Take Things Personally

I'm guilty of giving the advice, "Don't take things personally."

How realistic is that, though? If we're honest, we DO take things personally. If we care about our work, our impact, our relationships, I really hope we are taking things personally.

But by "person," I don't mean "ego." I don't mean your personality. I don't mean the part of you that's fixated with image, perception, working it. I mean the part of you deeper than that, the part that can't be lost or harmed. The part that longs for things, that wants to connect with other people. The "you-ness" way down there.

That part of us actually can't grow unless other people tell us how they experience us. We can only go so far on our own. Criticism hurts and stings. But most of us, as Adam Grant points out, drop people from our lives the second they criticize us. What a lost opportunity! What fragile egos we have! Dropping people from our lives can look like:

  • Telling on them to HR
  • Making a team against them, gossiping about them to other people
  • Cultivating a well of resentment and bitterness
  • Actively maligning them
  • Maintaining a fantasy that we're blameless
  • Defensiveness: Avoiding, blaming, denying, deflecting

If we were to take things personally, in the best sense of the word, we'd do these things instead:

  • Ask questions. "How did that hurt you?" or "Why was that disappointing to you?"
  • Be on a constant quest for improvement--actually view criticism and hard feedback as gifts
  • Make right relationships with people the cornerstone of our lives. One of my tests for myself is, "Is there anyone in my life right now that I'd avoid at the grocery store?" If so, I try to see what I can do on my end to make things right.
  • Regularly ask for feedback. "How am I doing at being your boss?" "What's one thing I could do that that would improve my relationship with you?"

It's this magic combination of being both tough and tender at the same time. Try it. If you find that hard or ridiculous, find someone who can help you--a coach, therapist, spiritual director. You won't grow without it.