“Wow, that came out beautiful,” I said. “What glaze combo did you use?”
“You’re kidding, right?” the other potter replied.
“Ummm…. no,” I said. I laughed nervously.
She turned to her friend, started talking with him about everything that was “wrong” with her stunning dishes, pointedly ignoring me.
I sheepishly picked up my comparatively janky little beginner pieces. Before we’d spoken, I had been inordinately proud of them, happy to have created anything.
I found myself wondering what the heck she’d make of my clumsy first efforts.
What You’re Doing When You Criticize Yourself in Front of Other People
After I left that interaction, I made a promise to myself to never be like that. If I do get good enough at pottery that one day people compliment my work, possible with enough persistence and practice, I will simply thank them and/or answer questions about how I did it.
Even if I see the flaws in my own work (which I’m sure I will, that’s how it goes), I’m going to try to remember that that’s what makes individually made pottery different than factory built production line work.
There’s a fine line between helpful and unhelpful self-criticism in other areas, too (personal development, writing, etc.). And particularly how potentially damaging of a choice it can be to savagely self-criticize aloud next to an excited beginner.
This is not to say that there isn’t a place for self-criticism. There is. And there are even ways to self-criticize while accepting a compliment:
“Oh thank you. It’s blah blah blah for the glaze. I can see a few little things like blah blah blah I’m unhappy with, but thank you.”
For what it’s worth, I’m willing to bet that she wasn’t trying to be mean. That her intent wasn’t to discourage me or to come across as rude. To be fair to her, I was just some rando she didn’t know. And while she did ignore me and respond to her friend instead, part of me understands that it could have been out of self-absorption and carelessness, a focus on her self-criticism, and not directly related to me.
But it’s something to keep in mind. And it reminds me very much of my feelings when, for example, my waifishly thin mother would talk about how “fat” she’d gotten in front of me, someone who was built differently, easily twice her size on a good day.
She didn’t mean to be rude or hurtful either. Her self-criticism came from an authentic, albeit self-absorbed, place. She was simply voicing aloud what she thought.
But the impact was still there.
It’s something I’m going to try to keep in mind and avoid doing myself moving forward.