Most people rarely achieve the level of success they desire. Of course, much of that is because they don't actually have a specific definition of what success for their lives. If you don't know what you want, how are you supposed to get there? If you're not sure what success looks like for you, check out my 80 Questions for Defining Success to get a better idea.
Even if one can clearly articulate a preferred future, many don't want to hear the truth about where they need to improve. They of course say that they are open to constructive criticism, but then are pretty unreceptive when they hear the unvarnished truth about their flaws.
During my time working in theatre, everyone thrived on criticism. We would spend hours working hard, only to receive pages and pages of notes on everything we did wrong, and very little we did right. Still, theatre people don't mind; they actually crave the feedback. First because they want to perfect their craft, second because it's far more gratifying to please the audience than their own ego.
This should translate well into the business world, but it's rarely taught in school, and often isn't even taught on the job. Bosses and colleagues are insincerely positive and scared to offend, instead of giving the real feedback their employees need to achieve.
Of course, it would be easier to provide real insights if more people were actually willing to receive honest feedback. Unfortunately, most don't really want to hear it, and even if they get it, they don't make the effort to understand it. If you're genuinely interested in success and willing to put your ego aside, here's how to use criticism to your advantage:
1. Solicit Real Feedback from Honest People
Most people ask the opinion of those who they know will stroke their ego, and tell them what they want to hear. It's understandable - people want to feel good about themselves - but this is not a pathway to achievement. Successful people seek out those who will tell them the hard, cold truth. Those willing to share unfettered feedback are the ones that take an actual stake in other the person's success. They often risk the uncomfortable to help you be better. Show your appreciation by listening with an open heart.
2. Keep a List
Keep track of what people tell you to work on. The hard stuff to improve on - the real issues that will require a deep investigation into why and how you are a particular way - aren't going to be a quick fix. Chances are you won't be able to solve them by memory alone. You need time to absorb and observe your flaws, and time to determine how to improve. Keep yourself organized so you can attack all the problems effectively.
3. Create a Plan
There will be little things that you can fix with relative ease. But once you knock out the simple stuff keeping you from success, it's time for the tougher tasks. The real challenges have more systemic issues that revolve around your mindset and how you behave. You should make a thoughtful plan of how to solve these issues, systematically and over time.
4. Celebrate the Insights
Hearing that you're doing something poorly can be painful, which is why most people avoid it, which is why most won't say it. They don't want to hurt your feelings. But until you get real insight, you won't be able to advance. So when you get that piece of information that stings, recognize the moment and celebrate it. And most importantly, express real gratitude to the person brave enough to share it with you. This person actually cares and deserves your respect and gratitude.
5. Chart Your Progress
What gets measured gets done. If you really are determined to overcome your flaws and get better, you need to monitor your success closely. How well are you following your plan? Have you tackled all the small issues so you can work on the big ones? If you don't track your progress, you won't be able to tell how you're doing and where to focus your effort.
6. Never Be Satisfied
Nobody is perfect and - spoiler alert - nobody ever will be. But craving criticism and seeking improvement will push you past your perceived limits and up to your highest potential. (Secret - it will likely push you ahead of many others. Take sports as an example. Elite athletes like Tiger Woods have a bunch of coaches - and they're not there to tell Tiger what he's doing right. Nope, they're there to tell him what he's doing wrong, and how to fix it. Those seeking true success need to keep working, keep pushing, and keep refining.