I've always believed that anybody who has the desire to become highly successful must also possess two important traits. First, you must leave your ego at the door. Second, it is absolutely crucial that you develop thick skin. Both of these are necessary due to the simple fact that greatness cannot be achieved alone, which means that you will need the humility to ask for help, and greatness cannot be achieved if you are filled with self-doubt, which means you will have to block out any outside distractions.
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
I recently came across a term in the book Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras called a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal, or BHAG. A BHAG is something that seems impossible to achieve, but it's a goal that you've set your sights on for the future. It will require years of hard work and preparation, numerous skills, a team of great people, and a little bit of luck. These types of goals are the long-shots, the "that'll never happen" idea, and the success stories that lazy people blame on "overnight successes".
Once you've identified your BHAG and you've announced it to the world, prepare to receive feedback, both good and bad. Certainly, you'll receive the congratulatory cheers from friends and family members. Your Facebook friends will like your announcement and comment their support. But once that moment of glory fades, people will begin to question your BHAG. They'll ask questions about how you will possibly see it through. They'll reference all of the people that have failed in the past (your cousin didn't finish school because he had a child/four businesses closed in town within the last year/nobody will buy enough of your product for you to make it long-term). These doubts can have a terrible effect on you and your BHAG.
What's most disturbing about the criticism that you will receive is that most of it will come from those closest to you. Your family members will be the first to cast doubt on your dream. This is because of two reasons: First, it's important to understand that their concern comes from a place of love. More times than not, your friends and family just want what is best for you, and that means that they are trying to help you avoid failing. Secondly, BHAG's are frightening to the average person. These types of goals are so unlikely to become successful that most people refuse to even try to accomplish them. They've settled for a life of average simply because it's the easy way to live, and they will pick at your dream and try to tell you why it won't work so that you will fall into the average lifestyle with them.
“Often those that criticize others reveal what he himself lacks.”
― Shannon L. Alder
BHAG's require a certain level of commitment that most people are unable to provide. The mental state that you must put yourself in to accomplish these life-altering goals leaves no room for self-doubt, internal questioning, or wavering opinions. When you are approached with these doubts or criticisms from friends, family, coworkers, or strangers, it's important that you not take these opinion personally. Instead, use the knowledge that you have about your BHAG to counter their opinion. If they're concerned about you returning to college because of the costs or because of your work schedule, calmly explain to them how you will structure your classes. Describe any grants or scholarships that you've received, and explain the student loan program if necessary. If your parents don't believe that your business will be sustainable in the future, show them the research that you've done on the market regarding your product. Describe your marketing techniques.
I want to be clear about this paragraph: I'm not encouraging you to get into arguments with your close loved ones. On the contrary, I want you to AVOID arguments at all costs. Instead, use rationale and numbers to enforce your opinion and to ease their concerns. Always remember that if you've done your research properly, you probably know more about your BHAG than anyone else on the planet. Don't let an outside voice fill you will doubt.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop."
― Winston S. Churchill
I want to finish this discussion with the acknowledgement that not all criticism is in bad taste. In fact, there is a balance that must be met between being confident in your ability to accomplish your BHAG and recognizing and absorbing constructive criticism. There will be times when it is necessary to head the advice of experienced individuals. Like I said when I began this piece, reaching the highest levels of success requires assistance. Don't be so closed-minded and arrogant that you don't see that assistance when it becomes available to you.
So how do you differentiate constructive criticism from destructive?
- For starters, you should ask yourself if the person providing the advice has your best interest in mind? Advice from those that will use you to benefit financially or socially should not be heeded.
- Once that is established, determine if the person providing the criticism is experienced in your chosen field. If they are, chances are that they've gone through a similar situation that you are experiencing, and their criticism might be justified.
Recognizing criticism can be difficult for anyone who is starting out on a difficult road to success. With instant communication available at our fingertips, we are often bombarded with ideas, opinions, news, and thoughts during every waking moment of our lives. The important thing to remember is that your BHAG belongs to you (and whoever you decide to bring along on the ride). Your hard work will determine if that goal becomes a reality, and during that time, you will most certainly receive criticism and doubts from outside sources. Lose your ego, absorb what is beneficial to you and your goal, and keep moving forward.
Do you have a story to share about how criticism has affected your own BHAG? Share in the comments below!
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