Canadian Contractor

What to do with ‘unfair’ criticism

I learned my first real lesson about dealing with criticism in Grade 8

December 9, 2016
By Robert Koci

Ever had a renovation client that, by the end of a project even though you did everything right, clearly hated your guts?

Many of us push back – at least inside our heads – and hate them in return. We write them off.

The first time anyone really stuck it to me like that was in Grade 8.

I really liked my geography teacher and I was sure he thought I was a spectacular, too. Right from the first class of the year, he and I made a terrific comedy duo. He would give me the straight lines and I would have hilarious rejoinders for them that would leave the class in stitches. It was a fun class. He never led me to believe he thought otherwise.

At the end of the last class of the year, he asked me to stay behind so we could talk. I beamed as I marched to the front. This was my moment. He wanted to thank me personally for being such as asset to his class. The rest of the students filed out and we were alone.

“Robert,” he began as I took a seat. “I wanted to let you know that, if you are assigned to any of my classes next year, I will do everything in my power to transfer you out. I have never had a student like you. You are arrogant, ignorant and insulting. You made my class a misery. I will never have you in my class again.”

I was crushed. My guts had turned to liquid. How could I be so blind?

All summer, I obsessed over his criticism. Was I really that big a loser? (I was 16, for God’s sake!) It was a seminal moment in my growth into adulthood and taught me a life lesson that has remained with me for 45 years.

Back at school that fall, I tried out for the football team. My geography teacher was the coach. I kept my mouth shut and worked my butt off. I did everything he demanded of me, and more. I played both ways: running back and safety. I was possessed of a missionary zeal, but not for football. If it killed me, I was going to prove this man wrong about me.

At the end of our last practice before opening game, he called the team together to announce his choice for team captain.

The “C” my mother sewed on my sweater that evening was all I needed to know that, in the middle of the hurt and confusion of the summer, I had made my first, real adult choice.


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