Ask Your Friends to Hurt You

In December of last year, I began blogging and sharing my thoughts on personal growth. The process began with my New Year’s Resolutions and picking an annual theme to examine my life, reassess areas of growth, and have others call me out on my blind spots. It was a painful process where I had to acknowledge all my shortcomings and failures. But the constructive criticism helped me get better, and I’m thankful for that.

There’s a stigma about asking for constructive criticism — most people won’t do it unless asked; and even then, many struggle with it despite it being in the best interest for the other. In truth, I believe this hinders many relationships and limits the opportunity for transparency and authenticity.

Authenticity is scary. It’s costly being vulnerable and admitting truths we’d rather sweep under the rug. Living a fraudulent life is a much cheaper alternative that doesn’t involve the fear of being emotionally invested.

But what I’ve learned about fear is it can become one of two things: a Master or a Teacher. We get to decide which.

Bringing in the #Squad

So before I established my New Year’s theme, I sent out an email to my close group of friends, my #Squad, and asked them what areas I could improve. I wanted them to provide constructive criticism and point out areas I’ve hesitated to engage because of fear.

Here’s what the email said:

Subject: A Personal Favor

Dear Friends:

Thank you so much for opening this email. I am in the process of reflecting upon and reevaluating personal goals for 2016 and was hoping to receive feedback from those closest to me.

This email is going out to a very select group of people. Each one of you knows me well, and I’m hoping you will give me honest feedback about where I can improve this coming year. This is the first time I’ve asked those around me to help establish goals and areas of growth, but I feel that for me to continue learning and improving as a person, I need to get a more accurate assessment of who I am to the people that matter to me most. It’s an undeserved gift to have each of you in my life and I wouldn’t be sending you this email if I didn’t trust and respect your opinion.

So, here’s what I’m asking: that you take just a few minutes to email me back with what you honestly think are my top 2-3 “areas of improvement.”

…if it will make some of you feel better, you may also list my top 2-3 strengths, though my focus will be mostly on areas of growth.

That’s it. And please don’t sugarcoat or hold back anything. I will not be offended by anything that you share. In fact, the more brutally honest you are, the more capable I am of seeing blindspots in my life and will aim to make the adjustments in 2016. Thank you again, and if there is anything else I can do to assist you in your personal development, please let me know.

Merry Christmas.

With Sincere Gratitude,
Wes

Breaking it down

There are a couple of things worth noting about this email:

1) Keep it small

This email went out to a close group of friends (no more than 10 people). This is key. I selected individuals who have walked with me in my day-to-day and have seen me at my best and worst. There’s a speech by Teddy Roosevelt called Man in the Arena,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It was Brene Brown who taught me — listen to people in your life who are in the arena with you. These are the people who fight alongside you, care about you, and genuinely love you despite your successes and failures.

For those sitting in the bleachers slewing criticisms and tooting your shortcomings, ignore them.

2) Change is a community effort

There’s a reason I asked more than just one individual to contribute to this endeavor. Different people provide different insights. Some see parts of me that others don’t and it’s together that I’m able to get a 360-perspective of who I am.

These are also the people who keep me accountable to my commitments. If my friends provide constructive criticism and I’m not willing to follow-through, then I’ve disrespected their time and effort. That’s something I don’t take lightly.

3) Strengths balance out weaknesses

I intentionally provided a section where individuals could list strengths. For some, it can be uncomfortable to provide only criticism. This section was meant to give permission to speak truth while also allowing an opportunity for encouragement.

I can deal with hard truths; criticism is the petri dish that allows improvement to grow. But not every person is comfortable with providing constructive criticism, and that’s okay too.

Overall

What I learned in this process was a greater appreciation for constructive criticism and for friends who cared deeply enough to show me how I could continue growing. It was through this practice that I developed this year’s theme of Thanksgiving and Vulnerability. And this theme has been transformative in liberating a lot of my own fears as well as helping others do the same.

As I’ve asked for more and more constructive criticism, I’ve developed a a greater sense of resiliency. Harsh feedback no longer feels like a personal attack; once I segment the good from poor feedback, it feels like a genuine act of love and care.

I’m also beginning to understand constructive criticism should never end. I will always fall short and I’ll never be perfect, but the win is never in the outcome but in the journey. And I sure do love the journey.

Wesley Fang