Hell Yeah or No

by Derek Sivers

I recently re-read the excellent book Hell Yeah or No by Derek Sivers. There’s so much wisdom to share from it, but I want to highlight my takeaways from my favorite chapter:

The public you is not you

Sivers offers an invaluable reframe on how to view both the criticism and compliments we get.

Creating online comes with many benefits, including the ability to reach almost anyone in the world. But it also comes with the cost of dealing with criticism. As creators, we’re told to simply “ignore the haters,” but that is easier said than done. Often, the feedback is not inherently negative. It’s misdirected. It was sent to us, yet it seems like it’s about someone else. That’s because it usually isn’t about us. It’s about a character of us, created in someone else’s mind.

In the chapter titled, “The public you is not you,” Sivers describes a harrowing experience when he was attacked online. He had published a blog post describing learnings switching from one web framework to another, and it somehow went viral overnight. His intent with the post was simply to describe his experience for the record, yet commenters attacked him for being a “complete idiot and a terrible programmer.” This is how he handled it:

At first I was upset and insulted, like anyone would be. Then, luckily, something switched in my head and I realized the most important point:

They weren’t talking about me. They were talking about a cardboard cutout that looked like me. A little online avatar that has the same name as me, but is not me.

I couldn’t be offended when they said I was an idiot, because they didn’t know me. They had read a few paragraphs of an article and spewed some insults. Their reactions had nothing to do with the real me.

Suddenly it was like watching a little videogame character get attacked. It was funny to watch, part of the game, and not personal at all.

Then I realized it was the same with compliments.

Sharing our thoughts, ideas and creativity with the world does not have to come at the cost of our emotional safety. We must remind ourselves that comments on our online work are usually based on a perceived character (or a cardboard cutout, as Sivers puts it), not on us as a person. We can learn to swim in public waters while maintaining our boundaries.

Let us learn to be loose with our grip on both the criticism and compliments that come our way. Let us look at them as passing clouds—acknowledging them, then letting them float away, away, away…