A turtle has a shell (stay with me, there’s a point to this). The shell protects his sensitive little turtle-bits from being harmed by extraneous forces. The turtle can protect his physical weaknesses from harm by simply withdrawing into the shell entirely, leaving a boney force field to face the world around him while he closes his eyes and counts to ten, hoping the danger leaves (no, seriously, there’s a point to this). Honestly, it’s the only way to deal with turtle troubles in a world overwhelmingly stacked against the poor little turtle. He isn’t able to reason with the danger or even effectively fight back, although people who’ve been bitten by a turtle will probably argue otherwise. He has no other real way to preserve his life when he’s clearly outmatched. But that’s okay because that shell is solid. He doesn’t need a whole arsenal of weaponry to combat danger. He lets the problem roll off his back because he’s built to handle it (okay, I’ve prepped the inevitable metaphor).
So now that I’ve stated the obvious about turtles, I’ll relate it to what’s going on in my own life. I respect a fair amount of creative people in the world. I think a lot of them are top notch artists who are doing really wonderful work and injecting beautiful things into the world on a daily basis. When they create good stuff, I like to tell them I like what they’re doing because I feel like it’s important to reinforce with positive feedback the things I’d like to see more of from those people. It makes them feel good about themselves, it makes me feel connected to those people I respect, and everything is win-win for everyone. But when I get negative feedback, even in the form of non-aggressive apathy, I struggle with processing it in a constructive way. I want to withdraw into my shell and let it deal with the problem until it passes, but I’m not a reptilian hubcap sandwich and I have more diverse ways of handling my problems.
Why am I even writing this? I have a very specific example to share.
Today I was on a popular image sharing website that I will not buzz-market here. I was looking at pictures, admiring people’s photographs and giving positive feedback, when I remembered one specific person who I hadn’t seen post in a few days. I went to their “page” to look at what they’ve been posting, and as always, they had already posted neat stuff that I somehow missed and I thought they were great all over again. This isn’t someone I only knew through the website; I’d met them in person and we were fairly acquainted with one another. In the interest of not listing all of the minute details (I already bored you with a paragraph about turtles), I then discovered that the person I admired had recently severed contact with me from their end through the website, the only real connection we had since we originally met and worked together. Clearly, the interest was unrequited. To make a long story short, it made me feel irrationally bad.
Sure, you’re probably thinking, “So some person on a website unfollowed you because they don’t like your dumb architecture photography. Grow up. Not everyone is going to like you.” And you’re 100% right; I shouldn’t feel bad about that and I should grow up because that’s life. Not everyone will have an appreciation for your art like you have for theirs. There will be unrequited respect in life when it comes to professionals in the same field. You won’t be able to please every artist you look up to. There will be an imbalance between who you respect and who respects you. The same thing can be said for literally every other situation in your life if you analyze it in a specific way, so get used to that feeling.
But the irrational bad feeling is still a reality. No one likes knowing someone they admire made the conscious effort to purposefully tap some menu buttons to rid themselves of what you enjoy doing. In ten seconds, they realized they don’t like you, selected the option to get rid of you for good, and moved on without you in their life from that point forward without telling you (although let’s be honest, if they did tell you, that’d be super weird). Sure, I realize it’s silly to feel bad about something like this in the realm of the internet, but that’s how we connect so often these days and I think it bears a little more emotional gravity than we would all care to admit, especially since this is someone I’ve met face to face and had the pleasure to work with before. Regardless, passive negative feedback like that should be flying off my back, but it’s moving at (you guessed it) a turtle’s pace in doing so.
I’ve had obvious negative feedback come my way before, too. I’ve been called highly-overrated, I’ve seen the word “meh” pop up on my photos before, and I’ve been told I did a poor job capturing the essence of the city because of a song choice for a video I made among other examples. I don’t really think about those outwardly negative comments too often because they come from people I don’t know or like. They’re just people on the internet who don’t know me and I don’t know them. They’re just text on a screen saying things to make me feel bad but failing to do so because I don’t care about them and I can easily write them off. The difference between those people I’ve never met and this person I’ve been writing about is the level of respect I have for this person is much greater than the zero sum of the respect I have for faceless internet trolls.
So what to do about this situation? Just observe it. I can’t make it go away, I can’t pretend it’s not there despite reasoning with myself that it’s foolish to feel bad about myself for something so trivial, and the more I cling to that negativity, the more it’ll continue to be on my mind. There are plenty of good people who enjoy what I do and plenty of people I respect who also respect me as well, so I should more closely observe those positive points than this single negative one. I’ll continue to admire that artist’s work despite their lack of interest in maintaining a connection to me, and I’ll feel good about not retreating into a metaphorical shell to handle this feeling. I’m a human and I deal with this in a human way (by writing a blog post about turtles and stuff to get it out of my system).