The Worst Feedback I’ve Ever Received

Feedback is such a nice way of saying “here’s what you’re doing wrong” isn’t it? If you’ve had a job, you’ve received feedback. Several years ago, at a job I absolutely loved, I received feedback at my annual review that did more than just make me aware of something. It really devastated and confused me.

It didn’t matter that 95% of my performance review was glowing. The one line stuck with me. I remember calling my Mom after, choked up and confused. Had I been wrong about myself my whole life? Or perhaps had my mother been lying to me?

Here’s what my boss told me. “It took you longer to learn a lot of things than it should have.”

He’d called me, ME, who’d always believed herself to be a quick-to-pick-things-up kind of person, a slow learner.

I’ll never forget it and I truly think that I lost a lot of confidence because of it. I felt like I’d been wrong about myself my whole life. I know I’m not a genius. I’m smart. I went to a good college. I try hard at the things I care about. But I also had to re-take Calculus after I got a D and I graduated with a Communication degree. No offense to my fellow Comm majors, but come on, it’s not biochemistry.

For the record, Archie thinks I'm a genius.
For the record, Archie thinks I’m a genius.

So I kind of started to believe that I was a slow learner, even as my family and close friends insisted that this wasn’t the case. When I interviewed for my new position, as I did interview prep questions, I knew I couldn’t use “quick learner” as a strength. It would be a lie, right?

But then…

I started my new job. And within days nearly every one of my new colleagues had told me what a fast learner I was. My new boss complimented me on my memory tricks to remember where things are in the hospital. She told me I was picking things up very quickly. I was stunned.

I came straight home after work that day and told N about how everyone thought I was a fast learner. “Well of course,” he said, “You are!”

And that’s when I realized that I’d really let one persons perception (and expectations) shape how I thought of myself. My boss meant well when he gave me that feedback. He didn’t (and doesn’t) know that it affected me so much. Maybe what I was doing there didn’t come as easily to me as it had to others. Maybe my bosses expectations of me and my expectations of me did not align. Maybe that job was just harder.

I’ve felt redeemed, happy, and confused again. But I’ve realized…

To a toddler, I’m the fastest person in the world. To a runner (or pretty much any adult human), I’m slow as hell. That is their perception of me. It does not have to be my perception of me. It should not change how I feel about myself. Because I’ve had 26 years to get to know me, and you know what? I’m pretty quick.

With the learning stuff, that is. Not so much with the running.

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  • excellent points. i remember the first time that my performance review didn’t go as well as i had hoped (on any level), i feared them for the next few years. like cold sweat, clammy, the world is ending kind of fear. yikes! i’ll focus on the one part of a client meeting that points out that i didn’t go to an ivy league school and forget that i have gotten many, many, many kids accepted to said ivies. i think it’s human nature, but the more important part is the last thing you said… perception. and its all relative. awesome post! 😉

    • Thank you! I definitely agree that it’s all about perception. Still, negative feedback is always a little hard to take.

  • Awe, You should definitely read, #GirlBoss 🙂 It will motivate you and give you a little pep in your step.

    • It’s been on my reading list for a while but I always wind up reading more fiction. I’ve heard great things so I’ll have to give it a shot.

  • I always focus on the bad- even if it’s a good review. I can’t help it! I would have felt the same way. But you’re right the perception of someone else shouldn’t form How you feel about yourself!

    • It’s hard to not focus on the bad. If the good was SO overwhelmingly good, I might be able to. Still, in my line of work, positive feedback is like “your heart is really in it.” Well yeah, I know that. But I feel like that would be true of anyone who does what I do.

  • V

    You know what? Giving constructive feedback is an art. An art that this asshole clearly has not mastered. It really upsets me when I hear about those kinds of people in management positions. I truly believe that only people who can motivate and encourage should be allowed to manage. It’s such a position of power that, sadly, too many people abuse.

    Anyway, I’m glad you found the lesson and the silver lining here. You are the only person who can assign your worth. :o)

    x
    V

    • The thing is, he isn’t an asshole. If I could write him off as an asshole, I think I wouldn’t have taken it to heart so much. Because he is someone that I respect and care about, it was much much harder to hear.

  • V

    You know what? Giving constructive feedback is an art. An art that this asshole clearly has not mastered. It really upsets me when I hear about those kinds of people in management positions. I truly believe that only people who can motivate and encourage should be allowed to manage. It’s such a position of power that, sadly, too many people abuse.

    Anyway, I’m glad you found the lesson and the silver lining here. You are the only person who can assign your worth. :o)

    x
    V

  • I love this post. I read a quote somewhere once (ok, fine, it was Pinterest) that said “Don’t worry about what others think about you, it’s none of your business”, or something to that effect. Thanks for sharing the story!

    • Oooh I really like that. Thanks for sharing.

      p.s. I’d know zero quotes if it wasn’t for pinterest 😉

  • So true. Sadly we can never please everybody and even on things that seem obvious people will never all agree. This reminded me of a choir audition in high school – I didn’t make it, nor did anyone in my section, but I was stunned to get the written audition results back – of two reviewers one gave me 90 something out of 100 and the other gave me 50/100. It was crazy. When I read in detail, she had literally marked me low in all the areas the other judge marked me highest. Sigh. what can you do?

    • Singing is definitely something that’s so preference based that it would be really hard for someone not well-trained to give a proper score. There are so many things in life like that.

  • Great post, Nadine! I’m the kind of person to take things to heart a bit too often, so I totally understand why you dwelled on what that first boss told you for so long but am SO happy that you now have that slice of confidence back + that the new boss made you realize how incredible you truly are! PS: Fellow COM major over here, woot to no Trig!

    • Fellow dweller here. I can beat myself up about this kind of thing for months and years.

      And hey, I freaking loved being a Comm major!

  • Love blogs that make people think!
    Well, I’ve been there too, but I actually recalled a feedback that wasn’t nice – not by a long shot – yet still it was good for me just as it was. It was years ago at highschool, one of our (old and very authoritative) teachers did sort of a school of life on us or something and just tried how much we can take. If you could respond something witty and only reasonably cheeky to “not nice” stuff, she had a lot more trust in you and you were given more responsibilities than your classmates. Once she asked me in class in relation to some book I was supposed to talk about what I was planning to do with my future (job-wise) and I said “I dunno. Probably gonna marry a rich guy” and she responded promptly “no rich guy will ever be willing to marry you” like, dead serious and looked in my eyes. So I waited for her to look away and then started crying on the spot silently. BUT. Now when I look back I know it touched me deep but at the same time I feel like I was disavowed from something! I didn’t expect anyone else to take care of me so much because SHE SAID it was not an option. I guess it can actually make you a lot stronger if you know how to handle such stuff. And maybe words still have some magic, it’s just that there is not so many magicians in the world anymore.

    • That is definitely a brutal comment, especially coming from a teacher. I had teachers like that (who liked the witty responses) but never one that would say something so bold. I think you’re right though, those comments that you just can’t get out of your head really change you, often for the better.

  • It takes a lot of maturity to value yourself as you should and not take other peoples opinion. although we are prone to see the negative sides of us especially when a person in authority criticizes us. we have to be mentally strong to make sure people dont bring us down

    • I struggle more with hearing negative comments from people of authority but I struggle with it even from my peers. Still, I hope it only makes me better in the future.

  • Thanks for sharing! I tend to let other people’s perceptions of me interfere with what I think/love about myself, and that’s something I’ve been trying to work on for a few months now. I spent too many months of my life worrying about how other people see me — then when I received a negative comment about myself, I would lose a lot of confidence.

    • I’ve definitely been very self-critical in the past but I’m hoping as I become more sure of myself, I stop doing that so much. I hope you find your way also and really take into account only how YOU feel about YOU.

  • This post really speaks to me, I love how you turned it into a positive. I remember the first time a manager told me I looked “unprofessional” I cried in the bathroom for about thirty minutes because I thought I looked fantastic + sophisticated that day. I had to take that experience + make myself see it in a positive light, but I questioned every outfit I wore to work for the next two months.

    Also, I’m still waiting for the day I use calculus for my business degree. So I feel you on that one too!

    • That would definitely be hard to hear but at least it’s something that is easy to fix.

      Also, not for a single second have I been glad that I took Calculus. It has literally served zero purpose in my life.

  • I experienced this sort of sobering/questioning myself criticism as a freshman art major. I’d never taken a proper studio class and didn’t know how intense actual art classes were at a college level. It so happened I had a woman professor for my 2D class, freshman fall semester, that had a masters in art criticism and was ruthless in her assessment of everyone. During one critique she said something that still floats into my consciousness when completing projects even now as a SENIOR with lots of classes/experiences/accomplishments under my belt. She told me, “You should probably consider switching majors, since you will never make it anywhere professionally in the art world. Your ideas are good, but your inability to produce discounts even that.” Those two sentences destroyed me. It made me question my decision to become an art major, one that had taken countless hours of consideration and a teeny bit of crying. After critique, I excused myself from class and cried like a baby on a bench in the middle of campus. I resolved to work harder, ask for more help and direction from her during all steps of future (which pained me to do since I was so embarrassed and hurt), and care less about her opinion of me on a personal level (so freeing).

    And though her criticism was considerably too harsh for an introductory freshman basic 2D class, I realize that her criticism prepared me for the absolute worst early on. Almost every critique since those had in her class have been considerably more productive and encouraging. Even though sometimes I still get a panicky sense of dread when hanging up work for critique or gauging my work as it comes to completion (I’m not only an ideas person, right? Right.).

    P.S. – I’m so happy you’re doing well at your new job! Plus, thanks so much for this post. Everyone can relate to something like this I feel.

    • That is BRUTAL. I know art critiques can be harsh but I can’t believe anyone said that to a freshman in college. Horrible. I’m glad you bounced back and stuck with it!

  • love this post and thanks for sharing. so glad i’ve found your blog because i enjoy the way you write, your realness and how you end on a positive. it’s true that we need to not let what one person say effect how we view our selves and happy to hear your new position is going well!

    • Thank you so much! I try really hard to be positive and I think it really helps. I really appreciate your compliments though. It pushes me to keep blogging and keep trying.

  • Such great words. I tend to take things too personally sometimes too – especially the negative bits. I’ll probably remember these words next time I’m in such a situation. Thanks!
    -E

  • Such great words. I tend to take things too personally sometimes too – especially the negative bits. I’ll probably remember these words next time I’m in such a situation. Thanks!
    -E

  • What a great point! Some people can say things and it seems so hurtful but then you have to weight them against all of the feedback you have ever received. I had something similar happen a few years ago and it turns out they have to write something negative to be perceived as constructive and often times they have to make it up if you are doing a great job!

    • I think we all just struggle to hear the positive feedback as loudly as we hear the negative feedback.

  • Ugh feedback… I’m a third year med student and we are drowned in feedback and evaluations. The first two years especially we were required to evaluate almost every lecturer (regularly having 20 forms to complete at a time). No one had time to take it seriously 🙁
    This year seems a bit better / more practical / more useful. I save some of my more positive reviews for a nice confidence booster when I need it but negative feedback can get to me too ..
    Glad you proved yourself!!

    • I’ve definitely realized how much a positive review/ positive feedback can help now that I work in a hospital. I just wish people gave an equal amount of each. I’m much more likely now to go out of my way to tell someones manager or take a survey when I’ve had a great experience.

  • Perception is everything. I wish we could see each other through the eyes of the person that loves us most. Because then we would see our best qualities and would probably like ourselves a lot more!

    • Such a true statement, Karen!

  • One time at a job years and years ago (like 9 years ago), my boss called me a distraction. I worked at a mental health care center and all the therapists would talk to me and loved me because I would have all their charts and was friendly. She also HATED the way I dressed. She would even go behind the work that I did and “correct” it, even though I was doing it correctly. She then got mad because she wasn’t informed of the new policies. I had to go back behind her and redone what she had messed up on my work. Everyone secretly or not so secretly hated the office manager (my boss). She said I took too long to find the charts but literally they could have been in THIRTY places and some were at another location. She kept saying that she could do it faster. She would always send me downstairs to organize or purge charts or alphabetize things so I wouldn’t be around anyone. Funny thing after I no longer worked there, no one had the charts ready for the following day. It just wasn’t done.

    • I’d say if you were a distraction, that’s basically like saying “you’re too well-liked!”

  • I genuinely failed (like got an F) the first time I took organic chemistry. We can be the cool kids in the slow learner club together, haha.

    • I never even made it to O Chem. Just the first semester of regular Chemistry and I’d changed my major. lol

  • Feedback can be great but can also be a bitch, I don’t work as you may know but I do give feedback about staff I have dealt with in my day to day life and I give feedback to different companies about products they have and not just bad/negative feedback I like to give positive feedback as well in fact I give more positive feedback than negative

    • That’s so good! I go out of my way now to try to give positive feedback when it is deserved. Too often people only notify management or give feedback when something is negative!

  • Cat

    I needed to hear this.

    I’m starting a new job tomorrow, and I’ve been so nervous ever since I found out I had the position. In fact, when I first got the call back, I felt dread. At my last position, my first review didn’t go well — apparently, I was just the most disappointing creature to have ever walked the planet. In the ten minutes that it took to go over everything, every compliment I had received while there, and every good review that I had received in the past, ceased to matter. All that mattered (and has mattered) since then has been that I’m not good at the things I thought I was good at, and that even when I think I’m doing well, I’m not.

    Hopefully, one day I will be able to look back and realize that it was just one bad review, one persons opinion of me and my work, and I will be able to see that I was worrying for nothing. Right now, I’m just afraid that I will fail again.

    • I hope your first week at your new job went well! Try to focus on the positive feedback you’ve received. Any negative feedback that gave you something to change, try to change it. You’ll do great!

  • I remember getting an assessment mark handed back for a presentation I did. 2 hours before the presentation I had been in the hospital visiting my seriously ill boyfriend, before putting together the quickest presentation into the role of neuropsychology in Parkinson’s disease. I looked at my feedback sheet – two markers comments; marker one was constructive, diplomatic in his criticisms, whereas marker two basically wrote ‘You had no clue what you were doing, did you.’
    But I got a 2:1 for my degree, so *raspberries* to him!

    • I don’t know what a 2:1 for degree means but it must be good, based on your raspberries!

  • I love this post, Nadine! I remember reading a quote saying something along the lines of “Everybody’s a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to fly it will spend it’s whole life believing it is stupid”I’m pretty sure Einstein said it, but I may be wrong. But the point is – we’re all good at different things, and everyone has different expectations of us. I’m really glad you’re doing well at your new job, and that you’re learning quickly there!

    • Oooh I love that quote. It would have been perfect for this post. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah

    Thank you for this post! I really needed to read this. After hearing some negative comments about my work recently, this post really puts things in perspective. All the good things you’ve been told seem to fade away when any negative feedback comes in. I know I’m better than the feedback I’ve received. I’ll be keeping this post open on my computer as a reminder as I work today. Thanks again!

    • I did take the negative feedback and tried to be better because of it. Sometimes it’s something you need to hear. For me, I couldn’t change how fast I learned (that I know of) so it seemed like it was just very critical and not very helpful.

  • I do the same thing! One negative thing sticks with me way longer than ten positive things. But I’m definitely working on it!

  • Love love love this. I have the most nasty of habits when it comes to letting other peoples’ perceptions of me affect how I view myself. A real people pleaser, I am. And honestly, I hate that about myself. I’m working on being more sure of who I am regardless of what anyone else has to say about me. Trusting yourself about yourself can be really hard though. It’s definitely easy to get tripped up. Thanks for sharing!

    • I feel like it must be something that just comes with age but any negative feedback from an authority figure still really gets to me.

  • I remember a question that goes something like, Why do we remember (and believe) the negative things that people say about us and question or forget all together the good things they say? I think women are very hard on themselves and do tend to believe more of the negative over the good. Glad to hear that someone is helping to change those thoughts – I’m sure you are NOT a slow learner!!

    • In that same performance review, my boss told me that my heart was in the right place and that I was a truly caring indivudal. Both things that matter SO much more. But still, the negative comment stuck with me and affected me more.

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