Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Tuesday 16th February 2016

what we all need to know about our critics — #TellHisStory

I don’t remember what the news was that day, exactly, but I know I was writing about Bill Clinton, and it was my first day of work for The Des Moines Register.

My story landed on the front page. It was tucked in the lower righthand corner — “below the fold,” as they say — but still: Front page, baby.

I sat down at my desk in the newsroom, and held that paper to my chest like newsprint and I were one. My inner Woodward and my inner Bernstein elbowed each other over my awesomeness. I may have nearly passed out from all the happy.

And then my desk phone rang.

It was a journalism professor who was, at once, the most beloved and most feared professor in our little corner of the world. She was larger-than-life and she was iconic and she was a fierce defender of the English language.

And now she was on the phone.

I wasn’t sure whether to be thrilled or terrified.

“Msssss Dukes …” she said, drawing out my name, then exhaling all her breath into a dramatic pause. I wound the spiral cord of my phone around my forefinger. “Look at your second paragraph, would you? Read it out loud. Go on now. Second. Paragraph. Can you tell me what is wrong with your second paragraph?”

(In case you’re wondering, “terrified” is the appropriate reaction here.)

My eyes tripped over the words. I felt heat rising in my ears. My stomach threatened to drop through the floor.

Then, with laser clarity,  I saw on newsprint what I hadn’t seen before on my computer screen. I saw what I had missed, and what my erudite editor had missed, and what the copy editors and the managing editor had missed.

“Do you s-eeeee, Mssss. Dukes, that you chose the word ‘rein’ when you clearly meant ‘reign’????”

Yeah. I saw it. I saw what I did. “Oh… um…” I stammered, groping for explanation — or at least someone else to blame for this blatant error.

But before I could say another word, she had hung up the phone.

I blushed approximately a million shades of red that morning in the newsroom, and her sharp needle of criticism popped my happy balloon.

But do me a favor. Don’t feel sorry for the young news reporter. And don’t get angry at that fiery defender of grammar who dialed me.

Norman Vincent Peale once said that the trouble with most people, is that we’d rather be ruined by praise, than saved by criticism.

All these years later, I’m sure of it: my professor was trying to save me from future embarrassment.

norman vincent peale

What We All Need to Know About Our Critics

Look. There will always be critics. Some are well-meaning; and some are, well, mean. 

But don’t let either of them stop you. Don’t stop making your art. Don’t stop writing your story. Don’t muzzle your voice, or consign your paint brushes, or bury your dreams in the cemetery of good intentions.

The only effective way to avoid criticism is to stop what you’re doing. To never write another blog post. Never float another idea to the committee. Never risk your approval rating by suggesting your rad idea to the boss. You know, just sort of co-exist with the status quo. Punch in for the day. Do your time, and shuffle through life flatly, so that no one notices when you walk through the turnstiles or when you leave. Because blending in is the best way to disappear.

But there’s a better way. Try this:

Make your crazy ripple.

Lose your fear of getting it wrong.

Let your creative impulses sweep over you like a tidal wave, and marvel at how beautiful it is underwater.

Trust the gift that God has given you, and then give it your all.

You might get it wrong. But you might just get it right.

trustGod DSC_0281 DSC_0498 DSC_5982_pe

And yeah… There will be critics. That’s okay. Some of your critics will dial you up, not because they want to pop your balloon, but because they want to make you better. Let that criticism change you for good.

And when mean people bash you with irrational, bewildering reproach? Do something completely mature like I do: Stick your fingers in your ears, pinch your eyes shut, and shout at the top of your little lungs: “lalalalalalalalala!”

Did you know that the enemy wins when your critics run you off the rails? Did you know that the enemy gets happy when critics make you kill your good ideas? Your inner critic is the great eraser of creativity, rubbing out your best stuff by holding the threat of bad reviews over your pretty head. So do this: Pull the erasers off of your critics.

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Just do what you do, OK? Let your inner Woodward, or Bernstein, or Monet, or Beethoven fly. And know that you’ll make a mistake. It’s guaranteed.

Because life is full of cars and crooked smiles and out-of-place hairs and mixed metaphors. And that’s how we know we are truly human, and truly alive.

Sure. You might get the publishing deal, or the corner office, or the opportunity to share your song on that dreamy wood-planked stage downtown. You might get the front-page story, on your very first day on the job.

And even then? The phone might ring.

And before you answer it, you might stare at the phone for an extra second. Because you aren’t sure if you should be thrilled or terrified.

But because you know that your critics don’t own you anymore, you pick up the phone anyway.


Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Our featured writer this week is Debbie Putman. Her challenge to look for the wonder in every day is one I definitely need – and it reminds me of #TheHappinessDare! Find Debbie here. To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. 🙂 xo Jennifer


  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Best line in here (one of oh-so-many) “Because blending in is the best way to disappear.”
    Perfect, spot on wonderfulness. (and the Nancy F. photo is just amazing.) Thank you, my friend.

    • Nancy is such a precious friend.

      As. Are. YOU. xo

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  • Anita

    Oh, boy! Did I need this today! I’m my own worst critic and I need to put duct tape over my inner critic’s mouth. Thank you.

  • Mary

    Your words were exactly the ones I needed to hear today! Thank you as always for opening up your heart and your home for all of us to sit awhile and soak in your words. They are truly a blessing!

    • So glad to hear this, Mary. You’re such a blessing.

  • What a wonderful encouragement today. Not to let those critics own us, but to let them make us better. I think I’m my own “worst” critic. Too often I let my inner editor stop me. I’m learning more about living freely.

    This makes me realize it’s also good to think about the feedback we give others. Are we squashing them down? Or encouraging?

    • Yes, often the loudest critic is the inner one.

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  • Wow, this was such a wonderful encouragement to me right now. I can’t thank you enough for sharing what God placed upon your heart! God bless you, Jennifer. 🙂

    • God bless you, too, Cheryl. Thanks for being here.

  • Loved this. Loved it! “Don’t stop writing your story…or muzzle your voice.” Amen, Jennifer, Amen!

    • Thanks for reading along, Ellen. xo

  • Trust the gift that God has given you, then give it your all. Love that!

  • I love this story, and what a quirky teacher who would track you down with her red pen! Love the inspiration, too!! Great post!

    • Yeah. She was pretty quirky. This was totally NOT out of her character. But she truly was a phenomenal professor, one of the best, and I believe she was trying to make me better. Thanks for reading along, Kathy.

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  • Beautiful – I love this story! Such good thoughts on handling criticism, and also on pride. Thanks for the encouragement to keep on doing what God has called us to do.

  • Nourishment for the soul right here, Jennifer. Reminds me of a quote by Theadore Roosevelt that hangs in my office “Its not the critic who counts…” It’s so long and you probably know it, but I love your words and I’m hanging them on my heart today. xo

    • Oh yeah. Thanks for sharing, Tiffany.

  • Tara Ulrich

    Love! Reminds me of the camp director who hired me to be a camp counselor thinking I’d only make it a few weeks. The next summer he shared how he didn’t think I’d make it the summer before but now he couldn’t get rid of me.

    • GREAT example. Love it, Tara.

  • Jen

    I needed these words. 🙂 So encouraging!

  • Anna Smit

    Such encouragement here. No, our critics don’t own us! Amen. If they did I’d be hiding in a corner, too scared to step out in faith. Have sent your words to a friend who I know will also be encouraged by them. Thank you!

    • I’m so glad you found value in these words and passed them along. Grateful to have you here, Anna.

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  • Ouch. I’ve had those moments too—of feeling so proud of something I was brave enough to do, but then getting shot down for an error in it. (And I shoot myself down, too.) But you’re right that we don’t need to let that stop us. Everything we do, we do imperfectly. And that’s okay. It’s human. Let’s do it anyway. Thanks for the encouragement, Jennifer!

    • Thanks for reading along, Lisa. xo

  • Alisa Nicaud

    Wow, just wow Jennifer! You read my mail this morning! I love this “Because blending in is the best way to disappear.” That was me, and still can be at times. I’m feisty and bold and sometimes a little bossy…. those are not the characteristics of a good Southern girl. So many times I hide them. I don’t want to stand out, but blend in. Be just like everyone else. Yet this spunky girl keeps rearing her head, because that’s how God has created me. The insecurities want to make me run and hide, while God is saying, “Step out! I have your back. Don’t be afraid of who I’ve created you to be!” I can definitely be my own worst critic at times. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!! Thanks for sharing.

    • For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Tim 1:7

      Get after it, Alisa! xo

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  • Oh friend, your words speak straight to this try-hard and tender heart. Timely word to press on, thank you!

    • “try-hard and tender heart”

      We are twinning. 🙂

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  • Yay, yes and Amen!! Wow, what a stirring and timely word this is for me, Jennifer. These words in particular spoke straight to my insecure soul: “Trust the gift that God has given you, and then give it your all.” I’ll take them as reason enough to press past my inner critic and any others that might come out of the woodwork. Thank you so much for being faithful to the gift in you and helping us all so much as you share your beautiful, encouraging words. 🙂 x

    • Always a joy to have you here, Joy. I’m grateful for your friendship and your words with #tellhisstory.

  • I needed this reminder. Don’t stop. Sometimes it’s that simple and that hard all at once.

    • Rebecca, Thanks for reading along this week. Glad these words offered a reminder that you needed.

  • Ouch! That must have hurt terribly. But I’m glad you didn’t stop writing, Jennifer. I really needed to hear this. I think my inner critic is the worst critic in my life. Maybe I should try that “lalalalalalalalala!” to the irrational critic within me. 🙂 I have to keep reminding myself to listen to who God says I am in Christ instead of to those negative voices. Thank you for the encouragement to trust the gifts God gives us and to lose that fear of getting it wrong.

    • That prof had a tendency to make those kinds of calls. She always kind of scared me in college, but at the same time, I had a ton of respect for her and learned more in my classes with her than I did in almost any other class.

  • “You might get it wrong. But you might just get it right.”
    Tears stung my eyes while I read this post, because I’m not sure which of these scares me more. God is calling me hard and the devil is sprinting after me. Is God telling me to move or is the devil urging me to run away. Sometimes, it’s scary confusing.
    “I might just get it right.”
    I pray that for my life. I want to want what He wants for my life.
    That’s a powerful string of hope to hold on to.
    Happy Wednesday,

    • Dear Lord,

      Be near to Meg this day. Give her the courage to step forward into what you’re calling her to do. In her weakness, be her strength. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

      • Thank you so much for praying for me. That’s just so awesome. Bless you!!!

  • Angela Howard

    You have no idea how I needed to read this today! Perfect advice and the wisdom I needed to keep pressing on. Thank you!

    • It’s always so encouraging to hear when words are well-timed. Glad for you being here.

  • Kristi Woods

    Oh, I cringed at the woman’s words, then stood tall when you helped swoop us back aright, Jennifer. Gosh, the words of others and their impact! It’s crazy. I liked this tip best, but enjoyed and gleaned from the whole post: “Trust the gift that God has given you, and then give it your all.”

    • I’m glad the words found you, Kristi!

  • Thank you Jennifer, for sharing this story. Earlier today I was “wishing” for a loving critic, because that is how we are strengthened and improve. It takes courage for someone to give this kind of loving criticism with the intent to build others up.

    • I hadn’t thought about that, Rebekah … the courage that it takes to offer the loving criticism. So true.

  • Jennifer,
    Love how you ended it with: “But because you know that your critics don’t own you anymore, you pick up the phone anyway.” Such power and freedom to be able to do that…wow…thanks for being brave and being you 🙂

    • You are welcome, dear friend. And hey … so fun to have you joining in on #TheHappinessDare!

  • Great pep talk, Jennifer! One we all need to hear, sometimes daily. Blessings.

    • Thanks for reading along, June.

  • Super post – and so true!!! (still scary at times…) pinned your great pins. Thanks, jennifer.

  • As always, you have touched a chord that runs deep… one that is undeniably a universal weakness. But the reality that we have a choice how to take the criticism is something we tend to forget, isn’t it? Thankful for your willingness to be transparent here, to be a light bearer and lead with grace.

  • Such perfect words for this questioning soul today! Thanks, Jennifer 🙂

  • Jessica Smith Bolyard

    Ohhhhh, how I needed this. You really spoke to my heart today. Thank you.

@jenfulwiler You model this well, Jennifer. Loving Jesus and serving him boldly with your gifts.