A few days ago, a user of Shmeppy reported several bugs on Discord. He was worried about making me feel bad and apologized for reporting so many bugs at once. I responded with:

Don't worry, I'm used to all kinds of users giving feedback in all manner of frequencies and tones. You'll have a hard time affecting me much.

But this is a serious oversimplification. I think it was a mistake for me to say this and a mistake for me to think it.

The Real Effect of Criticisim

I can think of plenty of times in my life that criticism made my face burn with embarrassment, when I'd be anxious for an entire week, or when it'd cause me to hastily make decisions I'd later regret (like implementing a bad feature and hurting the quality of my product).

I am affected by criticism, dramatically. Even right this moment, standing on the shoulders of 19 years of experience building stuff and showing that stuff to people, I'm not sure that my current endeavor will be successful and when someone implies that it won't be I can get terrified, anxious, and angry at the person.

Criticism doesn't necessarily affect me less than it did when I was younger. Instead I just have lots of tools for taking care of myself.

This is the source of my confidence: I know that regardless of what a user says, I'll be able to take care of myself. I may…

  • sit down on my giant bean bag and give my anxiety my full attention until it subsides.
  • write in my journal.
  • write an angry blog post.
  • talk to someone I trust to listen to me and support me.
  • go running.
  • take a day off and let myself do whatever I want.
  • absorb myself into a book or video game and deal with my feelings when they've been blunted.

Lashing Out

Very rarely will I lash out at someone who's giving me criticism on a product I'm building.

I've learned to value the ability to rise to confrontation: to repeatedly interrupt a doctor who's rambling, to flick off the older woman who proceeded out of order at a 4-way stop, or to correct someone when they say "he" when referring to me (still working on this one). I also don't think "keeping discourse civil" should be valued because it's a method of oppression.

But when a user is angry about something I made it's usually because (a) it's seriously affecting their lives, (b) I'm the person with the power to fix it, and (c) I'm not fixing it. So in these cases I usually try to put them first and focus on validation. I know I can take care of myself afterwards.

Looking Back

I think it's easy for me to write-off all the work I've done on myself to get a grip on my anxieties. But I've really done a lot, and there's way more for me to do.

I think it sets a poor example for other people who're building things and trying to handle their own anxieties for me to say "you'll have a hard time affecting me."

I also think it sets me up for failure long-term. I can learn a lot more about handling my anxiety but if I'm in the mindset that I've learned all there is to know I'm just hurting myself.


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