How can writing feel so natural, yet when a friend asks me to edit a piece of their writing, I have a mini panic-attack? I look at their words staring back at me from the page, unable to form any kindof coherent opinion—except for highlighting the parts I like. It’s almost like I’m blocking myself from having anything close to a negative thought, because the last thing on earth I want to do is hurt this person’s feelings, or worse, discourage them from writing again.
It’s always been the same for violin too—I can intuitively pick up my violin and work on a passage, nitpicking and fixing all the flaws galore, but I HATE teaching. When I lived in Edmonton, I accumulated 10 students per week out of pure boredom—I had a day job, but no friends, so I needed something to fill my time. I’d block all the lessons for Wednesdays, and then dread that day all week. Funny enough, once the students were actually there, I really enjoyed the feeling of helping them figure stuff out; of giving them a true, genuine compliment about some aspect of their playing that made their eyes light up and their posture change for the rest of the lesson.
By the end of the day, my shirt was drenched in sweat, and the second that last student left, I immediately started dreading the next teaching day again. Why? Because I put WAY too much pressure on myself to be a good teacher—to give these kids their money’s worth. I was sweating because my brain was on overdrive, constantly juggling how to help without crushing their spirit. I’ve had it done to me so much over the years, especially in the classical music world, I will NOT do it to other people.
I think a lifetime of being mentored by people who constantly sought out my flaws and neglected the treasures not only gave me some serious confidence issues in my own artistic ability, but it also made me a giant people pleaser. I wanted so badly for these people to like me, so over the years, I really did figure out how to make almost anybody like me. It’s a skill I’m both grateful to have and disgusted by.
So, when a friend sends me a long spoken-word poem about extremely nuanced, personal events and asks me for my honest feedback… I freeze. This friend is literally asking me to break the #1 rule in the People-Pleaser Handbook:
“Never Point Out Another Person’s Flaws.”
In the past when friends have asked for my feedback, I would glaze through their piece, pick out a few sentences or images I loved, correct grammar and spelling, and then tell them basically “This is perfect! Don’t change a thing!” This way, they still like me.
Yet, in the process of writing the stories for my own solo show, “You’re Not Alone,” I asked my friend Nisha for honest feedback, and had she just written “Great job! Wow, you’re really an amazing writer!” My stories would never have matured past toddlers picking up a bowl of spaghetti and dumping it over their heads. Nisha gave me the tough love I needed to go back through my stories, cutting and re-writing and adding and heightening, and finding the deeper hidden truths that make my stories really impactful. She helped me grow as a writer, AND, my show got 5000% better. I don’t resent her one bit for her constructive criticism; rather, I feel so incredibly grateful to have her in my life.
So last night, I made some tea and opened up said friend’s spoken word poem on my computer. I read it three times before even touching the keyboard. First time: only compliments came to me. “Ah, cool word choice!” “Wow so heart-wrenching and beautiful!” Second time: I allowed myself to entertain the idea that something wasn’t quite working. I wasn’t connecting to it in the way I should for such powerful material. Third time: It hit me what was missing, and to fix it, my friend would have to do a lot of re-structuring, moving things around, cutting, and adding. But I sucked it up, and wrote my true, honest opinion in the notes of the google doc. I felt like I wasn’t making any sense at all, that she would read the notes and be like “Pffff. Lauren doesn’t get this poem at all. I’m never asking HER for help again.”
I sent off the notes anyway—making sure to add the disclaimer: “Take these notes with a grain of salt!” My inner people pleaser dies hard.
This morning, I get a text from her saying “Thank-you for all those notes! That’s exactly what I needed to hear!”
And damn, an even better feeling than “not rocking the boat” is helping someone remove the dirt that is covering a treasure.