You’d think that it hurts when someone you care about and respect says something to you that’s extremely critical, however the pain is usually short lived. After it’s worn off and you’ve had time to reflect on what they’ve said, you’ve been given a great opportunity for growth, or a great chance to get rid of a overly critical friend. But if they are someone you really trust and believe in, it’s probably going to be the former. For me, some of the biggest changes of my life came from some of the most direct criticism imaginable.
The first example I remember was in eighth grade. I know it’s hard to believe for those who know me today, but at that time I was not always the most popular person in the room. I was super awkward in normal social settings, and I also had even bigger problems.
One day my teacher, Mr.Levitt, called me up to his desk after homeroom. First let me tell you something about Mr. Levitt. He was without question one of the best teachers I ever had. I can think of maybe two or three teachers that I’ve had in my life that have made me want to succeed because the thought of letting them down was unbearable. Mr. Levitt was one of those teachers.
What was the topic of this random call to his desk? I of course assumed it was to inform me of what a genius I was, but turns out it was something else altogether. It went a little something like this:
“Greg, I hear a lot of the kids talking behind your back about your hygiene, mainly about stuff like combing your hair, using deodorant regularly and your fashion sense. If I were you I’d really put an effort in improving this aspect of your life”.
Of course he didn’t say it exactly like that, but he got the point across in the nicest but clearest way that one can get a point like that across. The very next day I made sure to comb my hair as well as I could. I’m sure it didn’t look amazing but I do recall a few kids even commenting on it. I think it went something like “Oh wow, Greg combed his hair today!” For some reason this made me feel good.
Mr. Levitt was a great teacher. Who knows how much longer it would have taken me to make the changes that I did if he didn’t have this talk to me. Now I can’t say I instantly became the master of fashion. In one of the low points of my fashion history, I did spend an entire year where I wore nothing but basketball and football jerseys (I’m not exaggerating). But I now knew that if Mr. Levitt felt it was important enough to call me over to his desk to talk to me, I definitely had to make it a priority to take care of my physical appearance much more than I was doing.
I’m sure this wasn’t obvious only to Mr. Levitt, but he was the only one that had the courage to tell something hurtful to me. And this kind of hurtful but helpful thing, coming from someone who I admired and who I knew liked me, was something that needed to be said.
The next time this happened it even shocks me. I consider myself a pretty happy person, mainly because I’m always pretty happy. There are so many amazing things to do, I can play chess, play video games, go to Crossfit, watch movies, hang out with friends, eat ice cream, travel. There is literally not a second that goes by where there isn’t something interesting and engaging that I can do. Life is amazing!
But it turns out I wasn’t always this way. Sometime when I was around 22 or 23 years old, I couldn’t believe that every girl in the world didn’t want to be my girlfriend. And by that I mean zero girls that I was interested in for a period of about two years wanted to be my girlfriend. I had one close friend that I would talk to about my dates and the latest outrageous rejection from some girl who would clearly be lucky to be dating such a nice guy like me.
At some point we were on a mini road trip and she got real quiet all of the sudden and finally said to me “Greg, listen, you have to stop being so negative all the time”.
I’m sure my first reaction was defensive but then she really nailed the point home: “One of the reasons you’re having trouble with women is because no one wants to deal with all of that negativity and complaining”.
After maybe 30 minutes, or even an entire day of denial, I realized she was probably right. I swear I don’t remember the exact steps I took that were different, but I obviously made some kind of mental adjustment because my dating results changed drastically within a few months of that conversation. Also I cannot imagine in a million years that people who I would meet for the first time today would ever describe me as a negative person. Whatever she said hit home, penetrated my soul, and changed me forever.
What does this mean to you? No matter who you are, you probably have some problem that no one tells you about because they don’t want to feel like a jerk. But it’s even more likely that you know many people who have some really blatant personality flaw that they may be unaware of. I’m not suggesting that you should just run around telling everyone they are assholes, but if you are very close to them, think they will listen to you, respect you, and feel that your advice is coming from a good place, you’d probably be doing everyone a favor to talk to them.
Do you know someone who frequently smells bad and you’re pretty sure it would just require some extra maintenance to fix the problem? Tell them. An UBER drive helped me out with this in Seattle a few months ago. It was because I had a wristbrace that had gotten mildewy due to pathetic attempts to wash it right before boarding my plane, but I think I was in denial as to how bad it smelled. Here’s how the conversation went a few minutes into our trip:
Uberman “Hey man, so you just came from the gym?”
Uberman “Ok, because it smells like it”
I gave the helpful asshole 5 stars because his blunt comment saved me from a lot future embarrassment.
Do you know someone who is deep down a really great person but also is a little bit too arrogant to the point where it makes people root against them in life? Tell them, and provide some helpful advice and specific examples. Do you know someone who constantly says racist things in public? Then tell your friend Donald how it makes you feel.
It’s super super hard to get the courage to talk to people about this stuff, and it’s also very difficult to figure out whether it’s appropriate to begin with, but when people have told me really important things about myself that I was capable of fixing, it made a big difference in my life. I’m happy that I listened!