As I type this blog post, I am pretty darn scared to share it. It’s a topic that has been laid on my heart to share and, even though I may not want to and I could easily decide to keep it to myself, I am going to step out on a limb and share a personal struggle in hopes that it will help someone else who is struggling with the same things. However, I do want to preface this post by saying that it is in no way an attempt to get sympathy or for anyone to feel bad for me. If you heard me speak at Justin and Mary’s The Event, you heard me speak on a topic very similar to the one in this blog post. Unfortunately, as most small business owners do, I have faced a lot of incredibly harsh criticism while growing my business. Maybe even more than most, because I began my business in high school during a time that social media and cyber bullying were more prevalent than ever. However, this post does not just to apply to photographers or to small business owners. It applies to any mothers, students, athletes, teachers, hard workers or young men and women who have experienced the harsh battle of cyber bullying or harsh criticism from strangers or loved ones.
Yesterday, I spent the day off with a friend exchanging head shots for a big project coming up soon. We were riding to our last location when my friend say “Oh, did you see that tweet that was circulating last week?” “A tweet?”, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about at all and followed my question up with “a tweet about me?”
You see, if you didn’t hear me speak at The Event, then you don’t know all of the cyber bullying I faced in high school. I would frequently search my name on Twitter to find strangers mocking me, sharing inappropriate images from Google alongside my hashtags, other photographer’s spokesmodels bashing my work and people very frequently referencing me as “the rich white girl who’s daddy bought her a nice camera” (My dad was struggling to pay for groceries while serving in the military. That never happened). I am truly so thankful for this time of my life because God had a plan and it helped shape me into the person and the business owner that I am today, but the hurt that I faced during that time of my life was very real. I still search my name on Twitter, but not as frequently, because the things that are posted typically do not affect me as they used to. I know that they are typically harmless jokes that are not meant to hurt my feelings, and some people may not even view me as a person with feelings at all. They just view me as a business and as a photographer, and nothing more. And I’ve learned that that is okay.
But, when my friend pulled up the tweet that was posted this week, I shuddered just a little bit. It stung. It will probably always sting just a little. Because it was pretty harsh. It was a random stranger, who I have never met, and the tweet was a photo. It was a photo from someone’s prom that had been drastically and purposefully overexposed. The caption read “Every Hope Taylor photo ever”. I honestly laughed initially-I get it, my photos are bright and people think it’s funny because it’s not everyone’s style. That’s okay with me. But when I swiped with my thumb to scroll down, that’s when it REALLY stung. 36 retweets and 103 favorites. 103. One hundred and three people who took the time to laugh at a tweet that was at my expense. 103 people who, after scrolling through multiple times, I discovered were friends from high school, past neighbors, acquaintances and even past clients. Wow.
At my last workshop, after the majority of the attendees had left and a few of us were finishing up some Q+A, one of the sweet attendees looked at me and asked “So, this may be too personal, but how do you handle the harsh criticism you receive? Sometimes it gets hard for me to handle, and I didn’t know if you had any advice”. My response was “Well, God used a really rough time of my life in high school to teach me lots of lessons about criticism, so I’m used to it”. After what happened this week, I know that is simply not true. No one will ever get “used” to harsh criticism. No one deserves cyber bullying and people posting horrible things about them online. And my response to this attendees question was unfair, because there are very practical ways to handle criticism and I lied to her by saying I was “used to it”. Because I am not, and I never will be. So, for those of you who have faced harsh criticism, who have felt the sting of cyber bullying or have woken up to an unprovoked social media post about you, here is some advice for how to handle it.
This sounds silly, but really. It is OKAY to cry. If you are a business owner, it’s okay to put down your walls of being a kickass boss lady, just for a second. You are a HUMAN. You have feelings. The things people say affect you and that is normal. If you need to cry, cry. Let it out and know that what you are feeling is okay and you are only human and you did not deserve this.
2. Don’t Respond.
Oh, friends, this was a hard lesson for me to learn. How dare someone say something so untrue about me when they have NEVER met me? How dare someone mock me or say something so hurtful with no concern for how it will make me feel? My immediate response every time is to defend myself and type out a nasty response as fast as my thumbs will let me. But, you are so much bigger than that. The person who typed that post or said that awful thing probably had no intention of genuinely hurting your feelings. Or, maybe they did. I’ve been in both situations. But, regardless, a nasty response brings you down to their level. It makes you just as hateful and mean as they are. Hey, maybe you feel like they deserve it, but that’s not the point. Rise above the comment and know that for every person saying something mean and hateful, there are hundreds more who are cheering you on. Including me.
“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity” – Titus 2:7
3. Put it in it’s place.
You’ve cried, you’ve been angry, you’ve re-read the post or the message more times than you probably should have. But, the hardest part of it all is accepting that there is nothing you can do to change it. As much as you wish you could, you can’t. And that is okay. Why? Because God says “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” – Deuteronomy 31:8
God walked before you to plan your life perfectly and flawlessly to prosper you and NOT to harm you. God has an incredible plan for you life that cannot be changed or altered or affected by the horrible things that people may say about you along the way. Are they hurtful? Absolutely. Is it okay to cry and be sad? Of course. But, is it okay to let it knock you off of your path? Never. God is using you in amazing, life-changing, ground-shaking ways and the enemy will do everything in his power to try to take that away from you. Don’t you dare let that happen. People can say whatever they want, they can post horrible things and hundreds of people can agree and favorite it all they want, but that does not change your heart or God’s perfectly orchestrated plan for your life. Keep going. Never back down. I am cheering you on every step of the way.