How to handle tough feedback and respond to challenges

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By Emilio Lorenzo and Emily Tasca

Emilio Lorenzo is the assistant director of career advisement in NSU’s Office of Career Development. He understands the importance of helping students reach their career goals and works with all students, including undergraduate, graduate and professional level students, to achieve their professional goals.

Emily Tasca is a member of the career advisement team in NSU’s Office of Career Development. She works with current students and alumni at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels.  

Growing up, you may have played some kind of sport. Maybe you remember your coach shouting with feedback in terms of your play: “More hustle.” Although this feedback aimed to improve your approach in the given sport, sometimes it might not have been easy to accept constructive criticism. Challenges do one of two things: they can make you bunker down and shun from the challenge, make you well-rounded to meet challenges head-on. Feedback is the cornerstone of growth and development, and although it’s sometimes hard to hear, constructive criticism is important to reaching your full potential. Just like when you write a paper, and then a friend proofreads and finds grammatical errors you didn’t even notice, constructive feedback can provide insight into areas for improvement that you weren’t even aware of. The key point to take away is that when it comes to taking or receiving feedback, perspective is key.

Perspective can be defined as how one analyzes, interprets and defines information received from their personal viewpoint. Your perspective can thus be influenced by past experiences and be redefined upon encountering new experiences.

Those around us, specifically those that we confide in and consider mentors, also influence perspective. Throughout college, you have faced or will face a multitude of challenges that will require a strategic approach, which can only be developed through appropriate perspective and guidance. These challenges can arise in various aspects of your collegiate journey, and they can be academic, professional or social. A mentor can provide honest feedback when needed and guide you through these rough patches.

At times, you will receive feedback that, although helpful, is not delivered in the most constructive way, which will require you to overcome the shock of the message. This can happen with someone who chooses a major that may have a different path than a more traditional major of biology or business.

For example, Sally is a sophomore in college and is currently an art major. Sally is very passionate about art and her dream is to have her paintings featured in a gallery as well express herself through her art while making a living. One day Sally is speaking with her friend Bobby who is a business major and advises her that she will have difficulty finding a job with such a major and should do something else, even if it’s not her passion. After this difficult conversation, Sally is at a crossroad in deciding what to do next with her major and career planning. Although Bobby’s intentions were not to scare off Sally, his delivery of the information created anxiety.

Friends and family don’t always know how to package the feedback or message in a manner that’s easily digestible. However, these messages will help ground us in terms of understanding challenges that we did not once consider. The key is to not get bogged down on these challenges and to find avenues to empower oneself by receiving strategic feedback on next steps to meet these challenges head on.

For example, Jill is a biology major with a long-term goal of entering medical school. Unfortunately, Jill has struggled with some of her classes and will be entering her senior year with a 2.7 GPA. In speaking with her adviser, Jill mentions her long-term goal and her current academic standing. Jill is concerned that she doesn’t have what it takes to get in to medical school but knows that this is where her true passion lies. Her adviser acknowledges her struggles, but focuses on the avenues available to reach that end goal of medical school. Together they discuss graduate school options and transitional programs, as well as other ways to strengthen her resume and, in turn, her future application to medical school. Although the road ahead will not look as she first envisioned when entering college, Jill knows that this is what she wants and thus has redefined her perspective on how to get to that end goal.

Dealing with challenges, criticisms and receiving overall feedback on past performances is part of everyday life, but it’s how we respond that defines who we will be going forward. Remember to establish a network for yourself that includes mentors and other confidants who will provide you with perspective on challenges while grounding you and empowering you to new heights.

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