my BFFs material and claimed it as original thought. And people bought the lie.

– Another well-know expert bought about a gajillion followers (yes, they are for sale) and then staked a claim as a “Dominant Social Media Presence.” And people bought the lie.

– Had my own material picked off by someone claiming to be a wise friend and counselor. And people bought the lie.

It truly shakes the foundation of my courage some days to know that the ethics and the integrity of the world I operate in can be so temporal.

But then – OH BUT THEN:

– A dear friend sends me an email that tells me not to stop. That I am making a difference.

– Someone I admire from afar shows up on my blog and says that I inspire her.

– The people I dearly love, and would never have known without this crazy online world I live in, send me DMs, texts and FB messages that make me laugh so hard I cry.

– My colleagues-who-are-dear-friends keep going, keep producing inspired work, keep lifting my eyes to see what is possible.

– The Escaping Mediocrity Tribe out and out tells me that they want and need to hear what I have to say about what it is really like to do what I do.(Well – actually, some people unsubscribe because they don’t want and need to hear it, but that is okay. I’m not meant to reach everyone.)

In the end, the beauty far outweighs the bullshit.

There is a reason I am walking this path. There is a reason I say things out loud. I am holding up a lamp in the dark and lighting part of the path for others so they can find their way. I no longer have energy for anything else.

Shortly (as in a few days), I will be sending out a quick survey to those who are subscribed to my newsletter so that I will know how best to serve you in this way.

If you want to be a part of shaping what is to come, you can subscribe to Escape Notes here:

I would be honored if you shared how you are keeping the faith in the comments. 🙂