I Survived My First Experience with Writing Criticism

Don’t go to Reddit for validation.

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I am not a writer. At least, I didn’t think I was. Then I did. Then I didn’t again.

Here’s what happened:

Initial Success and Unrealistic Expectations

I have been writing for one week. I’ve been thinking about writing and reading about writing now for years. I’ve been talking about it for a little less than that. And I finally, finally walked through my fear of vulnerability and after having my husband (a proven writer) proofread my work, I published my first article on Medium one week ago.

The first one did not get curated. As it turns out, no matter how much information I’d consumed about “How To Write a Great Medium Article” and “11 Things To Do In Every Medium Article,” asking for claps is not cool.

So, I tried again. That one did get distributed.

And I felt the sweet success of unrealistic expectations and external validation. I started fantasizing about leaving my day job and tra-la-la-ing through a field of abounding, never-ending streams of freelance work and waking up at 8:00 AM.

Not really. Kind of. That’s not the point.

For the first time in a long time, I felt purpose. I wrote words and people — real, breathing people — read them. And clapped for them! Without my asking!

 “Just keep writing,” They said. “Even when it’s hard!” They said.

I tried again. I didn’t even ask my husband to proofread it! I got bolder.

I publicized it. I wanted everyone to see it.

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“Everyone” Is Not a Target Audience

I posted the article to the r/dnd Subreddit, a Subreddit for Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. Makes sense, right? Now I was tra-la-la-ing through a field of digital high-fives and viral social media shares.

Wrong. I was immediately criticized. The nature of the criticism here isn’t the point.

The point is that I felt, within minutes, the side of writing that isn’t talked about as much as the “13 Ways To Quit Your Day Job and Be a Freelancer.”

I felt hot, red, and sick. I felt Impostor Syndrome.

What I felt was shame.

Nearly a #DecadeChallenge ago, Author and Researcher Brené Brown shared her definition of shame: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

And ultimately, that’s what I felt. In the safe space of Medium, I started to feel worthy of belonging. My voice belonged somewhere.

On r/DnD, I learned my voice did not belong. And it hurt.

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Hurting Mindfully

Tamara Levitt, Head of Mindfulness for the Calm app, often tells me in the Daily Calm meditation that I should, essentially, breathe into my pain. She asserts that by acknowledging my pain (or fidgeting or thinking), I’ll start to find it easier to let go of it.

So that’s what I did.

I allowed myself to feel the hurt of criticism.

I acknowledged my pain. I acknowledged that it hurts when someone doesn’t love my writing. And I acknowledged that I misunderstand a lack of warm reception of my work as a message that my words aren’t worthy of being read.

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8 Upvotes, 11 Reads, and 1 Very Important Share

I recognize this all sounds a little dramatic for something that was seen by a smaller percentage than the followers I received for the article.

24 hours later, I recognize that this experience wasn’t that big of a deal. I’ve seen much, much worse in the realm of writing criticism. I wasn’t cyberbullied, I wasn’t attacked, I wasn’t Swatted. The damage was approximately 13 fairly reasonable comments on a buried Subreddit post from people I’ll never meet.

More importantly, the people that read the article weren’t my target audience. I didn’t write it for them. I wrote it for professionals who think people who play D&D are weird. I wrote it for mothers who are worried that their kids playing D&D aren’t socializing enough. I wrote it for the mother of a young friend I’ve watched grow up simply as a result of playing Dungeons & Dragons and learning to think critically in a safe space.

So, I learned a few things:

  1. “Everyone” isn’t going to like your stuff.
  2. “Everyone” doesn’t need to read your stuff.
  3. “Everyone” doesn’t dictate my self-worth.

And that’s okay.

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24 Hours of Self-Doubt

I’ve come full circle in this dramatic brush with criticism. I decided that, even though I’d decided I was a writer, I wasn’t anymore. And then, I decided that what feels like a fair-weather love affair with writing is perfect exactly how it is. I am allowed to internalize the joy, pain, and everything in between that comes with this craft because it is my craft.

It is my voice and my impact. And if I’m getting criticism, that means I’m taking a stand.

My friend’s mom saw the article and shared it on Facebook. That was enough to open a new, blank draft.

Oh, and I didn’t ask my husband to proofread this article. I didn’t need him to.

6 Reasons Why You Should Interview Someone with Dungeons & Dragons on Their Resume


That Cleric could be your best hire yet.

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I am not a nerd. I consider myself nerd-adjacent. I come to you, fearless leader, as a professional. As a liaison between the work-world and the nerd-world as someone who is perfectly average in every way but has also dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons. And I’m not alone: more and more people are picking up the game every day.

Luckily, for us professional-types, this new brand of D&D enthusiast makes for interesting new talents that can be applied in the workplace.

See the six reasons I think there’s untapped potential in a candidate that is bold enough to list D&D experience on their resume.

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#1 They Are Team Players

First, some explanation: Dungeons & Dragons is a cooperative game. The game is run by a “Dungeon Master” or “Game Master,” who leads the group of players through a storyline over regularly-held sessions— often improvised by the Dungeon Master. The players are prompted to make choices and roll a 20-sided die for a wide range of odds for the outcomes of those choices.

With me so far? Okay.

Because the game is a cooperative game and the players’ survival in the game depends on the choices they make, it’s critical the players work together as a team to meet their goals.

Game sessions are often hours long and are played weekly or bi-weekly. That means your candidate has dozens if not hundreds of hours of teamwork and cooperation experience.

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#2 They’re Goal-Oriented

A campaign (the overall story the players are playing in) is often made up of several small quests (tasks) for an ultimate goal. Some quests can take a part of a session, or multiple sessions to complete, depending on the choices they make and how they carry them out.

Any D&D player has to be goal-oriented to keep the campaign moving along and keep their character alive. You can trust someone with D&D experience knows how to identify goals and achieve them.

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#3 They’re A Storyteller

Players are in the D&D world as characters, which they typically create from their imagination. While they have a guide book to draw inspiration from, the player typically cobbles together a Name, Race, Class, and biography for the character from scratch and then role-play as that character for the duration of the campaign (or until the character dies, which is totally possible).

While Role-playing drums up thoughts of LARPing and costumes, that’s not quite what it is. Instead, the player is more likely assuming the values, expectations, and history of the player to make decisions as they think they would.

The increasing importance of storytelling as a business and marketing tool makes a D&D player’s character-building a necessary talent in an employee.

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#4 They’re A Creative Thinker

Quests aren’t just tasks. They’re often projects or riddles with limited information. The game requires the players to ask investigative questions and come up with creative solutions to complete the quest.

Since the game is open-ended, just about anything goes — within reason — as long as the Dungeon Master allows it. Players are encouraged to think out of the box and use their character’s own skills solve problems.

An employee who relies on their creativity for problem solving could be worth thousands to your business.

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#5 They’re A Leader

Just like group projects, cooperative games require someone who leads the Party (the player group) to victory. For many people, D&D is a safe space for unlikely heroes to speak up or try persuading people — something they wouldn’t have done in the “real world.” Since different quests tap into the different characters’ skills and abilities, the role of leadership is shared. This means anyone who plays D&D has some leadership experience.

Better, the most outgoing of the bunch try Dungeon Mastering on for size. Dungeon Masters build skills in public speaking, story telling, organization, project management, and leadership — just to name a few.

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#6 They Commit

You can trust a D&D player knows how to commit to something for the long-haul. A D&D party meets regularly for at least two hours, often weekly, and often for years. They commit to ensuring the Party goes on as long as possible by keeping each other accountable to show up week after week.

A candidate with D&D experience on their resume shows long-term dedication and a willingness to invest time for a good role.


Dungeons & Dragons teaches skills that can directly apply to the workplace — you just have to know what to look for.

The next time you come across D&D on a resume or a candidate’s social media, don’t judge or discount it. That could be just the experience your organization needs.

If nothing else, your candidate will have some exciting stories to tell.

The 3 Things I’m Doing to Prevent Burnout (Today)

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I am constantly on the edge of burnout.

That should be no surprise, considering I’m a Millennial. I’m part of the Burnout Generation, as Anne Helen Petersen so eloquently put it in January of 2019. There’s a lot that Ms. Petersen said there that similarly-aged friends and colleagues of mine resonated with at the start of this year:

Shame. Paralysis. Overwork. Lack of Boundaries. Optimization.

Self-awareness is only one part of the puzzle, however. We resonated. We shared the article on Facebook. We moved on. We continued on the hamster-wheel towards burnout.

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Why do we keep burning out when we know we shouldn’t? 

It’s not like it’s a secret. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized it as a health condition. Yet, here we are. Quitting our jobs, worsening our depression, and dying.

I can’t answer that question. I certainly can’t solve the greater institutional problems that have established us as “The Burnout Generation.” What I can do, however, is tell you what I’m doing — even if it’s just what worked for me this week.

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So, back to me.

Last week, the worst finally happened (for a Millennial-constantly-on-the-edge-of-burnout): I got sick. Work piled up while I shivered on my couch with a fever of 103(!). I slept and thought — a lot.

Sickness is, admittedly, a blessing for people like me. Universe-imposed rest is sometimes the only rest we’ll allow ourselves to take. As a result, the things I have been using to stave off the feelings of burnout while I work through neglected projects and clients has shifted my perspective — for today.

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I am owning my lack of action.

After my illness, I had no choice but to compartmentalize the pressure. I had to rest.

I had to both decide and accept that I was not going to work on the weekend — no matter the consequences.

This was painfully hard to do. I had to face my innate fear of failure and disappointing others. I had to accept that the “Sunday Scaries” were a foregone conclusion. I had to be okay with what I was going to find when I opened my inbox on Monday morning.

Woof.

Yet, something unexpected happened. By making the decision and accepting the result, I regained control over my own time.

The craziest thing was, by Sunday night, there were no “Scaries.” I was at peace because the choice was mine. The consequences were my own.

Better, Monday wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. There were some tough snarls I needed to work out, but because these were now my snarls, I felt a new sense of excitement. I wasn’t getting crushed under a pile of work; I was a problem-solver.

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I am refocusing my energy.

On Wednesday, I learned that I’d made a mistake. That mistake affected other people. I proceeded to calmly take responsibility for my actions with those people, come up with a solution, and carry out the required action.

In the midst of all this, I realized that my normal characteristics in this situation (panic, anxiety, profuse apologies, fear) weren’t my default reactions.

This wasn’t the result of a new meditation routine or mantra (as I am wont to try in the face of impending burnout). It was because I was still recovering, and I just needed to be selective with where I focused the little energy I had.

It was so strange that I had to go back and clarify with my partner on the project:

“It’s not that I don’t care about this project or the mistake I made. Instead of internalizing shame over my mistakes, I’m making better use of my energy by refocusing it on solutions and the things I can control.”

Refocus by Jamie Hammond on speakgrowrise.com

At this moment, it was clear to me how much of a waste of time berating myself for past mistakes is. I suddenly had a pool of untapped energy to draw from to work towards solutions and a refreshing focus on responding, not just reacting, to setbacks.

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I am seeking purpose.

Laura Vanderkam and Neil Pasricha both explain that a way to avoid burnout is to seek intrinsic motivation amidst extrinsic motivation.

Since I was, again, economizing my limited energy, I started to look for areas where I could be of service to others around me during the work day (instead of just freaking out over the work I needed to do).

In addition to being a workaholic, I am a recovering alcoholic. Over time, I’ve cultivated a small sober community in my workplace that grew larger this week. We even started discussing starting our own recovery meeting for future people who are seeking.

I had a purpose that had nothing to do with my daily work.

In these moments, I was reminded that I could matter — if just for a few seconds before I had to get back to work.

While recovery from addiction and sober communities are not applicable to everyone reading this, I think we all have our “thing” that we can invest time in to be of service to others. Perhaps if we all devoted some of our energy to sharing with others the things that give us joy in the workplace (leadership, wellness, spirituality), we’d find purpose and help others seek it, too.

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What happens next week?

The institutional circumstances producing burnout explained by Petersen aren’t going to be fixed by Monday Morning. In the meantime, all I can do is stay with this slight perspective shift to prevent burnout.

My sickness taught me how much energy I waste when I’m well. Now that I’m well, I have a new opportunity to apply my perspective.

I am confident that if I continue taking ownership, refocusing my energy, and seeking purpose, I’ll at least have a fighting chance.

What are you doing to prevent burnout? Drop me a line and share your tips!

How to Give Effective Feedback with TACOS

As a leader and communicator, it’s crucial that the messages I share with my team are received correctly. I work in a fast-paced environment, and, as the adage goes, time is money. So, when I have an employee who needs to be corrected, I don’t just need to share that correction fast — I need the employee to understand it fast.And isn’t that the case for all of us, fast-paced environment or not? A disengaged employee can cost a company “34% for every $10,000 of salary”, according to LinkedIn.com. And with just short of half of employees saying that they are disengaged when they don’t receive feedback, that means that the onus is on us, as leaders, to set our employees up for success. Feedback is commensurate with employee engagement.

That means employee engagement is time is money.

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The Importance of Feedback

We talk about feedback all the time in leadership spaces. We (the Leaders with a capital L — business owners, the C-Suite, Harvard Business Review junkies) talk about concepts like “Candor in the Workplace” and “Difficult Conversations.” We nod, try to apply them, and find ourselves in awkward situations unsure if either party is getting what they need out of the conversation. The need for candor in the workplace is, admittedly, valid. It is, what the premise of this post is all about. But something typically gets lost in the application.

The reason why the application of feedback is difficult is clear: more often than not, we don’t actually know how to give feedback.

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Put Down The Sandwich

The structure that usually comes up when we plan out our feedback is a sandwich. The Compliment Sandwich.The Compliment Sandwich achieves what we are seeking to do any time we give feedback: state the problem you have while cushioning it between compliments to protect the receiver’s feelings.

This method is not an effective way to build a team of engaged employees.

Let’s break down the feelings associated with work and feedback to find the method that is more effective for allowing both parties to get what they need from the conversation.

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Truths We Can All Agree On

To root out how to make feedback effective, we need to ask why we find the Compliment Sandwich method appealing: the desire to state, cushion, and protect.We do this because there are a few things we can all agree on that, as employees, we all want:

We want to feel appreciated.

We want to know what we’re doing wrong.

We want to know why it’s a problem.

We want to know how to fix it.

We want to know we are supported.

Take a moment to read those truths again, friend. If you can give feedback from that place, you start with empathy.The Sandwich attempts to reach those truths — it’s why we feel compliments convey appreciation and support, and stating the problem tells them what they’re doing wrong.The problem with this is that it doesn’t achieve these truths because it’s not intentional.

Not being intentional with your speech leaves the receiver to fill in the gaps with their own opinions, thoughts, emotions, and fears.
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Reach for TACOS Instead

There’s a better way to level with your employees.Instead of a sandwich, reach for TACOS.

Thank
Acknowledge
Cause
Orient
Support

— Thank them for something, even if it’s just for showing up.

— Acknowledge the problem head-on.
— Explain other issues the problem is causing.
— Orient them toward the behavior you want instead.

— Remind them you support them. You can do this by thanking the person again, asking them what you can do to support them, or ask them if something is going on that is preventing them from achieving the new solution. Most importantly, you can keep the conversation going past the problem and fortify your relationship.

Give Feedback with TACOS by Jamie Hammond

By thanking your employee, acknowledging the problem, explaining why it’s a problem, orienting them towards the solution, and supporting them, you create a space of mutual respect.I used TACOS to craft this because it’s memorable, and I want you to remember the elements of feedback that will affect your employees in a profound and meaningful way.What’s better, I’ve seen this method inspire some cool stuff. When you take the time to provide meaningful feedback, employees are more likely to see an opportunity to be better — rather than a setback or insult.

This article first appeared on Medium.com.


Jamie E. Hammond is a Social Media Manager by day and Indoor Cycling Instructor by midday. She sleeps at night. She is a competitively trained public speaker and holds a B.S. in Sociology from Bradley University. Her interests include: learning about what makes people commit to their workplace, her husband, her fur-babies (dogs), and her feather-babies (chickens).