the need for thick skin

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.

— Harper Lee

ID-10013109 thick skin
Along with rhinos, elephants are said to have the thickest skin. (Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Everyone is a critic.

It doesn’t matter what you do — someone, somewhere will have something to say about it.

When it comes to writing, you may have just completed the most amazing piece of work ever known to man, but there will be someone out there who doesn’t like it. And someone who does.

That’s the cool thing about writing — there is no ‘one right way’ to do it.

It is also the most frustrating thing about writing, and the reason writers need that thick hide Harper Lee refers to.

Rejection notes from publishers (or worse, no response at all), bad reviews, mentors saying ‘Yeah, it doesn’t really do it for me,’ — without that thick hide, sharing your writing with anyone could potentially send you into a downward spiral if you let it.

At the very first writing course I attended we were asked if we wanted to read our work aloud.

What? You mean while other people are listening?

Reading my writing aloud to an audience (or even to one person) for the first time as an adult was one of the scariest things I have ever done. It still is … every time. My voice quakes, I stumble over words, I lose my place because I am trying to read the facial expressions of my audience. When I am finished I sit there with my stomach clenching and rolling, not knowing what the feedback will be. Or how I will respond to it.

The thing with your own writing is that it comes from your heart and soul. It is a part of you. Having someone give you negative (constructive) feedback or, worse-case scenario, simply not liking it,  can be gut-wrenchingly demoralising. Some people in courses I have attended just don’t share their writing. For me, as scary as it is, sharing is something I force myself to do because I know I will learn from it; except when the comment is just ‘oh, that was good.’

A thick hide is a prerequisite to becoming a good writer. But, I also believe that thick hide needs a couple of cracks in it, to let the emotion and the heart both in and out. This enables you to take the feedback at face value, work with it, use it or discard it as needed.

Writing is not the only job requiring a thick hide. Teaching requires a hide of elephant quality if you don’t wish to go home a quivering mess at the end of most days.

A Principal I know has said (more than once), ‘Teaching is the only profession where other people feel they can tell you how to do your job.’  He used to go on to say he wouldn’t walk into parent A’s office and tell him how to do his job, ‘so what gives him the right to do that to me?’

The thing with education is this — everyone has been to school, so everyone has an opinion and feels they know how to ‘do school’. Most people manage to keep this contained and respect an educator’s experience; a select few don’t and feel they have the right to tell their child’s teacher how to teach, how to manage their class, how to assess work and so on.

To those people: Sorry! Most teachers have undertaken at least four years of university study to learn how to do their jobs, and the learning doesn’t stop after graduation. There is career-long professional learning required in order to maintain and update pedagogical knowledge.

And you have …?  What’s that … up to seven years experience in Primary School (or six in secondary education) as a student … oh, now I see why you know more than me.

So dealing with these people (and there is usually one in every class) requires a thick hide, as well as quick-thinking skills to respond to their advice and someone to vent to afterwards.

It is not only parents that help us grow thick hides, but also the ‘powers that be’. These are the people occupying high-paying roles within education, who haven’t set foot in a classroom for years but still like to tell us ‘how things are’ and ‘what we should be doing’.

My advice to others and my personal strategy when confronted by such people (know-it-all parents, colleagues and bureauocrats): smile, nod, say ‘oh, I hadn’t considered that’, think rude thoughts in your head (being careful not to let them escape) … then go and do what you know is right for your students after the self-appointed advisor has departed with a satisfied (smug) look on their face and feeling they have made a difference.

I am sure it is not only teaching and writing requiring the thick hide: telemarketers must need an explosion grade hide; I.T. professionals (because everyone has a computer); parents (because we were all kids); actors and musicians (for the same reason as writers); and anybody who works in the caring profession. Thick hides are not exclusive to writers or teachers.

A thick hide is an essential accessory in life, but it needs to be able to breathe too as there is a mighty fine line between resilience and arrogance.

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2 thoughts on “the need for thick skin

  1. I particularly like your last line, Kellie, pointing out that ‘a thick hide is an essential accessory for life’.
    As I reflect on my past, I agree that having a thick hide takes a lot of hard work and resilience. A thick hide doesn’t come easily.
    I can remember comments from my mother when amazed at different people’s behaviour or response to questioning….’Some people have more hide than Jessie the elephant’. Yes, some people do have very thick hides that put them on the hero pedestal. These people have developed ‘the gift of the gab’. How often do I observe such people receiving undeserved laurel wreaths! This appears to me to be grossly unfair. How many brilliant people pass under the radar because they are quiet achievers, lingering on the fringes of so called ‘greatness’.
    Perseverance and resilience are essential ingredients to cling to in developing a thick hide. This, in my opinion, is particularly applicable to those individuals pursuing artistic and creative recognition. To stand up again and again after being knocked back takes lots of guts and self belief. I can just imagine the exaltation of finally achieving the pinnacle of well deserved recognition of engaging and innovative talent!
    In the teaching arena, professionals are frequently bombarded by ‘helicopter parents’ who, in my opinion, are just destructive critics with no remedies to offer. They are unable to demonstrate that their beliefs must be justified to have true knowledge. Politicians are particularly destructive in imposing ‘new ideas’ purely in an effort to catch illusive votes. I feel they are responsible for overloading teachers’ plates, creating frustration and false teaching methods in an effort to please ‘the powers that be’. No wonder that the numbers of ‘wombats’ are on the rise! They haven’t been given time to ‘understand’, to ‘internalise’, to develop thick hides.
    We must remain strong, we must remain stoic, we must persevere, we must believe and justify our knowledge, we must be assertive in trying relentlessly to develop thick hides!!!!!!!!!
    ‘Never, never, never give in’……….
    Janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your last comment about never giving in reminded me of my favourite picture (I think they are called ‘memes’ these days) … there is a stork standing with the legs of a frog dangling from its beak. The frog’s ‘hands’ are gripped tight around the stork’s neck and the caption … ‘Never give up.’ I had that on my wall above my desk for years. Sadly in my many moves I have lost it … but every time I feel like giving up I search for that picture in my mind. Small things!!

      Like

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