Other People Are Happy to Shoot Down Your Ideas. It Doesn’t Mean They’re Right.

a blue refrigerator with a toy frog reaching into its doors
Image by Pixabay / CC 0

A little while back, a friend of mine was posting on social media about an old refrigerator they were planning to sell. It was used but still in good working order. In this status, they posted a picture of a cracked shelf and asked their followers for advice on what kind of material to use to fix it. Something cheap that would do the job well, since they weren’t asking much for the fridge and didn’t have much of a budget for repairs on its components.

What followed was a flood of comments (made by people I don’t know personally) that all insisted that my friend not sell their fridge. They said that it was pointless, even rude, to sell something that was broken. Who would want such a thing? And why did my friend think it was even okay to sell this appliance?

My friend answered each comment with what seemed to me like an inordinate level of patience and grace. They insisted that they knew what they were doing. And that their plan was just to list it cheaply on Craigslist, clearly indicating the issue with the one shelf and providing a photo of it. And if no one took the bait, then fine. But it was free and fairly easy to list it. So they might as well try.

But the commenters continued to pour in, arguing extensively with my friend and protesting this decision. One after another, they tried to talk them out of listing the fridge. Over and over again.

And notably no one answered their actual question, about how best to repair the shelf.

My Friend’s Reasoning Actually Made Perfect Sense to Me

I sighed.  My friend’s reasoning made perfect sense to me. I could see plenty of scenarios where someone might want or need an extra fridge and not be particular about the condition of it. Even with a cracked or missing shelf. Someone could need something for a lab or garage.

And besides that, replacement shelves could be ordered or constructed if someone had that skill set. I live with an engineer that has done similar many times, buying an appliance for cheap and replacing a part. Our washer-dryer set worked fine after a quick diagnostic and a $5 part. Sure, the dryer was missing a knob, but we started it with pliers. The deal had been totally worth it.

New refrigerators can be quite expensive.

And yet here were all these folks up in this friend’s status, an onslaught of people telling my friend that they shouldn’t even bother. I shook my head, sighed, and went on to the next post in my feed, disappointed at all the naysayers. I could have posted a comment, I suppose, but I didn’t have anything to contribute as far as what they should use to patch the shelf. And I didn’t feel like arguing with strangers on the Internet. I was irritated for about 30 seconds and then moved on with my life.

However, I was delighted a few days later when the same post popped back up in my feed, likely because my friend had posted new comments to it as an update.

They’d sold the refrigerator to a very happy buyer. It had happened quickly, basically right after they’d listed it. A happy ending for them in spite of all the naysayers.

I Used to Run Everything By Other People, Who Shot Down Most of My Ideas

For a long time, I did almost nothing independently. I used to run practically everything I did by the people around me get their take. And the vast majority of the time, people would have either one of two reactions to my ideas, even ones that excited me:

  1. They’d tell me it wouldn’t work and start listing reasons why.
  2. They’d shrug and say, “Sounds okay, I guess.”

When it came to potential ideas I was excited about, it was incredibly rare that the folks around me would get as excited as I did… or even think it was a good idea at all.

Part of this was due to my friends group at the time. They weren’t very adventurous folks and tended to stick with what they knew. A solid plan in a lot of instances (since it served a self-protective function), but one that predisposed them to reject unfamiliar or unproven concepts. And as a person, I was chock-full of unfamiliar and unproven concepts. Ones that sounded stupid or ill advised to those closest to me.

So for a very long time, I didn’t try anything new. I was too afraid that they were right, that I was getting excited over something stupid again and that it was best just to keep my weird ideas to myself.

And for the longest time, it stayed this way. In some ways, it was an awfully secure time. A peaceful one. Very little changed, which meant there weren’t any new fears or threats. But I grew restless in other ways, felt like I was stagnating. But I assumed it was for the best, that my ideas were silly, and it was right to not follow through on them.

Then I Went on to Meet More Adventurous People, Who Also Got Excited About Trying New Things

Little by little, I began to meet new people. Adventurous folks who also got excited about new things. Even if all of their ideas didn’t bear fruit, they were committed to trying things.  Just to see what happened. Especially low-risk, low-investment ideas. Like learning to paint. Writing an essay. Making a new device out of spare parts. Or yes, even something like listing an old fridge on Craigslist.

They weren’t folks who folded their arms and said, “It can never be done,” or, “Why would you want to do that?”

They instead said, “Let’s try it,” or, “How can we make this happen?”

This change in the makeup of my social group didn’t happen overnight. Instead, the shift unfolded a great deal more slowly, like timelapse photography. But the steady trend is undeniable in hindsight. I kept being drawn to people who saw possibilities where other people saw roadblocks. They were more fun to be around. They did such interesting things.

And one morning I woke up, and I was surrounded by people who spent more of their energy actually doing things than they spent telling other people that they shouldn’t do what they were planning on doing because it would never work.

Constructive Criticism Can Be Helpful, But Not All Naysayers Offer Helpful Critiques

Now, that said, constructive criticism can be utterly invaluable. I have folks close to me that are good at offering this. Who approach problems this way: “How can we maximize our chances of success? What problems do we not see, and how can we preempt them?”

But not all naysayers are offering such critiques (I’ve actually found them to be relative rarities), ones based on well-founded predictions regarding design flaws or something empirical.

Instead, these naysayers’ objections often seem to stem from a gut feeling that they explain post hoc, a rejection of a premise predicated on the belief that everybody else thinks, feels, and functions the way that they do.

It could be something straightforward like the belief that no one would buy a fridge with a busted shelf (because they wouldn’t), no matter how cheaply it was sold or what the buyer intended to use the fridge for. And that listing it at all would rude. Period. Paragraph.

Or it could be many other more complicated things that they think are impossible and only going to lead to ruin: Like a friend’s desire to start a side business. Switch day jobs. Or start or end a relationship.

I Don’t Run Many Low-Stakes Ideas By People These Days, I Just Try Them Instead

I’ve changed a lot. These days, I don’t constantly run my ideas by other people. Instead, I mostly just try things and see what happens. And like my friend with the fridge, if I need help overcoming a specific obstacle (such as fixing a cracked shelf in a fridge I want to sell — or more likely in my case, asking folks if they know of any particular resources on X topic), I will sometimes ask other people for input on that.

But once I’m working on that specific problem, I’m usually not interested in being talked out of the endeavor to which it belongs, especially in such a low-stakes experiment as listing a fridge on Craigslist. I’m in the problem space, and if it’s going to be a failure, then I’ll see that when I get there.

However, as I’ve been trying things more, I’ve found that naysayers aren’t nearly as good as they think they are at predicting what ideas will be successes and which ones won’t. It’s a really difficult thing for most people to predict, really, especially without a lot of experience in a specific niche — and even then, it’s tough to tell because even the most specific niches grow, shrink, change, and adapt.

Life would be more simple if things stayed in one place, but in reality most targets are moving. So it’s often difficult to know what’s going to happen until you try. Naysayers could be right, sure. But they could also be very wrong. And if it’s a low-stakes decision, I’ve found it’s usually better just to try than to get everyone’s blessing before starting out.

In any event, I’m really glad my friend sold their fridge.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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