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Acceptance or Rejection: How Do You Respond to Bad News?

Personal Perspective: A diagnosis or a negative review can be an opportunity.

I’ll never forget when I got the photo. My husband texted me a selfie from Lookout Rock.

I looked at the image. Shock, surprise, and a sense of satisfaction.

Earlier that year, my husband had some health issues—trouble breathing, fatigue, and chest pains. After several doctor’s appointments, tests, and lab results, he learned he had sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis is a disease that inflames the lungs, lymph glands, and other organs in the body.

There is no cure for the disease, but symptoms often diminish on their own. In the meantime, the condition, when affecting the lungs, causes shortness of breath. Hence, I was surprised when I saw the photo from a high point on conservation land only accessible by hiking. The access path measures almost a mile with an incline equivalent to climbing 26 flights of stairs.

But there he was, looking out at a vista that includes the Boston skyline, albeit with skyscrapers that appear to be less than an eighth of an inch tall. On a clear day, you can see the Prudential Building and the John Hancock Tower, both more than 30 miles away.

When facing a medical diagnosis like sarcoidosis, there are typically two reactions—acceptance or rejection.

Acceptance prompts the diagnosed to learn to live with the symptoms. Rejection prompts the patient to fight back.

These reactions are applicable to realms of life beyond sarcoidosis. What if your creativity received a diagnosis of incurable?

You will never paint a portrait again.

Your floral arrangements will never pop.

Your writing suffers from weak characters, plodding plots, and sparse settings.

Your baking becomes bleak compared to other pâtissiers.

“I’m sorry, but your garment designs offer nothing form-flattering, functional, or fashionable.”

All too often, artists/makers/creatives fall sway to criticism as if it’s a disease diagnosis.

  • We latch on to the negative comments.
  • We fixate on our lacks, our missteps, and our foibles.
  • We hardly even hear the praise.

But what if we looked for ways to make our own diagnosis and choose our own destiny? What if we created our own cure?

My husband mentioned his diagnosis to Carole, a business acquaintance and someone I consider a friend. She had worked as a nurse practitioner, so her medical opinion was valuable.

But it was her personal connection to a family member who also suffered from sarcoidosis that really mattered.

“The best thing to do,” Carole advised, “is to exercise. My brother also has sarcoidosis in his lungs. He found moderate to heavy cardio and aerobic exercise forced him to breathe harder, and his breathing capacity improved dramatically."

Wayne learned from a real person that real results could be achieved not by taking medicine and sitting back and accepting the diagnosis but rather by devising workarounds.

How can the artist/creative/maker take a critical assessment of their work and turn that critique upside down?

Originality often appears bizarre at first.

The first time I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show was on February 9, 1964. My sister and I watched The Fab Four, with their long hair, heard the screaming girls, and listened to their unusual sounds.

I remember going outside and discussing their radical performance.

I was just five years old. But I had an opinion. What does a little kid know about music? Or fashion? Or hairstyles? My reaction? Shock! Maybe even disgust. Definitely confusion.

A few years ago, Kathy Brodsky, a children’s book author and licensed clinical social worker, spoke to my class about her work. Brodsky writes stories about physical differences, challenges, and fitting in. She writes in rhyming couplets in a cadence that's easy to follow and lyrical, and I believe it helps children as they learn to read.

During our class, she shared a personal story. She was sitting with a group of agents, publishers, and other authors. One woman in the circle made a face while Kathy read aloud from her book. Kathy confronted the woman after the meeting and admitted that her disagreeable expression had bothered her. The woman said, “I’m only one person.”

Brodsky is an award-winning author. People love her stories. Her rhyming texts may not sit well with everyone, but what if she had taken that single person’s frown as a diagnosis of her body of work? What if she had given up?

Unpleasant diagnoses can shed light on a catalyst for future growth and success.

Devise your own exercises to use the negative as an opportunity to strengthen your art making.

Like my husband, Wayne, climbing to the summit of a small hill, you can achieve your dreams one step at a time. And, like Wayne's first time up the hill, you may have to stop every few feet and pause to catch your breath.

Keep going. The world deserves to see your art!

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