We all have little ‘nightmare scenarios’ that play out in our heads. For the last three or four years, through the process of writing ‘Ninja’, through its’ release and subsequent re-release, one of those nightmares for me has been receiving a 1-star amazon review. Scrutiny and judgement isn’t something anyone likes. You can grow a thicker skin (so they tell me) but no one is totally immune from feeling a little bruised by such things. For about a month in 2012, such was my crippling fear of receiving a 1-star amazon review, that I nearly didn’t let ‘Ninja’ out into the world to play at all. I was clinging on to my creation, wondering whether it should just be given safely to friends and acquaintances who will treat it nicely and only give criticism as polite metaphor.
Well, today I finally received the 1-star amazon review. I logged on and there it was. First I saw the 5 stars of my ‘average rating’ beaten down to 4 and a half and from that moment I knew something must have been rotten in the state of Luxembourg. And, by the way, it’s amazing to me too that I focus on that missing half rather than on those big shiny 4 and a half – glass 95% full or 5% empty, eh?
So I read the review. My heart raced very slightly. Something I loved and cared for and nurtured and put out into the world hoping it would make a difference, just beaten down and rejected. Ridiculed as worthless. Ouch.
And then I remembered.
We don’t need everyone to love what we do. We don’t even need most people to love it (although thankfully, loads of people write lovely things in emails and on reviews that I absolutely never take for granted and that absolutely always make my day when I read them). I remembered the words of my coach, Rasheed Ogunlaru, who got me through my 1-star meltdown a couple of years ago by simply saying “don’t write for the people who might hate it, write for the people who might love it”. And in fact, as Seth Godin and others have said, if you don’t have any 1-star reviews you’re not doing anything important or different enough.
And here’s the real lesson. I read the 1 star review – the thing I’d dreaded for years, remember – and then I just got up and made a cup of tea. A lovely cup of tea. Nothing crashed around me, the world kept spinning and I felt kind of liberated. It felt like some sort of strange rites of passage. And then when I got back to my desk and continued writing my second book, I did so for the people who gave ‘Ninja’ 5 stars. And I tried harder so that those that gave it 4 stars will give the next one 5. And so that maybe those that gave it a 3 star review will give the next one a 4 or even a 5. But the 1-star folks? It’s nice to finally know for sure that trying to please them doesn’t matter at all.
We don’t need everyone in life to give us 5 stars. Art and opinion and ideas wouldn’t be interesting to us if they didn’t polarize. Guinness wouldn’t be Guinness if it was everyone’s favourite drink. And in the same way, my mini rite of passage has freed me from any lingering responsibility I felt I had to try and fill the 5% of the glass that was empty.
Let me whisper this new little secret in your ear and then leave you a silence so that you can contemplate the vastness of its implication: you don’t need to please everyone.