Finding Success (and a little failure) In Letters From an Ex
Written by Whitney Lacey
I like to think of myself as a professional lady that is open to feedback. In college I would quietly sit back, excitedly taking notes during creative writing critiques. When I started my career in writing, I saved all the feedback I got, so I could track my progress or note changes in my style. Now it’s a habit that keeps my inbox folders busy.
I’ve found adjectives that I like to put in front of feedback: creative, thoughtful, constructive, and so on. Even with those words working for me, I still feel a small pang when someone gives me a strong critique. It’s like doing squats. I know it’s good, the results are positive...but it doesn’t stop my butt from temporarily hurting. At work, it’s less my butt and more my heart that feels the fleeting burn. This stuff is hard. I know it. You know it. We all know it.
On one particular project, I had worked hundreds of hours getting the planets and stakeholders to align. I hopped on call after call to go through every single word with multiple teams. I thought about it when I went to sleep and when I sat across from friends at dinner (I know. Terrible. I’m sorry). Then the day I thought would never come arrived -the day the project was approved and published.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I thought this was about feedback.” And you would be correct, my friend.
About a week later, after I had blissfully moved that project to the recesses of my mind to focus on other things (like the people who sit across from me at dinner and are kind enough to still call me their friend). I was on a conference call and out of nowhere a voice said, “hey can we talk about that last project...it just sounds like letters from my ex-girlfriend.” People on the call laughed. I cried quietly in my cubicle.
This was less of momentary pang and more of an extended gut-punch-type feeling. I was really hurt. I had poured my soul into that project. As someone who wrote many several unremarkable letters as an ex-girlfriend, I can confidently say that mine left a lot to be desired in terms of syntax and lacked a strong grasp on logic. When I heard the phrase “letters from my ex-girlfriend” I felt like I failed. And I kind of did.
I explained what happened to a brilliant person who I still feel lucky to have worked with. Their brows furrowed when I got to the part about the crushing feedback and they simply replied, “Well, that isn’t helpful. Is it?...Did you tell them that [it wasn’t helpful]?”
It was the lightbulb moment to end all lightbulb moments. I didn’t have to put my work out into the world, sit back, and quietly wait for feedback. I could explain the type of feedback I need to create the best work (it probably leads with the words creative, thoughtful, or constructive). And I could expect from colleagues, friends, fellow people in the world that they would respect this. I will let them know I care and will reciprocate the gesture. This realization felt like a strong step in the success direction. Do I sometimes forget to ask for the feedback I need before sending my work out for reviews? Yep. Yes. 100%. Habits are tough to work through. But I do feel a strong sense of success every time I ask for what I need.
Whitney Lacey is a Content Designer, currently writing and creating in Austin, TX. She’s been in the tech and entertainment industry since 2015, and is always looking for ways to create delightful user experiences. When she’s not in front of a screen, she’s probably trying to engage you in a conversation about your favorite pizza or the benefits of owning a chihuahua.