Crushed by Feedback and What I Did Next … By Carmel O’ Reilly

Crushed by Feedback and What I Did Next …

People’s stories of how they were crushed by feedback, and what they did next.

“You have: 1. hard glottal attacks, 2. breathiness, 3. too much rise and fall, 4. not enough variation, 5. too monotone – you need more light and shade, 6. you’re too softly spoken – youre not reaching all four corners, or the back of the room, 7. you need to drive it more, 8. you need to get out of your head …” There were more, but I lost count after 8.

I was absolutely crushed by this feedback. I was ready to walk.

But let’s back up a little to:

My Story: Crushed by Feedback and What I Did Next …

A Case Study:

Words Can Crush & Words Can Build. Choose Yours Wisely

I was doing a Foundation in Drama course. I was doing this in the hope that it would help me overcome the crippling fear I had when speaking in public, and also the woodenness that took over my body and movement – or rather lack thereof.

This involved attending drama school every Saturday over the course of the school year. The day was made up of three classes: 1. Movement, 2. Voice, 3. Acting. I’d successfully auditioned to get a place on the course. For the audition, I was required to deliver a short monologue from a contemporary play. My audition piece was a monologue from Dancing at Lughnasa, a play by Irish dramatist Brian Friel. I’d chosen this because it was set in Ireland and played to my Irish accent.

When we began our voice class, we were required to deliver our audition piece again, and we were given feedback on this. This was our baseline from which, over the course of the year we would work to improve upon. I got great feedback. Actually I’ve always gotten great feedback on my voice, unsolicited feedback. People would say to me: “You’ve got such a lovely voice”, both in person and over the phone. I’m softly spoken with an Irish lilt. I’ve been told my voice is “warm, welcoming, calming, interesting, it puts people at ease, my voice lets people know I’m interested in them.”

At the end of the first term we were required to give a short recital of a poem. I chose a passage from The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde. One of my favourite poems by one of my favourite poets. I put a lot of work into preparing my piece, not just learning the lines, but understanding the meaning behind them – understanding what was going on for Wilde at that time in his life. He has always been a man who has intrigued, inspired and influenced me. I really enjoyed all of this preparation, and although nervous delivering my piece to an audience, which was made up of my fellow classmates (I was still working to overcome my crippling fear of speaking in public), I was quietly confident, because of the work I’d put into it, and also because of the good feedback I’d received on my audition piece.

The following week we all sat around in a circle as one by one we each received feedback on our recital. Mine came at the very end of the class of twenty students. Waiting for performance feedback would normally have been something that would have caused me to become more and more anxious as the time went by, especially feedback that was going to be delivered in front of a group of people.  But because of the good work I’d put in, and because of the good feedback I’d always received on my voice, the quiet confidence I had helped to alleviate the anxiety I would normally have felt. So, when my time eventually came, I sat up eagerly awaiting feedback, which I believed was going to be mostly positive with constructive elements to help me improve. Instead, this is what came my way:

“You have: 1. glottal attacks, 2. breathiness, 3. too much rise and fall, 4. not enough variation, 5. too monotone – you need more light and shade, 6. you’re too softly spoken – you’re not reaching all four corners, or the back of the room, 7. you need to drive it more, 8. you need to get out of your head …” There was more, but I zoned out after 8.

Then one of my classmates began to chirp in his tuppence halfpenny worth. I gave him a look that said “kick me while I’m down, why don’t you?”, which he was completely unaware of, and he continued making his points, which I also blocked out. There’s only so much feedback a girl can take.  I needed just one thing I was doing well, but that wasn’t forthcoming. I was ready to walk.

I didn’t walk. I didn’t leave the class. I saw the course through, but I did give up. I developed a couldn’t care less attitude. I did what I needed to do, no more. I lost interest really. 

As part of our final performance we had to work in pairs to deliver one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I was paired with Jon, a wonderful young actor who had a really powerful strong voice. The pairing was quite clever on the teacher’s part. Jon and I complemented each other. He brought his range down to the softness of my voice and I brought power to mine to reach his strength. We also worked well as a double act, drawing out the wonderful underlying humour of Shakespeare, getting laughs in all the intended places from our audience. 

I got a distinction on my end of year voice exam. But I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d deserved it. I thought the teacher gave it to me to be nice, and that everyone got a similar grade (which actually wasn’t the case), to make the college look good. 

I’d been crushed. This caused me to lose confidence in my voice, and the impact went much wider and much deeper. I lost confidence in myself. The purpose of doing the course was to overcome my anxiety when speaking in public, to become surer of myself and less wooden. To a large extent I had achieved this through the acting and movement classes. 

The acting class particularly because it required us to be vulnerable. Vulnerable because week in week out, we were required to work with and perform to our fellow classmates. I still don’t know why, but the teacher always focused on performances that portrayed negative traits and emotions: i.e. greed, anger, jealously, shame, fear, and so on. It was heavy going, and there were times when we would have appreciated being able to work on something that portrayed positive traits and emotions. I think the teacher really wanted to push us, and to stretch us to really push ourselves. He would say that the Foundation Year in drama was designed to allow students to know if they wanted to follow through with further training towards a career in acting, to know if they had what it took. His feedback was always tough. He would say it’s a tough world out there for actors. This was his way of preparing us in knowing if this is what we wanted, in knowing what to expect. He was in effect toughening us up for the tough world that actors have to face and navigate.

He worked primarily with Stanislavsky’s system, which required us to search for inner motives to justify action and the definition of what the character seeks to achieve at a given moment. 

All of this actually helped me get over my crippling fear of speaking in public. I felt that having done everything that was required from me in the acting class week in and week out, with performances that demanded being vulnerable. I felt if I could do that, I could do anything. And the movement class helped me overcome my woodenness. I was a lot more grounded, relaxed and free in how I moved. So, I’d achieved what I had set out to achieve through the Foundation in Drama class.

But I lost confidence in my voice, the most fundamental requirement of speaking in public. The feedback had completely crushed my belief that I could speak to an audience, in a way that would engage them. Being crushed took the confidence I once had in my voice away. 

Three years later I did Acting and Performing for Radio, and Voice Over classes. These involved learning about: working on scenes, sound effects, monologues, commercials, audio books, voiceovers, and all kinds of microphone techniques. 

My reason for doing the classes was because I wanted to develop a podcast, and I also had an idea for a radio programme. My intention wasn’t to speak on the podcast or radio show myself, because I didn’t think my voice was good enough. I wanted to get an understanding of what was involved so I could direct other people.

The classes were amazing. We had so much fun, and I learnt so much. Each week we’d either use the bigger studio to perform a short radio play (we each had our individual roles to include creating sound effects), or we’d record monologues or duologues in the smaller booth. Each week we’d have an assignment to prepare. We’d either have to write a specific piece or we’d have to research a written piece that fitted in with the focus for that week, e.g. commercial, audio book, monologue, breaking news story. We’d explore voice types from seductive to suspenseful and many, many more. 

Our performances were recorded and played back. We’d listen, give feedback on our own work, get feedback from each other, and from David, the teacher. David quickly noticed that I struggled to recognise anything good in my work, and I was dismissive of the good feedback coming from him and my fellow classmates. He gently challenged me on it, and I opened up about what had happened in my voice class. He, and everyone else in the class were genuinely shocked. They were actually slightly outraged on my behalf. They all chirped in to say what a great voice I had. David sensed I wasn’t believing what they were saying, and he was right. I thought they were just being nice. 

He had them all put it in context: e.g. that week I’d chosen a passage from a suspense thriller, one of my classmates mentioned how my breathiness really brought that alive. He played back the recording from the previous week, when I’d chosen the L’Oreal ‘Because You’re Worth It’ commercial, and pointed out how the softness of my voice was quite seductive. 

I began to recognise and believe what everyone else was hearing in my voice. Slowly over the remaining weeks of the courses my confidence in my voice returned. I recognised what was good, and also what I could improve upon. This took me back to the textbook I had for the voice foundation class:

Book Wisdom

The Vocal Arts Workbook : A Practical Course for Developing the Expressive Range of Your Voice by David Carey and Rebecca Clark Carey

I returned to the eight points of feedback and began to look at them objectively: e.g.

  1. Hard glottal attacks: I was tightly clamping shut my vocal folds before any breath got to them – think words from German language e.g. Nacht (Night) words from Irish language too Buachaill (Boy);
  2. Breathiness: I was letting a little bit of breath escape before closing my vocal folds – think Marilyn Monroe. 

The book has exercises to help connect the voice and breath to overcome these challenges. It’s also filled with exercises to overcome the remaining six points.

Of course, I knew when I’d received the feedback that the book had the solutions to overcome all of these points. But because I’d received only negative feedback I was totally crushed, and instead of working to overcome them I gave up. 

This book brings together all the factors that are needed to find one’s own authentic voice.

Words of Wisdom

I believe so much in the power of effective feedback. I also believe there’s an effective and ineffective way of giving and receiving feedback. I’ve never liked the feedback ‘sandwich’, because the crux of what needs to be said and heard can be lost within what is said around it – the dressing that surrounds it.

I believe feedback should be given context. For example, when the teacher said I had had glottal attacks and breathiness, she could also have drawn my attention to particular words on which these happened, e.g. in the English language, words beginning with a vowel tend to cause these problems. Of course I could have found this out for myself by simply reading the textbook, but I didn’t have an awareness I was doing this until I got the feedback; and because I hadn’t received feedback to this effect when I performed my audition piece or throughout the first term, when I must have been doing it, I struggled in knowing what to do. I actually couldn’t hear myself doing it. This to me would have been constructive feedback. I also think it should have been limited to no more than three points. Three is a good and achievable number to work with. Any more makes it too challenging. 

Sage Wisdom

My teacher David and my classmates did put the feedback in context, e.g. how my breathiness brought the suspense needed for the story I was reading, how the softness of my voice brought the seductiveness needed for the commercial voiceover. David gave me feedback on my pacing which helped with many of the other points of feedback my voice teacher had given me, e.g. speeding up, slowing down, pausing, helped overcome points  3 (too much rise and fall), 4 (not enough variation), 5 (too monotone – needing more light and shade – different parts are different in tone and mood)  and 7 (needing to drive it more –  pace).

He did exercises with us that drew awareness to working with our diaphragm, which helped with point 6 (being too softly spoken, and not reaching all four corners, or the back of the room); and he made the class fun, which helped with point 8 (needing to get out of my head). I prepared well for the class, undertaking the weekly assignments. Then I let go by being present in the moment, which took me out of my head. I had fun and enjoyed the moment. 


Because of my renewed confidence in my voice, I continue to work on improving it. I do this by working through exercises in The Vocal Arts Workbook : A Practical Course for Developing the Expressive Range of Your Voice . Sometimes I record myself speaking so I can actually hear myself speak. I then give myself feedback on what’s good about my voice and areas that I need to work on to improve. 

The questions I continue to ask myself in WorkLife situations – good, bad, and challenging – are:

What have I learnt from this?

What does this mean in the context of my WorkLife?

What do I want and need to do next?

I then devise a plan to make what I’ve identified happen.

Sometimes your greatest challenge can become your driving motivation, to get you to where you want to be. That has certainly been true for me. Beginning from a place of wanting to overcome my crippling nervousness when speaking in public, and my woodenness, followed (eventually!) by wanting to embrace what was good about my voice, and to work towards improving what wasn’t has led me to where I am in my WorkLife. 

I’ve created a WorkLife that allows me to combine my knowledge and experience of WorkLife learning and development with drama-based techniques, by collaborating with performing artists. Our work enables individuals and teams to be more active, spontaneous and flexible, freeing their minds to use their imagination in being inventive and original. The intrinsic nature of our work helps foster creativity, team spirit and emotional intelligence. I work with so many interesting people, helping them manage, develop and transition their WorkLives, and I work with an amazing team of artists in delivering the work.

Todays Book of the Blog is: 

The Vocal Arts Workbook: A Practical Course for Developing the Expressive Range of Your Voice by David Carey and Rebecca Clark Carey

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

I Wish I Hadn’t Said … By Carmel O’ Reilly

I Wish I Hadn’t Said …

Have you ever given feedback that you wish you hadn’t?

Maybe you blurted something out which you later regretted?

Perhaps you were under pressure or at the end of your tether.

Or it could be the person just really irritated you.

Was there anything you were able to do to recover?

I Wish I Hadn’t Said…. are people’s stories of when they’ve regretted something they’d said, feedback they’d given, and how they reacted in the moment to the situation and what they did (if anything) to be able to move forward after at the fact, or what they’d wish they’d done, what they coulda, shoulda, woulda done if only they knew what that was.

“A Monkey Could Do It Better”

Ray couldn’t believe the words that had come out of his mouth. Neither could his team, who at first laughed because they thought it was joke, but seeing the look on Jake’s face, who was on the receiving end of this feedback, quickly realised it wasn’t a joking matter. 

Afraid of what else he might say, Ray decided he needed to take five, removing himself from the situation, and so he took a walk. 

But let’s back up a little to: Ray’s Story: A Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda, Wish I Hadn’t Said … Case Study: 

I Wish I Hadn’t Said …

Ray was the manager of a team of twenty people within Operations in a leading Investment bank in the City in London. He’d been with the bank for over 30 years. In his earlier days and younger years he’d been a trader at the front end of things. It was a demanding role that was high powered and fast paced, which Ray enjoyed for the first few years, but after that the stresses of the job became too much for him and he reached burnout. The burnout was quite severe, and he needed to take a one-year sabbatical.

Ahead of returning from his sabbatical Ray met with his manager to discuss his future with the bank. His manager was very supportive. Ray was a good guy, intelligent, hard-working and brought a lot to the organisation. Ray knew he wanted to get away from trading and from client-facing roles, and wanted to move into what was then known as the back office; and so he took on a role in compliance. Although it was very static and process-driven it suited Ray. He was good with analysis and enjoyed it. More importantly it helped to restore Ray’s confidence in himself. 

But Ray’s career didn’t remain static. With the support of his manager, over time and over the years Ray worked in a number of different functions within the bank. This allowed him to continue to develop and to learn new skills, which kept him motivated.

In all of these roles Ray was an individual contributor, and this suited him very well. He had no interest in managing people.  Then the financial crisis hit, causing downsizing and restructuring with the bank going through a merger. A number of people Ray had worked with for many years who weren’t on board with the merger jumped ship; and as a result, along with losing good people, the bank also lost years of important knowledge. Because of his in-depth knowledge having worked across several functions, Ray found himself being promoted from individual contributor to manager, 

Some of the positions that had become vacant were filled from the merging company and some were filled by people working in other areas of Ray’s existing bank. This was how Ray inherited Jake. Jake had been working with the bank for over 15 years. He was a good guy and everybody liked him. 

Although known for having a good work ethic, his work from the day he joined Ray’s team was not good. He was continuously missing targets, which impacted the team, and this is what caused Ray’s outburst. He was at the end of his tether with Jake. Another late report ahead of an important meeting was the final straw, and led to those fateful words coming out of Ray’s mouth:

“A monkey could do it better”.

Seeing the look on Jake’s and the rest of the team’s faces following on from his outburst, together with the anger Ray was feeling towards Jake in that moment, Ray knew he needed to take a walk to distance himself from the immediate situation, to calm down and to gather his thoughts. 

Sage Wisdom

“Walking Meditation” is how Ray thought of this practice. It was a strategy his manager Nora introduced him to all those years ago when he was returning from his sabbatical, and one that had served him well at times when he had felt overwhelmed, and when he needed to turn off his self-talk and his thinking. Ray thought of Nora not only as his manager, but also his mentor and friend.  Although she had long since retired her wisdom remained with Ray throughout his WorkLife. It was something that he could tap into when he needed to.

The process was easy. He’d begin his walk by posing a question to himself, something as simple as “What do I need to know about X (situation/person)”? or “What one action can I take today that will help with X.” He would then switch off his mind and self-talk by focussing on the beauty of the park, and when thoughts/self-talk began to filter through, he’d mentally acknowledge them, say thank you, then switch off again by refocusing on the beauty of his surroundings. Ray found this simple strategy quite powerful. It helped to alleviate the sense of feeling overwhelmed, and by not thinking or listening to his self-talk, the answer he needed always came to him: sometimes in the moment or soon after, most often when he was getting on with his daily life, and other times he’d wake up with the solution of knowing what to do. This practice of self-questioning gave Ray the self-feedback he needed to evaluate what he needed to do next.

Ray’s focus on quieting his mind to what had just happened took his walk on autopilot on a route he took each lunchtime, through a nearby park, then past his favourite bookstore where he often spent his breaks browsing the shelves, picking up a book, sitting and reading a chapter or two over a coffee. Ray had received the answer to the question he had posed to himself: “What the hell did I just do, how can I put this right?”

Book Wisdom

Because on becoming a manager this bookshop was where he had discovered the One Minute Manager series of books, which he’d found really helpful, Ray immediately knew which of the One Minute Manager books he needed in this moment: The One Minute Manager — THE ONE MINUTE APOLOGY: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better . He entered the store, picked a copy off the shelf, got a coffee and settled down in his favourite armchair open to the learning that he knew he was about to receive though the book wisdom of The One Minute Manager.

From the key points of book wisdom that came to him from reading The One Minute Apology, Ray knew:

  • He had to take full responsibility for his actions, regardless of the outcome;
  • He had to apologise to Jake, and he had to do this with a sense of urgency;
  • He had to demonstrate his commitment to making amends beyond this apology.

By the time Ray had finished reading it was too late to go back to the office. He knew everybody would have left for the day, and knowing what he had to do the next morning, he also knew he needed the evening to prepare mentally and this was best done away from the office. 

He just needed to do a couple of things before leaving the bookstore.  He messaged Jake asking him to meet early next morning before the workday began. He suggested a nearby coffee shop because this meeting needed to be away from the bank. He let his assistant know he would be late into the office and asked that she rearrange his morning meeting.

And so at 7.30 am the next morning Ray and Jake met for coffee and a discussion, which Ray knew would not be happening if he’d addressed the issues with Jake earlier on. He knew he’d failed Jake and began the meeting, having thanked Jake for agreeing to meet early, by saying: “Jake I owe you an apology”. 

Jake was taken aback, because of Ray’s angry outburst the previous day and knowing he’d screwed up with the report he was expecting a further balling out.

Ray continued “I’ve let you down in so many ways. You’ve always done great work in the past. That changed in the last year. Your work has been under par for some time and I failed to address it, I failed to talk to you, I failed to ask you why this was happening, I failed to take time to understand what’s been going on for you that was contributing to this. You’ve been loyal to the bank for so many years, you’ve been a great contributor, you’ve done great work and I’ve let you down by not taking the time to talk to you, when clearly something was not right. I am sincerely sorry I’ve let you down so badly.”

Although taken aback for the second time within minutes, Ray’s apology immediately struck Jake as being both sincere and humble, and caused Jake to blurt out everything that he’d been carrying around since he’d taken on his new role. Although Jake was visibly upset, Ray’s apology gave him the courage to speak up, together with a sense of knowing that he needed to do this for his self-esteem and that this was his time to do so. He responded to Ray’s apology by saying:

“I wish you had talked to me; I wish somebody had talked to me instead of making assumptions. I wanted to leave, when the others left. I wanted to leave, but then I was offered a role on your team and told how much I was valued for my loyalty and everybody assumed that’s what I wanted. It wasn’t, but I didn’t have the courage to leave or to speak up. I’ve hated every moment of this merger. The people on our team are all good people but I miss everyone who has left. I was expected to be able to pick up my new role straightaway because of my knowledge of the business, but the work is so different to my old role and I’ve been out of my depth since day one, but nobody said anything and I wasn’t offered any help. I assumed you were ok with me getting up to speed. But I could see by the look on everyone’s face yesterday that they weren’t surprised by what you said. They all looked sorry for me. Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t anybody say something? I thought you all liked me. You must have all seen that I was out of my depth. If only someone had offered to help. Instead I’ve become a laughingstock, someone to pity.”

Ray knew this was the conversation he should have had with Jake a long time ago, in the same way his manager had taken the time to talk to him all those years ago when he was struggling, when he was in a role that wasn’t right for him. 

Ray spent the next two hours listening and talking to Jake – really listening to understand what was going on for him. By the end of the conversation Ray had learnt so much about Jake that he hadn’t known before. Things he could have, should have and would have known, had he taken the time to have had a career conversation with him, which would have allowed him to understand his motivations, his longer term dreams and aspirations, how these fitted with his current role and how he could have helped Jake work towards achieving this. The more they talked the more he realised how much he’d failed Jake on so many levels.

While he couldn’t turn back time, Ray knew he needed to do what he could in this moment to help Jake, and that was to help him to move on from the Bank, which is what Jake had wanted all along. You see Jake’s real passion was art. He was an artist. He studied Art at university, but due to pressure from his father who was a banker and who didn’t believe being an artist was a career, he buckled and entered the world of finance. Then he married, had kids and his work afforded his family a good lifestyle. 

He had actually enjoyed his work to a degree because of the people he’d worked with and before the merger the work was actually OK. More importantly it had allowed him to put his children through university. 

His art had become a hobby, but the burning desire to be an artist had never left him and of late it was all he could think about. It was risky, but financially he was in an OK place. He’d discussed it with his wife, and she was supportive; but Jake felt he needed a little more financial security for peace of mind. He had wanted to ask for redundancy before he was offered the role on Ray’s team. This had been offered to other people, but as nobody had asked Jake what he wanted at the time of the merger and instead offered him a secure position, he hadn’t wanted to seem ungrateful, and so he didn’t speak up.

Ray was in a position to secure a good redundancy settlement for Jake for his years of service to the bank. This is how the meeting ended, which was very different from how either Ray or Jake had anticipated it would have gone. 

Ray knew if he’d taken the time to talk to Jake a year earlier to understand his career aspirations, or if he’d taken time to give him feedback on his work at the given opportunities over the year when Jake messed up, it would never have gotten to this, and he could have helped Jake avoid the anguish and stress he’d experienced. 

He knew he could have been a better manager if he’d taken the time to create a culture of feedback, not just for him but also for Jake’s peers to give feedback to each other. A culture where Jake would have had the confidence to speak up and ask for what he wanted. A culture where it would have been OK for people to say No to something they didn’t want to do.

Ray knew he needed to evaluate if he should in fact be a manager. Maybe he wasn’t cut out for management. Maybe he was best suited to an individual contributor role. While Ray knew he had gotten a number of things right, he also knew he’d gotten some fundamental things wrong. He knew he needed to step back to evaluate his own role.


There’s a happy ending for both Ray and Jake’s stories. 

The time Ray had spent analysing how he should have managed the situation with Jake allowed him to recognise that he did like his job, and that he was good at it. He acknowledged he had gotten it horribly wrong with Jake, and he knew in his heart of hearts he would never allow that to happen again. To ensure it didn’t, he did exactly what he should have done with Jake, with the rest of the team. He set up a time to have a WorkLife conversation with everyone. He now understood their motivations, their longer dreams and aspirations, and how these fitted with their current roles. He understood how he could support them in their development in achieving this, and how this fitted into the team, department and organisation growth plans. He’s working on developing a team where everyone is responsible for giving feedback to each other, and where people feel safe in speaking up. He’s writing his continuing WorkLife Story chapters.

Six months later Ray received an invitation to the opening of Jake’s first art exhibition at a renowned gallery in the City of London. On Ray’s arrival Jake greeted him warmly. Ray was struck by how good he looked, and he was blown away by Jake’s art and his talent.

Later that evening Jake took Ray to one side and he thanked him for everything he’d done to help him achieve this. He thanked him for forcing the issue. He laughed and jokingly thanked him for almost ‘firing’ him. He thanked him for giving him the courage to speak up and say what he really wanted and for really listening. He thanked him for the financial support he’d arranged, which had made it possible to move onto the new challenge that he had for so long yearned, and which gave him the success he was now experiencing. He told Ray he knew he had been spinning the wheels at work and that he had been too scared to take action, and that the space Ray had given him that morning to talk had allowed him to know what it was he needed to do. 

Words of Wisdom

We can all do or say things that we later come to regret, an in the moment reaction that can leave us and other people feeling anywhere from slightly uncomfortable to totally destroyed. What we do next to be able to move forward will determine how the story ends.

This post has been adapted from chapter 20 of Your WorkLife Your Way: Making Your WorkLife Work For You Time For a Little (Or a Lot) of Self-Analysis The power of Apology and The Power of Speaking Up

Todays Book of the Blog is: The One Minute Apology by Ken Blanchard and Margaret McBride 

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

What’s the Worst Thing Anyone Has Ever Said To You? … By Carmel O’ Reilly

What’s the Worst Thing Anyone Has Ever Said To You? 

Has someone ever said something that really upset you? Maybe you felt it was unfair, or untrue, and that you didn’t deserve it. The person may have had good intentions in saying what they said, or maybe they didn’t. They may or may not have known the in the moment and/or the lasting impact of their words. The chances are the person didn’t truly know or understand you.

What’s the Worst Thing Anyone Has Ever Said To You? are people’s stories of when someone said something to them, that at best upset them in the moment, and took them a little while to let go of and move on from, or at worst it stayed with them for many years,  causing a negative impact throughout their WorkLife.

Words have consequences, they have power, a power that can be used to knock down or to build up. Wisdom, Truth and Self-Awareness are the arch-rivals to words that have caused a person to be knocked down. They are the super powers that will build them up again.

“You’re Not Creative”

These words stunned me into silence, I couldn’t believe Max, the person I was having a meeting over coffee with, actually thought this of me. Although I didn’t speak any words in response, the look on my face obviously spoke volumes, as Max tried to recover from what he said. But let’s back up a bit to my story:

My Story of the Worst Thing Anyone Has Ever Said To Me

A Case Study: 

Words Can Crush

I’d worked for several years as a career consultant helping people manage, develop and transition their WorkLives. I was in the early stages of developing my work further, and with a team of performing, visual and literary artists I’d created workplace theatre. Theatrical productions written following research into organisational challenges and desired outcomes. The plays formed the centrepiece of learning and development, stimulating discussion and debate.

The next steps were to develop an online platform bringing learning, the arts and technology together to support individuals in their WorkLife development. I was meeting with Max to discuss how to do this. We’d worked together before. He’s an actor with a background in graphic design. I was talking about what I could bring to the project. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something about creativity, to which Max blurted out those fateful words: “You’re not creative!” As I mentioned earlier, while I was stunned into silence and didn’t respond with words, my facial response obviously spoke volumes, as Max tried to recover, saying: “I think of you as being honest, trustworthy, caring, I just don’t think of you as being creative.” I was still dumbstruck.

Somehow the conversation moved forward, and as it did I came to realise that Max didn’t actually know me very well; and I suppose I’m partly responsible for that because I don’t tend to talk about my work because I think my work should talk for itself. But it was very apparent it hadn’t talked to Max. Anyway, we got through the meeting, discussed what we needed to discuss, agreed what we needed to do next, and said our goodbyes.

As I walked home, I was mulling things over in my mind. During the meeting it had become very apparent that Max hadn’t taken the time to discover anything about me, over and above the work we’d done together, nor did he see beyond what was in front of his eyes. 

There was a time when this would have crushed me. But because I practice self-awareness and self-feedback through self-questioning, it didn’t. I asked myself: 

Is what Max said true? 

If yes, why?

If no, why not?

This is the answer that came to me:

I believe what’s most creative about me and my approach to my work, is that I see connections between the detail and the bigger picture, I see what’s possible, I see people’s potential, I enable people to see things in new and different ways. I know this because people tell me, it’s what they say is creative about me. 

Then as I continued my walk home something that later became very surreal happened. It was late in the evening, and the streets were a little deserted, but on a well-trodden London footpath there was a book on the ground. There was no-one around who could have dropped it, so I picked it up and brought it home.

Book Wisdom

The book was It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be: The world’s best-selling book by Paul Arden. It’s quite a quick read filled with quotes and short stories, and so I read it immediately on getting home. This is where the surrealism happened, with these words of wisdom: 

“The most popular conception of creativity is that it’s something to do with the arts.


Creativity is imagination, and imagination is for everyone.”

Sage Wisdom

I shared what had happened with Max with my dear and wise friend Norma, who knew me and my work very well. She was a little outraged on my behalf, asking if he actually knew anything about my work. Wanting to ensure I didn’t dwell on this, she also pointed out other areas where she considered me to be creative, e.g. I enjoy cooking and when I have friends round I like to make it an experience: the setting, the food, the drinks, and so on. She was in effect reinforcing my belief that there are many ways in which people are creative.

Words of Wisdom

Creativity exists in people in every walk of life, at every WorkLife stage, not just in the creative industries. Creativity means something different to different people. 


Although these remain the worse words anyone has ever said to me, I am actually grateful for them, grateful because they raised awareness to how people think about what it means to be creative, grateful because now if anyone expresses that they themselves or someone else is not creative, I share the the wisdom I gleaned from this situation: “Creativity is imagination, and imagination is for everyone.”  Paul Arden

Today’s Book of the Blog is: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

I Wish I’d Said … By Carmel O’ Reilly

I Wish I’d Said …

Have you ever received feedback that you didn’t know how to respond to? 

Maybe it was negative, de-motivating, caught you off-guard or was downright unfair. 

Chances are it really bothered you, and you just couldn’t get it out of your mind.

Maybe you’re a reflective soul and thinking it through, ideas came to mind of what you coulda, shoulda, woulda said if it had only come to you in that moment.

I Wish Id Said … are people’s stories of when they were on the receiving end of feedback that they didn’t respond to or know how to respond to because they just didn’t see it coming, or it stopped them dead in their tracks, or even worse, it totally crushed them.

You Should Be Thankful To Have A Job”

These words stung Petra, she wasn’t expecting them, and she didn’t know how to respond.

But lets back up a little to Petras Story: A Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda, Wish I’d Said … Case Study: 

I Wish I’d Said …

Petra is working in a leading retail organisation. It’s a great company to work for: she works with people she likes; her good work is recognised and rewarded; and during her two years there her career has advanced. 

However, although she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s received, her heart just isn’t in it. You see Petra’s background is international development. This is what she studied at university and on graduating she worked in her chosen field in her native Poland. Then she moved to London with the intention of continuing her career path, but unfortunately she couldn’t get a job within the industry. 

After weeks of job searching, reality struck. Her savings were dwindling, and she needed to work to earn a living. So she took a step back and considered her skills and experience that could be transferable to another role. She recognised she had strong administrative and organisational abilities, and began to apply for roles which demanded these skills. Her search led her to an administrative role in retail at the organisation she’s with today.

However, Petra’s story doesn’t stop there, because she didn’t intend staying in this role. She had a plan, which was to continue to look for opportunities within international development alongside working her day job. But then the economic crisis hit, causing uncertainty across all sectors, which meant the timing just wasn’t right. 

Nevertheless, Petra wasn’t about to give up on her dream, and while she knew she needed to bide her time until the economy recovered, she recognised she wanted and needed to keep her hand in within her chosen field. This led her to become a volunteer with Amnesty International, which had a branch support network close to her home. (More about opportunities on your doorstep a little later in Petra’s story). The experience this opportunity gave Petra was immensely satisfying and rewarding. It gave her a sense of fulfilment and allowed her to stay on the path of what she knew was her real purpose in her WorkLife.

Actually, her experience gave her so much more beyond this. Her genuine interest in people helped her to build a strong network of contacts. Being non-British, this was important to Petra because she’d arrived in the country not knowing anyone, which made it difficult to learn about opportunities. 

In particular, Petra made a strong connection with James who led the volunteer group. James had a wealth of knowledge and experience within the industry; and very quickly through Petra’s dedication, hard work and initiative he saw her potential and came to value her as a key member of the team.  

Petra had great respect for James, and she was learning so much from him through his leadership.  She knew she could learn so much more if he were her mentor. This idea came to her through conversations she had with many people who’d been mentored by James. They all spoke really highly of him, and the positive impact he’d had on their WorkLives. Petra knew how valuable it would be if James would be her mentor, and she began to think through how she could approach him. She knew he was nearing retirement, and she wanted to be respectful of his time. In the end it was James who suggested it. Petra had done so much to help everyone else, he wanted to help her, and so their mentor/mentee relationship began. 

Petra’s passion for pursuing a career in her chosen field was very apparent. Because of this the others in her network were happy to make introductions to people who they considered it would be good for her to connect with. She was grateful for this, and always prepared well for each meeting by way of finding out more about the person and their organisation, compiling questions to ask that would help her understand both day to day activities and demands of the role, and also their perception of the future of the industry. This was valuable information for Petra for when the time came for her to resume her job search. This is because her intention was to not only apply directly for jobs advertised, but also to approach organisations speculatively for jobs relating to future projects, with the purpose of bringing her name to front of mind when they were ready to begin the recruitment process.

Petra always enjoyed these meetings and found people were really helpful and generous in sharing their thinking. That was until she met Mary, who began the meeting by asking why she wanted to move from where she was, when she had a perfectly good job, and so many people were out of work, going on to say: “You should be thankful to have a job.” 

Petra was stopped dead in her tracks. She didn’t respond, not knowing what to say. She somehow got through the rest of the meeting, which thankfully was short. But it left her feeling deflated and questioning her decision to want to make a career transition. 

She arranged a meeting with James, who helped her evaluate the reasons why she initially deemed this transition to be important, and she considered if these were still relevant and important; and the answer was a resounding YES.

Sage Wisdom

James also shared these Words of Wisdom: “It’s important to remember, when you ask someone for their advice, opinion, feedback, they’ll feel obliged to give it. You then need to figure out whether to take it on board or whether to think, well that may be good advice for someone else but in line with what’s important to me and knowing what I know about what I want to achieve in my WorkLife life that’s not for me right now.”

He went on to say: “It’s also important to surround yourself with people who believe in you, who believe that change can take place even in the toughest of circumstances, and who also believe change is good.” It was at this point that Petra was reminded of the old adage: “That other people’s behaviour is about them, not you.”

He finished by saying: “Taking control of your own WorkLife development will allow you to stay true to your passion and purpose, and this is possible even in the most challenging times.”


Evaluating the situation and hearing these words of wisdom helped Petra pick herself back up. 

On reflection she was reminded how much she’d accomplished by looking for opportunities outside of her work. By offering her skills and time she had also created opportunities to develop new skills, knowledge, experience and insights into the industry – while all the time expanding her network, making new connections and developing good relationships. 

This self-feedback gave Petra the impetus to continue her pursuit of her chosen career. In doing so, she discovered a great opportunity within her own organisation. As part of their Corporate Social Responsibility they worked with a number of charities, one of which was a human rights organisation; and through her organisation’s intranet she discovered an opportunity that involved a two day-a-week secondment for eighteen months. (I never cease to be amazed at how often what we’re looking for is on our doorstep!)

She prepared her application, which first had to be approved by her manager, who didn’t relish the prospect of losing her, but at the same time wanted to support her. This then had to be presented to the board of directors, and it was approved.

With the support of her mentor James, Petra considered what she wanted to get out of the secondment over and above the hands-on experience; and she developed a plan to help her achieve her objectives. 

Book Wisdom

Interestingly at the time she was reading Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, and regarded the book as her ‘Virtual Mentor’. In particular, Sheryl said that as well as believing everyone should have a long-term plan, she also believed everyone should have an eighteen-month plan. Petra modified Sheryl’s thinking to her own situation on these two fronts.

She considered targets she could accomplish with her new team, which she suggested and were accepted. Her new manager was happy for her to take a proactive role, and was impressed with both her approach and the suggestions she put forward, which demonstrated her in-depth understanding of the organisation and the world they operated within. (Her good research work was paying off).

She set more personal goals for learning new skills within the eighteen months, drawing on Sheryl’s advice to self-question, by asking herself: “How can I improve?” Sheryl’s words rang true, in that she knew if she was afraid to do something it was either because she wasn’t good at it, or that she was too scared to even try. In fact Petra felt everything Sheryl said was written for her, right down to wanting and needing to develop her negotiation skills; and so she followed through with the approach Sheryl had taken, gathered courage and let her new boss know this is an area she would like to develop.  He was happy to facilitate this when opportunities arose, proving the old adage: “When the student is ready the teacher will come”. 

Petra is now getting stuck in and enjoying her secondment, creating the next chapters of her unique WorkLife story. I have every confidence this opportunity will support her in achieving her longer term WorkLife goal to secure a full-time position within human rights, and to get back to where she knows she belongs.  

Words of Wisdom

There are times when it’s OK not to respond. You may think: “I wish I’d said … “ or “I coulda,  shoulda, woulda said…” But the thing is, other people’s behaviour is about them, not you. Petra not knowing what to say and as a result not saying anything was actually OK in this situation. Importantly she handled the situation with dignity, bringing the conversation to a close respectfully, and making her exit politely, which allowed her to walk away with her integrity intact.

This post has been adapted from chapter 10 of Your WorkLife Your Way: Creating Your Shorter and Longer Term WorkLife Plan. 

Todays Book of the Blog is: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.