The subject line read simply “lips.” It had been a very long day– a long week at work– covering the immigration debate and my inbox had been filled with hate mail. Most of it was so skewed to one side or the other, I would just ignore it. Occasionally I would respond explaining why I had reported my story the way I had in a thoughtful way, and let it go. After all, nothing makes the blood of the political extremes boil quite like immigration or gun control.
This email, however, caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment. I had spent a 16 hour day tracking down interviews, knocking on doors, logging tape in the heat, and it had been grueling. Eleven o’clock is when I finally had a moment to sort through the day’s emails and this one was right at the top, begging me to click “open.” And click it I did, only to regret it almost in the same moment.
The email read as follows:
“Do you and (name of a reporter at another station) use the same plastic surgeon? Because both of your lips look like S#!*.”
But of course, with the vulgarity. That was it. And on a regular day when normal Jen would have just laughed it off, I clicked reply instead.
I typed up the snarkiest reply I could muster. About how viewers don’t always agree with my story, but that typically when someone takes the time to look up my email address after a report, they have some kind of position. Instead, this email was meant only to hurt me, and what kind of person does that? How I quite like my lips, and so does my husband, thankyouverymuch, and hey, God gave me mine, so I got to keep the money that would have gone to a plastic surgeon– lucky me! By the way, thanks for watching, because even your viewership helps our ratings– jerk face.
But something stopped me from pushing “send.” A very wise and seasoned colleague sitting next to me said “Jen, delete it.”
“It’s not going to make you feel better,” he said. ”It’s only going to make you feel worse. And that’s what whoever sent that wants. You to feel bad. Don’t let them have that.”
And so I did. Delete it, that is. And with that, I gained a new perspective on criticism from others. Just delete.
I am no stranger to harsh criticism. You can’t be in journalism (or in the professional dance world, which I was a part of before reporting). I’ve heard it all: too thin, too curvy, I think you should lighten your hair, keep it dark, it’s so dark it looks like a hat on camera (seriously– a professor told me that), cut it, grow it out, too ambitious, too passionate, you should never wear that again, you should wear that all the time, and I could go on and on and on. I even had some weirdo write me a hate poem once about a story (immigration again, go figure) because he was mad I had interviewed an illegal immigrant— so mad, he called me the “C” word. Yep, that one. And “classy” ain’t it.
The truth is, I’ve learned criticism is a necessary part of growth– even the hurtful kind. I take the sincere words of constructive criticism straight to the heart– even seek it out– and I try my best to not let an ounce of the hurtful kind in. I believe my Heavenly Father put me in tough situations to teach me that I decide my worth– not someone else. It’s difficult, yes. But I truly believe hateful, mean-spirited words behind your back or to your face usually say more about the person spitting them out, than the person on the receiving end.
That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt sometimes. Strangers– not so much anymore, because I made a conscious decision to let their words go. They don’t know me– the real me– so why should I let their opinions determine my value? No, it’s the friends– the people you think are friends– whose backstabbing damages the deepest. And while I unfortunately have examples in this department as well, it’s another area of my life I’ve had to just let go of. The only person it’s going to hurt to dwell on those awful things is me.
I’m sharing this in hopes that my experiences will help you realize the haters– those people who find pleasure in your pain, who seek out your imperfections or snarl at your success with snide little remarks are just that– little. There are far more people who love, support, like, and admire you. The voices of the minority can sometimes seem the loudest because who wants to be alone in the dark? The jealous and miserable want to wallow in unhappiness with company. They shout so it seems there is a roar from a stadium when really, it’s a handful of people who couldn’t get tickets to the event. Don’t join them by letting those daggers chip away at your armor. Focus on the light instead, for there is far more light than dark in this world.
I saved that awful email for a week or so, then added it to my delete box, along with my drafted reply. I then started saving the kind letters from people I had interviewed, thanking me for the tender story I had put together on their lost loved one, their child battling a terrible disease, their police force dealing with a devastating string of child homicides. I cherished the voicemail from the sweet 88-year-old woman who just wanted to ask me what kind of shampoo I use to get my hair shiny, and you know what? The good far outweighed the bad. Yes, there is someone out there who thinks my lips look like a swear word. Darn it, looks like he won’t be getting a kiss from me any time soon. But in case he changes his mind, these botched non-plastic surgery smackers will be waiting!