Taking it Personal

Kole here.

I deal with some serious self esteem issues. Along with depression and anxiety, that's my cross to bear.

I'm not intentionally being whiny, but I want to provide the right context.

During my day job, I throw a tremendous amount of creative energy into producing what I feel is the best work I can... only to watch my good ideas get ground to fine dust in the corporate feedback gears. It's taken me several years to stop taking this personally. Even when I was completely dispassionate about the subject matter (you can only care so much about cloud computing), it still felt like these strangers were rejecting a small part of me.

To this day, the worst times at work are the 10 minutes before a phone call with a client, because I never know if they're going to turn on me.

That's work, though, and the relative frequency with which I'm expected to produce and defend ideas is dwarfed by my output for the network.

Even worse, my work for the network actually is something I'm passionate about.

Even worse, my work for the network involves turning my personality, voice, thoughts, and opinions into a product for thousands of complete strangers. It's not unreasonable to interpret attacks on my podcast work as attacks on my person.

For example: It's difficult for me to think of things I like about myself, but I like the effect that my laugh seems to have on other people. Coworkers and friends have told me it makes them feel good. However, a recent search on the Something Awful forums revealed that someone can't stand my "dad laugh" and that they hate my shows because of it.

That's one person. A complete stranger saying something that contradicts something I've heard from people who are close to me (and people who matter to me). I wish my chemical makeup wasn't such that I immediately homed in on the negative and gave it more weight than it deserved. But here I am, with that comment in my head each time I laugh on mic.

That kind of thing happens pretty frequently. I think I'm inclusive and sensitive, and someone spreads word that I think that all anime fans are autistic (this is an actual thing that happened). I think I'm reasonably well informed, and people come out of the woodwork to point out that honest mistakes are signs that I should have my microphone license revoked. I try to be gracious and give the benefit of the doubt, and an iTunes review calls me insufferable and negative.

It's important to note that I know this isn't a reasonable response. The amount of support we receive from our fans is staggering, and I work very hard not to take it for granted. But still, there are several times a week when my finger hovers over the "Publish" button, and I wonder what will come back to haunt me months down the line.

I tend to focus on "How-To" stuff here. Tutorials and explanations of what goes into the craft of podcasting. That niche is more comfortable for me than the touchy-feely stuff, because I'm not confident in my ability to property convey my feelings.

With that in mind, I'll reframe this as advice for anyone who thinks they'd like to create something with relative frequency for a large audience. And I offer this advice with some measure of trepidation, because I'm terrible at this.

My advice would be for people to recognize that your job doesn't stop at just making your thing and putting it out there for the world to see. That requires a lot of skill, but so does learning to be confident. It takes skill to separate your rational brain (the one that knows you're brightening people's days) from your lizard brain (the one that sees a 1-star review and dumps a liter of cortisol into your bloodstream).

Long after you've achieve competence in the nuts and bolts, taking feedback will remain a challenge. And I don't think it ever stops, at least not for most of us.

The best we can do is value the good as much as we value the bad, and fight our urge to let strangers on the internet have control over how we feel on any given afternoon.