About a year ago I got an email from a client. He’d only been for one treatment for a calf injury and he wrote to tell me that the soft tissue work I’d done had made no difference to him and he wouldn’t be coming back.
I’ll be honest with you. It pissed me off. It pissed me off because I’m not a miracle worker. I cannot heal you in a 40 minute session (oh if only it were so easy) and you have to meet me half way and take ownership of your own healing journey too. I can only do so much.
And it dented my ego. Someone I didn’t really know had the audacity to imply I wasn’t good at my job. Of course I’m good at my job, I have a gajillion qualifications and happy, healthy clients to prove it.
So why was it, if I know I’m good at what I do and I have countless awesome testimonials from the people I’ve worked with over the years, that I was letting this one person get to me?
The ego is a fragile thing. It can grow and shrink at the slightest provocation. When I was a newly qualified yoga teacher I thought I knew everything. I would take every opportunity to lord my newly inflated ego over anybody I thought was living a “bad and unyogic life”. It didn’t last long. I soon got that beaten out of me and I think it’s a phase we all have to go through on our journeys, especially when we are retraining and changing. I think we’ve all probably been there.
But then you get your first criticism. It might not even be as overt as an email telling you that your work hadn’t helped. It might just be someone missing an appointment or not turning up to class ever again. You tell yourself they’ve died tragically or moved to Outer Mongolia on a secret mission but you know really deep in your heart that they hate you and never want to see you again.
I told you the ego was a fragile thing.
There’s a chance you’re not such a drama queen as me. If you’re a yoga teacher or complementary therapist there’s an equal chance that you are. It’s that sense of the dramatic that makes us so good at our jobs. But so harsh on ourselves.
After a while you realise you can no longer cope with this constant ego fluctuation and you have to find a balance. And here’s what I learned.
The world is divided into the people who are meant to be your clients and the people who aren’t. Every teacher, every therapist has had a client that hasn’t been a good fit with their mission statement or who wants results that you’re not sure you can give. But in those early days when we’re fragile and we don’t think we’ll ever get another client again we take them on anyway. This will inevitably lead to heartache. They will either never come back or be 99 times more trouble than they are worth.
Accept this. Accept that you cannot take on everyone. Somewhere there is another massage therapist who will be able to fix that guy’s calf injury.
Somewhere there is a yoga teacher who does give those students who never came back what they were looking for.
But remember, that some clients who never went back to someone else now see you regularly.
And it really is that simple.
So when the criticism comes in feel free to have a cry or a shout about it in the privacy of your own home.
When you feel better (sleep on it, everything always looks better in the morning), decide if the criticism warrants a response. Maybe you did something wrong or didn’t treat the client in the way they wanted. If this is the case then apologise. It won’t get the client back so don’t bother offering them a free treatment or session, but just apologise anyway.
Then again you probably didn’t do anything wrong. In which case do nothing. Delete the email or text. Forget the conversation and concentrate on the clients who love you. Keep a copy of their testimonials if you can for those times when the fragile ego does need a little stroke. Remember that you are doing so much good work and nobody gets it right all the time.
Ultimately some criticism is constructive and you should take it as so. We can’t know everything so it’s always good to get a second opinion. But a lot of the time criticism isn’t about you, it’s about the fragile ego of the person doling it out. To paraphrase Plato we’re all fighting hard battles, nobody has an “easy life” (whatever that means) and ultimately we have to treat every situation with kindness.
Unless you want to do nothing ever again, never express an opinion, never be anything you want to be, you will come across criticism. If it hurts, let it. Cry and shout. But only for a little while.
Then take a deep breath, put on your grown up pants and damn well get on with whatever it is you were put on this earth to do.
Edited to add (and prompted by a dear client that I haven’t seen in a while): there are also times when your clients’ lives get in the way. They get a promotion or have a baby or move a little bit too far away for it to be convenient to come anymore. They still love you, they’re just doing it from afar!