**This post originally ran in May, 2011 (you can tell from the photos, the shots of my reef are not new). However, the message resonates as clearly today as it did back then, so I’m reloading it today:
Over the weekend, my friend shot more photographs of my aquarium. She visits about once a month, and her fantastic images are the ones which appear on this blog.
While shooting this time, she made an interesting comment. She said, “I like that you let me shoot and don’t just tell me what pictures to take.”
To be completely honest, it had never occurred to me to ask for specific shots (with a couple of exceptions due to third-party requests). Not only are her images fantastic, but she shoots a wide variety of interesting things. I’ve always been so grateful that she wanted to take the photos that nothing else even entered my mind.
Until she mentioned it.
At which point I realized that her contribution was much more valuable for being undirected. Many of her images capture things I never noticed, at least not the way she does, and it fascinates me to see “my” world through someone else’s eyes. I see the little reef every day. I know every rock and coral in excruciating detail. She doesn’t, which means she sees it in ways I not only don’t but can’t.
An important life-lesson, and applicable to more than just my fish.
As writers and professionals, we live our lives in “me-tinted glasses” – by necessity as much as by habit. It’s impossible to step outside yourself completely, even when you try. We have blind spots by design. That’s why honest friends are so important. They give us glimpses of our world and our work as they see it – and it’s a mistake to reject their views just because they don’t match our internal versions of ourselves or the work we do.
The worst mistake a writer can make is to tell a peer-editor (s)he is worthless – and I’m not just referring to verbal disparagement (though it’s an important lesser-included-subset of the whole). Even if you disagree with someone’s thoughts or worldview – and whether or not they are objectively wrong – it’s important to listen carefully and award those thoughts consideration. If the comments are honestly given, they have value. If incorrect but honest they give you a view of mistakes people make about you or your work. If correct, they are even more important (though likely much more difficult to hear).
Many writers confuse a request for peer-editing with a request for praise alone. Many people do the same when it comes to friendship.
It’s not wrong to expect praise where praise is due, and sometimes even when it’s not (Hi, Mom!), but don’t confuse “expected kudos” with real praise. There is room, and need, in every person’s life for unconditional support and honesty, and an equal need to be clear which one is which.
I don’t ask my friend to photograph certain corals very often. I’d rather know the truth about what she finds interesting and the way she sees my world. My writing is the same. I expect my peer editors to let me know which “fish” don’t hold their interest as well as which ones do. It makes me a better writer, and that’s the primary goal. I can’t always see my weaknesses on my own, but I don’t have to.
That’s the value of a second set of eyes.
Another benefit is real praise. When my friend’s photos capture something beautiful, she gets credit for the image – it’s her work. But, as she mentioned Sunday, I’m the one who helped it grow. When an honest friend gives a compliment, it means more than ten thousand words from a sycophant’s mouth. And it feels ten thousand times more valuable too.
Find a second set of eyes you trust and put yourself on the line. Whether it’s writing, or work, or anything else, I think you’ll be glad you did.
Have you had any unexpected honest praise recently? Who do you trust to give you honest opinions? Hop into the comments and share!
*Note: The images in this post represent my friend’s vision – things I didn’t see or didn’t see the way she saw them until I viewed her photographs online. The creatures belong to me, but the perception, like the images, are hers.