In my travels on the internet and in the real world (yes, that happens too!), I’ve often come across people declaring that they do/don’t have a thick skin or that they need to develop a thick skin. I used that expression too, especially when I first arrived in New York looking for work as a graphic designer and then working in some pretty fast-paced art departments. Over the years, my thinking on the good old thick skin has shifted. I mean, look at the definition:
thick-skinned (thĭk′skĭnd′) adj.
1. Having a thick skin or rind.
2. Not easily offended.
3. Largely unaffected by the needs and feelings of other people; insensitive.*
Not exactly how I like to think of myself. And anyway, I never really “developed” one. A wise woman told me this: you don’t need to develop a thick skin but you do need to strengthen your inner core. I thought about it a lot and realized how smart that idea is. While the thick-skin is tough talk, core strength is a calm and enduring way to think. Being thick-skinned reminds me of what I used to say when I was a kid, “I’m rubber, you’re glue…” I’ll let you fill in the rest— I can’t be the only one who said that.
When we’re striving for things, pushing ourselves in new directions, we get a lot of criticism. We’re probably asking for most of it and it usually helps. The need to don the thick skin usually comes when we get criticism we aren’t expecting. Or flat-out rejection. Ouch. It can sting so we tell ourselves it wouldn’t matter if we weren’t so thin-skinned. But I’m not so sure about that.
If we’re thick-skinned and don’t let the criticism in, we’ll never improve. Or it will take much longer. That “ouch” means the crit touched us and it’s up to us to figure out why. Once we’ve thought it over, we’re allowed to agree or disagree (at least in part) but we’ve got to think first—put it away and read it later—so that we aren’t simply reacting to the hurt.
Google “core strength.” Tons of links pop up—most concerning abs. And there are tons of tips on developing a thicker skin. Tips like: “Don’t take things personally.” Well, most of us do. Not all the time but sometimes.
But what can we do to build inner core strength? I wish I had one answer. I think it’s a lot like those abs exercises…
We keep at it. Build up resilience. I like “resilient” better than “thick-skinned.”
re·sil·ient (r-zlynt) adj.
1. Marked by the ability to recover readily, as from misfortune.
2. Capable of returning to an original shape or position, as after having been compressed.
See Synonyms : flexible.*
We vary our exercises. If we’re only working those abs, we lose balance. Work on another project. Sometimes one project informs another and helps us work muscles we never knew we had.
We rest. Give our muscles a day off then hit them again another day. Fill the well or catch up on paperwork—it’s all good and it takes us away long enough to gain perspective.
We take a class. Working out alone all the time means we don’t test or reinforce our skills. We hone our craft in classes and crit groups.
All in all, we need to let the criticism in, sift through it, then take action. Blocking perceived injuries with a thick skin doesn’t allow us to grow. Working on strengthening the core and all the skills, including emotional skills, to move forward does allow us to grow.
Thick skin or resilience? What do you do to strengthen your inner core in order to keep pursuing your goals? What have you got planned for March? Comment here or if you’re part of the private Sub It Club Facebook group, tells us how you’re doing over there. If you’d like to join our Facebook group, send a request. And have a great month!
*The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
What a great post! I had been experiencing the February blahs and letting negative inner thoughts dictate my writing. I was almost at a standstill last week. But as I read and watched some videos this week, I shook myself and got back into gear. I am writing again and not worrying about the end result, as much as I am with the journey.
Thanks, Bev. So glad you were able to move forward. Bon voyage!
This is such great timing to receive the gift of your solid, positive encouragement. I recently (OK almost a year ago) had a couple of professional rejections that were embarrassing and demoralizing. As a result, it’s been a year of questioning myself, my career, my goals. I think developing resilience makes 100% sense rather than the thick skin idea which doesn’t seem to be happening and also doesn’t resonate with the goal of creative expression and sense of empathy all creative professionals cultivate in order to connect with their audience/viewers/readers. I think it helps to develop a network of cheerleaders – anyone in your family and community who believe in you. Also the crit groups help if they are constructive because they as fellow creative people understand where you’re coming from and can gently help you back to your feet and offer helpful advice. =) And going for walks does help – especially this time of year when it’s easier to stay in.
I’m happy this struck a note for you, Jenn. You are so right. And the walks are essential for clearing the mind!
Loving this post like chocolate at 3PM.
Ha! Wendy, I’m a chocolate lover so I’m taking that as a VERY high compliment. 🙂 Thanks!!
March Goalposts – I’m entering my writing in some contests for a Writer’s Conference that I’ll be attending at the end of April. Started a story for the Pocket’s contest. Started another PB manuscript all with a Spring in my step to go forward into the Month of March.
Yay, Jenifer! I’m sure you’ll have a very productive March. Carry on!
Thank you and hope your March is very productive also!!!!
I’m adopting the word, resilience, as my Word-of-the-Year! I am not thick-skinned whatsover (except maybe, literally on my elbows). I often feel like taffy in the world of kidlit, I think I know what I’m doing and then am pulled one way and the other by opinions, there’s no grading system to follow, only my gut instincts and when I get crits sometimes I can’t separate the helpful from the disregardable because I’m never clear on if I’m just being too sensitive or whether the feedback is making me a better writer/illustrator. Somehow, the word resilience puts playfulness back into this whole thing called ‘passionate about sharing my perspective thru art and story.’ I get way too serious about getting it right, when it’s about just getting it out there. Great article! thank youuu!
Thanks! Wow! Word-of-the-Year! I can relate to what you’re saying, Kirsten. It can be hard when we let it all in. The sorting/filtering is key in building resilience, I think. It’s like working out and building muscles. Got to keep working at it!