Thursday, March 15, 2012

What an 85-year-old food critic taught me about handling negative feedback

If you've been online anytime in the last week, you've seen the story about 85-year-old Marilyn Hagerty and her Olive Garden review.

In case you missed it while trapped in bed with a dozen exotic dancers and a gallon of coconut oil, here's the recap: Hagerty has been writing for her local paper in Grand Forks, North Dakota for 30 years, and recently crafted an earnest review of the town's new Olive Garden.

That sort of thing would ordinarily go unnoticed outside the small city of 55,000, but food snobs pounced and the review went viral. Some mocked, some defended, and Hagerty became an overnight celebrity with talk shows clamoring to interview her and people forwarding links with the feverish energy of rabbits mixing Viagra and crack.

The story charmed me for many reasons, not the least of which is this quote I saw in an article from ABC News:
"Yesterday morning the phone started ringing and messages started going up, and I had no clue what it was all about. These people were making fun of me…and then I thought, so what?" said Hagerty.

And with those final words, Marilyn Hagerty became my new hero.

Anyone who's written for public consumption – whether you're a novelist, a food critic, or the guy crafting descriptions for sex toy catalogs – knows what it's like to be hit with criticism. Though I try to avoid reading negative reviews of my books, they do pop up from time to time.

They always sting a lot more than I wish they did.

There's a fine balance every writer must strike, and it's the toughest thing in the world to do. On one hand, you desperately want people to love what you create. If you didn't care what others thought, you'd be scrawling your thoughts on pieces of kindling and lighting them on fire.

On the other hand, you can't let the feedback rule your life. Whether positive or negative, reader opinions are a subjective thing. If you allow them to dictate how you feel about yourself as a person or a writer, you lose your power. You lose part of yourself. You lose the thing that made you unique in the first place.

I'm considering having Marilyn Hagerty's words tattooed on my forearm. For that matter, they should be tattooed on the forehead of anyone who's ever been bullied, mocked, or beaten down by harsh criticism from others:

"...These people were making fun of me…and then I thought, so what?"

Say it with me all together.

And then let's lift a glass of cheap Chianti in honor of Marilyn Hagerty.


chihuahuazero said...

Chianti? But I'm a minor.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, Tawna. Negative reviews do sting, but in the end they could go viral and make us superstars! All publicity is good publicity, right? Err, maybe not. lol

kel said...

Funny how one negative comment can overshadow a gazillion positive comments. Our brains are a defensive organ, it's the way we are built.

Always remember, there is a higher truth to you, and that can never be taken away from you no matter what. It's a knowledge I've come into over the past year, and it really helped me a few weeks ago when I was stabbed in the back and used as a political pawn.

I was hurt (because that's human and natural), but in the end, I walked taller, knowing that what was done and said had nothing to do with who I am.

Matthew MacNish said...

Amen, Ms. Hagerty, amen.

Cheers, Tawna.

Jessica Lemmon said...


LynnRush said...

Very nice!!!!! :)

Muffintopmommy said...

Love it! A to the men on all of the above. I love her!

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post and so, SO true!

Dana Strotheide said...

Very true and something that I need to be reminded of often. Thanks Tawna! I'll definitely raise a glass to that!

Kate Avery Ellison said...

She became my hero too when I read the same story! Great post, and so true. It's a fine balance to find between not caring what people think and being so sensitive that every criticism slaps you down. I'm still learning it, I think.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Once (and only once) I went to one of those awful RateYourProfessor sites, which was created by students who obviously know nothing about what it's like to be teachers. I did find a couple good reviews about my job as a teacher, but I found some really nasty ones too. It really bothered me that anyone could post something cruel and untrue about me on the Internet for all to see. That's why I chose not to visit that site ever again.

Mary said...

Nice! Love this woman! Of course, it's hard to do that, especially if you don't have that much experience with people making fun of you or talking behind your back.

Since I started teaching middle school ten years ago, I have developed an exceedingly thick skin because those tweens/teens can be vicious. Best to just tune it out and do your thang!

Rhonda Hopkins said...

Great post! She became an automatic hero for me as well. Very cool lady!

Erin Brambilla said...

I love this lady! I thought her review was endearing and I love her even more after reading this. Such good advice!

Missy Olive said...

That is the best. I have very thin skin and have a difficult time reading reviews. What a great philosophy!!