How to Get Constructive Criticism

Last July, I opened my inbox to find an invitation to give a new TED talk. As a shy introvert, public speaking is something of an acquired taste for me. After years of practice, I had learned to relish the challenge of turning an idea into a memorable performance—and enjoy the experience of engaging an audience.

But this time, I found myself hesitating. I only had a month to prepare, and I was more than a little rusty. Due to COVID, it would be my first time on a live stage in a year and a half.

Since I’d written a few months earlier about languishing, I picked it as my topic and gave myself the first two weeks to incubate (read: procrastinate). Once the ideas gelled, I wrote a draft of the talk. Then, with just a couple weeks to refine, it was time to seek feedback.

The subject line of my email was “Challenge network, assemble!”

A challenge network is the group of insightful critics you trust to hold up a mirror so you can see your own blind spots. I think of my challenge network as my Avengers: they all have different superpowers that they use to save me from myself. They’re the people who sharpen your thinking and push you toward rethinking. They don’t hesitate to tell you if you have food in your teeth, because their goal isn’t to make you feel good—it’s to help you do better.

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