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Power of Criticism

On Saturday 1st June 2019, I was in a forum where we engaged youth on self-awareness. One of the most striking topics that the lead speaker discussed was how fear of criticism makes people put their ambitions on hold with some never pursuing their dreams for fear of being adjudged as not being good enough. He also pointed out how others give up their dreams due to constant criticism both from persons close to them and from strangers. Songs and books are never written, careers are never changed, innovative technological ideas never invented and businesses ideas will never be implemented since the authors and inventors dread the prospect of being told that what they have in mind is not good enough.

On the same day, I watched Liverpool Captain Jordan Henderson embrace his father, Brian, after his team won the EUFA Champions League final. My first though was that this was a normal father-son display of affection. However, upon searching for more information, prompted by Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp’s post match comments, I discovered that in 2003, Brian took his son to the Champions League final. The then 13 year old Jordan promised his father that he will play in the UEFA champions league final one day. 15 years later, Jordan has captained Liverpool to two finals, lost one and won one.

Jordan’s story looks straightforward until one looks keenly at his journey to the top of European club football competitions. He broke into the first team at Sunderland FC at the age of 20 as was constantly criticized for his inconsistency – normally expected of young footballers. More criticism followed upon his transfer to Liverpool where commentators were quick to point out that such an average footballer was to worth GBP 20 million. In 2012, amid criticism, he was informed by then Manager Brendan Rodgers that he was free to leave Liverpool. Jordan stayed put and 2 years later, with Rodgers gone, he succeeded the legendary Steven Gerard as Liverpool captain. More criticism followed and illustrations were given of how he was not as good as Gerard and how he did to have the credential to lead a team with the history such as Liverpool’s – All this on the guy who would become only the 5th person to lift the EUFA Champions League as Liverpool Captain thus fulfilling a dream he caught at the age of 13.

Had Jordan listened to criticism, he may as well have left Liverpool in 2012 and joined Fulham FC, a team that has since been relegated to English Football’s second tier – the championship – promoted and relegated after one season. Relegation comes with financial consequences especially reductions in players’ wages, near forced transfer of players whose contracts don not allow for wage cuts amongst others. More so, he could probably be playing under a different manager who may not have had as much faith in him and have the same coaching capability as Jurgen Klopp. Consequently, he could be earning much less in wages, probably not be an England international, be less visible and therefore earn less in image rights. Overall, he probably would never reach his full potential financially.

Fear of criticism makes us settle for second best and sit in a comfort zone that may not be so comfortable. The fear however makes us believe that what we are familiar with and what makes others happy is better than our life’s purpose. We therefore live our lives to satisfy others and conform to others’ expectations.

A story is told of an old man who was travelling in a desert with his son and a donkey. At the beginning of the journey, the old man rode on the donkey with his son leading the donkey. He met people who were critical of this “modus operandi” and who suggested that it was immoral for him to enjoy the ride while his son walked. He therefore disembarked and let his son ride as he led the donkey. Critics pointed out the “folly” in the new mode of operation and suggested that both the man and son could as well ride since the donkey was strong enough to carry both of them – the old man complied. Further ahead, another critic pointed out how unfair father and son were to the donkey and suggested that they both disembark and carry the donkey. It is said that they never completed the journey on time due to the additional “luggage” of a donkey they had to carry.

The speaker during the youth forum stated that those who attempt extraordinary things and ignore criticism are the ones who eventually succeed in life. I dare say that those same people are the ones that succeed financially. It reminds me of the lady streaker who interrupted the Champions League Final in an attempt to promote her boyfriend’s brand – more of that on another day.

Weru Mwangi is the Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in Finance, Governance and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@theultimategroup.co.ke

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