I had a conversation this afternoon with a good friend and colleague in the video game industry, and he said something that bothered me a bit: "I'm sorry, and this may sting, but... you were known as a nice guy, a bit of a pushover." He was referring to my behavior at a previous employer. How dare he? A pushover?
Honestly, he was right. Completely and totally accurate. I WAS a pushover, and it played a role in the end of my employment with said company. What bothered me, however, was the fact he felt compelled to apologise before he said this to me.
I've known him for a few years now, I trust him, and I know that when he criticizes he has good intentions. He means to help me, not hurt me. But I do the same thing. I often find myself making apologies before I dish out a dose of honest criticism. It's a bad habit, and one I need to break.
We work in a creative business. We make games, but we do have to make money. At the end of a project we have mouths to feed and bills to pay, so the project needs to be the best it can be and find an audience.
In order to be successful we need to hold ourselves to a high standard, but we must also hold each other to high standards. In order to be held to a high standard, we must learn to separate our feelings from our business and our creativity. As Thomas Wayne said, "We fall down so we can learn how to pick ourselves up again." Yes, I just quoted a comic book. My wife is cringing. Sorry dear :).
In order to better ourselves, we have to check our ego at the door and learn to accept criticism. In my experience, criticism and failure are greater teachers than praise and success can ever be. I have failed miserably on several occasions in my career, but each of those failures has taught me valuable lessons that have made me better at my job. And I've received criticism from a few people who, at the time, I felt were assholes. But even if they were (most of them weren't), I still learned something from them.
Thicken your skin. Embrace your failures. When you succeed take a moment to enjoy it, but be sure to shine a bright light on your smaller failures and do your best to learn from them. If someone is criticizing you, give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they're not out to hurt you, just to make you better. And if they ARE out to hurt you, learn something from it, move on and be better at what you do. Living well is the best revenge.
So am I still a pushover? Maybe, but certainly less of one. I've been channeling Gordon Ramsay at work lately and it's helping. He seems to be the confident, assertive type. A good role model if ever there was one. As for my friend, he continues to be a valuable source of guidance and a good guy to drink with.