“Some people have a thick skin and you don’t. Your heart is really open and that is going to cause pain, but that is an appropriate response to this world.”
— Anne Lamott
If there is one piece of advice that I have heard more than any others, it is this: Develop a thick skin.
I’ve heard it from family members, friends, fellow writers, and editors. A thick skin, it seems, is the quintessential job requirement for a writer, especially those of us who write creative nonfiction. With each personal essay, we aren’t just opening our writing abilities up to critique; we are subjecting our beliefs, lifestyle, and relationships to criticism, judgment, and debate. A thick skin, I’ve been told, is a good way to smooth the edges of harsh criticism. By putting on a heavy coat of armor, in theory, we can protect ourselves from rejection, disparagement, and negativity so that we can, through our writing, take off the armor and lay ourselves bare.
At least, that’s the goal.
But what about those of us for whom the “thick skin” regimen doesn’t work? What about those of us with the thinnest of thin skins? Are we doomed to cower in a corner of fear until we toughen up our skin – along with our delicate egos and overflowing hearts?
Since I was a little girl, I have been on a quest to soften the blow of criticism, searching for ways to handle rejection. For years, I tried to toughen up and figure out a way to protect my overflowing heart from the sting of criticism and rejection. But how does one grow a thicker skin? Is there a special potion for that? Maybe a cold cream I can put on at night? A pill or herbal supplement I could take?
Of course not, but there are practical things we can do. We can practice separating the constructive criticism from the baseless noise. We can avoid the comments all together. We can blame the cruelty of Internet trolls. We can train ourselves to become immune to all of it.
Yet armed with this knowledge, these tough-skin tips, my attempts have proved to be fruitless endeavors. I tried to feel less. I tried to toughen up my very porous skin. I tried to grow a thicker skin – to no avail. And Sephora doesn’t sell a magic thick-skin ointment.
But what I have realized is that even if there were such a thing as a Thick Skin Supplement, I’m not sure I would want it anymore. Because in my quest, a funny thing happened: I finally grew into my skin.
I am finding that thin skin isn’t all that bad. Quite frankly, it suits me. I’m a deep-feeler. I am emotional, sensitive, introspective, and, at times, dramatic. And because my skin is thin and porous, the bad stuff gets in – the nasty comments, the silence, the rejections – but so does the good stuff. Have I cried hot, angry tears when someone left a mean comment to something that I wrote? Yes. Did I sob for days that time I was misjudged and misunderstood? You bet. Have I sulked and vented about the silent rejection that comes when I feel left out of the inner circles of legitimate writers? More times than I can count.
But I have also wept quiet, tender tears when someone reached out with words of encouragement. I was brought to my knees when someone said that my words helped her deal with a difficult family situation. And I bow my head in gratitude every time someone says the simple words I get it. Me too.
I have tried to stay away from the comments. And while I don’t read allthecomments, I do read many of them, and I fear that in shielding myself from the negative, I might also block out some of the positive. I’m afraid that by protecting myself from the negative, I wouldn’t feel the depth of powerful connection that comes through writing and reading and sharing a piece of ourselves with the world.
Even setting all that aside, if I were to find a way to somehow abate the negative without minimizing the positive, a thick and tough exterior skin would hide the real me. And if there is one thing that I prioritize above all else it is authenticity. Staying true to who we are in our core is the only way to bring out our best work and be our best selves. And I am not willing to sacrifice my own authenticity in order to save a few tears or hurt feelings.'I am not willing to sacrifice my authenticity to save a few tears or hurt feelings' @christineorgan Click To Tweet
There is no doubt that my thin skin often gets me into trouble. I am soft and pliable, and this is not without its occupational hazards. Believe me, I am often envious of those who have thick skin, the ones who can put it all out there with an unabashed “f*ck it” and let the chips fall where they may. But I am just not one of those people. And when these grain of negativity seep in, I remind myself of one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”
I’m soft, porous, and thin-skinned.
That is who I am, that is who I want to be. Thin-skinned… with a good filtration system.
A few weeks ago, when my oldest son was feeling a little down, I told him that one of the keys to happiness is spending as much time as possible with Your People – the ones who love you most, the ones who make you feel awesome just for being you, the ones who help you be the best you that you can be. These people are, after all, our filtration systems. They sift out the impurities. They balance out the negative with positive. They make us feel whole and loved.
Sometimes I lose sight of this truth, however. I seek approval in the wrong places. I measure success in terms of book sales and Facebook likes and blog stats. I compare myself to other writers, measuring by sales numbers and royalty figures and Amazon rankings. I worry too much about the people who haven’t read my work, than the ones who have. And I bemoan the people who don’t support me, rather than appreciating the ones who do. I wallow in the rejection and lament my own thin skin.
But then I remember my filtration system, and seek refuge in My People – the ones who know me and love me, the ones who trust me and respect me, the ones who help me up and carry me forward, the ones who hand me a Kleenex and cry with me, the ones who guide me forward to be a better writer and a better person – and my thin skin feels less like a liability and more like a gift.
Maybe that’s that secret right there. Maybe that is the magic potion for a thick skin: Softness, some tissues, and a good filtration system.We've heard of writers needing a thick skin, but this author loves her thin skin! Click To Tweet