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Criticism might sting, but it can help

Posted on January 22, 2019 in

My brother-in-law and his wife are maniacal athletes. Their habits are mostly inspirational but sometimes depressing for the rest of us mere mortals. One of their many sports groups is the Dolphins & Rainbows Swim Club that meets every Sunday morning in Miami Beach.   Depending on the time of year, they swim around 1.8 miles along the beach or in Biscayne Bay around the islands.   After years of prodding, I finally agreed to try a session with the group. I waited for a beach day to leave myself the option of discreetly getting out early. They swim a little less than a mile north and then back. I planned to do the first half and then walk back. But after the first leg, I felt inspired and ended up finishing the whole thing. I may have been the slowest in the group, but I was proud to finish.

Since that first Sunday, more than a year ago, I have only missed a couple of swims, and I feel great. It has not been easy though. Every Sunday morning when my alarm rings, I lay in bed thinking of reasons to stay put. I am not an ironman or a triathlete like most of the group. Long distance has never been my game. So, the swim is a struggle for me. The cold and sloshy water is tough, and the tides are no friend either. I made each trip around the island counting strokes and rewarding myself with “breaststroke breaks” every 20 strokes or so. (Yes, I was literally counting). But I ultimately found a source of motivation in the strangest place.

Image depicts attorney Jeff Bast swimming in Biscayne Bay

One Sunday morning, we were swimming around the islands on a rough and cold day. Though I did not voice any concern, I was nervous. On top of the churning water they call “the dishwasher,” the current was particularly strong. I was not having a good day. To be honest, I was struggling. But as we approached one of the turns, somebody told me my wife was up ahead, watching us from the bridge. I could see her on the bridge, though I still had a long way to go against the strong current. It took me a while but I was happy to finally reach the bridge and see her cheering us on, taking pictures and videos.

Later in the day, I watched some of her videos of the group. In one clip, you can see the swimmers all struggling against the racing current. The camera zooms out and you can see one guy off in the distance. You can then hear my wife comment, “Look at this guy. He’s not even moving.” Then, a few seconds later, she realizes … “oh, that’s my husband!”

Ouch! That hurt! It was funny but true. I was swimming but I wasn’t really getting anywhere. And though my wife meant no harm by the comment, it delivered just the right amount of sting to motivate me. Since that day, I have been working on my stroke, my strength and my breathing. No more struggles. No current has intimidated me. I have been swimming stronger and faster than ever before. And I always enjoy it now.

Image depicts a woman standing on bridge holding up a peace sign

Though I did not realize it at the time, all I needed was that little bit of criticism to motivate me. In this day and age, we tend to be so careful about saying the wrong thing. We are afraid to hurt others’ feelings. So, we sandwich our critiques with compliments and communicate them gently in private.   Sometimes, that can be the right approach. But often, a public critique can be motivating. When a teacher or boss in the past suggested I could not accomplish something, that pessimism was often the right motivation for me to get it done. Whether I was motivated to do it for myself or just to prove them wrong doesn’t really matter. I did it.

To be clear, I am not advocating public shaming or ridiculing.   I am just reminded that while compliments make us feel good, we really do not learn much from them. Criticism might sting, but it can be a great teacher and an excellent motivator.



Jeffrey-P.-Bast-bioAbout the Author: Jeffrey P. Bast has been practicing insolvency law for more than 21 years. He represents clients on bankruptcy and bankruptcy avoidance, emphasizing corporate reorganization, workouts, creditors’ rights, and commercial litigation both in and out of bankruptcy court. He also provides insolvency-related transactional advice and has extensive experience with all aspects of bankruptcy sales and acquisitions. Jeff represents corporate and individual debtors, shareholders, trustees, receivers, indenture trustees and creditors’ committees, as well as secured and unsecured creditors in complex workouts, reorganizations, and liquidations.