How thick is your skin? Leather or paper? It can be difficult to tell from the outside. For example, I have this one friend whose actual skin is covered in tatts. He’s big, burly and looks quite a lot like a bouncer. He is also wildly successful in his chosen career (not bouncing) and yet he’s the first to admit that his skin is of the paper variety.
Criticism of his work wounds him deeply to the point where he struggles to get past it and keep doing his job. This is a problem (albeit a first world one) because he has a public profile and that means feedback is incessant. And even though correspondence runs the full gamut from abuse to praise, it’s the negativity that’s most potent. “I reckon I’d get 50 nice emails for every bad one but it’s only the bad ones I remember” he tells me. “And I’m not even on Twitter or Facebook – for exactly that reason. Just the thought of it makes me want to be violently ill.”
My skin used to be thin. It was worn down by a particularly bruising stint in a bad job that had a sandpaper-like effect on my confidence. How interesting – or possibly stupid – that I chose that time of my life to begin a career online. It took ages for the layers to grow back but the dynamics of social media and writing daily online certainly fast-tracked the process. It was either that or slam shut my laptop and hide under the bed. Anyone who works online or has their work published regularly on the Internet quickly grows skin thicker than the average bear. Or elephant.
You have to or you’d end up in the foetal position on your therapist’s carpet most days. Actually…
Let’s file under ‘irony’ and ‘karma’ the fact that journalists, columnists and writers often cop the worst of online abuse, particularly if they write opinion pieces. I was recently discussing this with a journalist friend after one of us had endured a particularly bruising bout of social media ‘feedback’.
In ye olden days things were so very different. If you were a journalist, you simply filed your copy and people loved it, hated it or ignored it. Whatever they thought, you rarely found out. “Remember when the worst that could happen was the occasional pissed off reader would ring and get put through to the editor’s secretary?” reminisced my friend as I nodded wistfully. “Or a grumpy piece of correspondence might be buried in the letters page.”
Those were gentler times. And less distracting. Someone once said to me “What other people think of you is none of your business”. I think that’s excellent advice but it’s not always easy to follow. Because no matter how much you try not to care or be diverted by mindless abuse from strangers who can’t spell and use exclamation points with gay abandon, it can be tricky to look away.