Going to work: finding and taking criticism

evaluation framed

When my career began to focus on the school-to-work transition, my eloquent friend, the writer Michael Dolan, offer this advice: “You know that you’re doing ok if they’re not yelling at you.”

Evaluations: when and where?

How, then, would you know when you are being evaluated? Sometimes it’s hard to know what questions to ask of your new boss. Other times, as with an annual performance review, the agenda is unambiguous.

Ideal supervisor: perhaps a mythical creature

What you should hope for in the school-to-work transition is a patient and understanding teacher, willing to work with you as you acquire skills, and willing to give reality-based and useful critique when it is called for. This person may be a mythical creature.

Often the best technical lawyers are the least able to slow down to offer routine evaluations of each project. While you should never expect minute-by-minute support and evaluation, you should never stop never stop looking for sound criticism.

 Evaluations: how to respond when it’s not “Bravo!!?”

Your responsibility, when faced with an evaluation that makes you cringe, is to breathe deeply, remind yourself that you don’t know everything, and to learn from the criticism.


A great book
in a terrific series

It is also helpful to understand that your work will not be praised by everyone, and that you are certain to encounter people who believe that you are uniquely ill-suited for the job that you are doing.

Take inspiration from two of my favorite authors, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs, who have gone out of their way to collect bad reviews of their work. Think of it, they labor together to write intricately plotted and elaborately charactered novels, and there are people who don’t like the books and are not afraid to say so. True, the bad reviews are posted anonymously, but it is with good humor and humility that P&C post them.

 Take criticism with good grace.

Do not argue when a person who is paying your salary suggests that you employ correct grammar and spelling in professional documents, and that perhaps your legal analysis lacks sufficient nuance to persuade a judge or jury. Although the language of the critique might be couched as a “suggestion,” following through is not an option. Fix the problems or find other work.

 Not an attack on your creative spark.

Please know that your evaluator is not hell-bent on destroying your creative spark. In your personal writing, you are free to bend and embellish the English language and to create new forms of expression.  Enjoy your opportunity to become bilingual: Standard English with Nuanced Legal Analysis together in one format, and Your Own Personal Creative Expressions in other formats and on your own dime and your own time.

About susangainen

Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian. Abstract Painter. Writer. Teacher. Explorer.
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