You Get What You Pay For

His words hit me like a punch in the gut.

A large, burly sort of guy walked up to me in the hall of a business center after I talk I’d given on storytelling and asked, politely, if he could give me some constructive criticism.

“Of course!” I said.  I value feedback; it’s how we learn.

He told me that my volume was too low (he had a cold so he couldn’t hear some of my funny sidebar comments). He also told me that I spoke too quickly at times, and he couldn’t understand me.

It was legitimate feedback which I appreciated.

He went to say that he enjoyed public speaking, and it came easily to him.  All good stuff.

Then, just as we were heading off in different directions he said…  “Around here, you get what you pay for…”

Before I could even catch myself, I nodded and said “Oh yeah. For sure.”

Wait… What? … What the heck?!

Why did I agree with his statement?  WHO DOES THAT?

Apparently, I do.

As I walked out and the door slammed behind me, his words sunk in.

“You get what you pay for…”

I’d given this session for free.

What was he really saying?

Whatever he meant, it didn’t matter. By the time I hit the highway, I’d come up with every possible negative interpretation of his words.

“Was I really that bad?”

I spoke for free, so obviously I’m not that good.”

This group ‘puts up’ with bad speakers because it’s all they can get.”

The painful spiral of self-criticizing started, and I quickly lost control. 

By the time I got home, I was in tears.

Hot, messy, unprofessional tears.

I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed of letting this guy get to me, ashamed for “agreeing” with his comment, ashamed for giving away services typically I get paid for and ashamed for crying over it.

Why am I even doing this? 

I stood in my kitchen, with tears rolling down my cheeks. I didn’t know what to do.

On the one hand, I wanted to reach out and talk to someone. But on the other, I was embarrassed. I told myself that I was making a big deal out of nothing.  I mean, who cares what this guy had to say anyway?

Clearly, I cared or I wouldn’t be crying. I needed to do something about it.

I opened my computer and started writing a message to a group of girlfriends that I trust.

I stopped.

I was scared to admit what had happened.  Because as much as I wanted to believe that they’d be supportive, I still worried that they’d blow me off saying something like…

“Brush it off; happens to everyone”


You’re going to need a thicker skin in this business

Or even worse…

You teach this stuff, right? Why are you crying about it?”

(It’s scary to think of getting responses like these while you stand in your kitchen, crying and shoveling spoonfuls of peanut butter in your face.)

I pushed my worry aside as best as I could, and I sent the message telling them everything.  

(ok, almost everything; I didn’t mention the peanut butter)

I told them about crying. 

I told them about how dumb I felt. 

I told them how bad it felt to do something for free and then hear that type of feedback. 

Let me tell you, it didn’t take long before my friends responded, in full force, comforting me, validating me, and reassuring me that I wasn’t a gigantic baby.

I’ll share their wise and wonderful words with you later because they deserve their own post.

You’ll just have to wait.

Chances are…you’ve experienced something like this before. . . maybe it wasn’t a critic after a talk, but the comment came from your boss, a colleague or a friend.  Maybe you sat alone in your kitchen eating your feelings, holding back tears and telling yourself you’re a baby.

If that’s you… here’s what I want you to learn from my experience.

Don’t go it alone. 

It’s scary, vulnerable and risky to share our feelings with others.

But… when we share our stories with others it does three things. . . 

1.) It allows you to sort fact from fiction. What really happened and what’s just stuff you are making up in your head?

2.) It gives people who genuinely care about us the opportunity to help by sharing advice, perspective, words of wisdom… or a funny GIF so we can laugh.

3.) It frees you from the trap of shame. (yep I said shame; that’s not a “businessy” word, but it’s accurate).  Shame is a dirty little monster that likes to hide in the dark corners of your mind.  Don’t let it.  Speak it… write it…and, you’ll find you aren’t alone.

And if I know one thing, it’s this…we aren’t meant to do life alone.  


What do you do when you find yourself dealing with unsolicited or wanted feedback? Share in the comments below!

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1 reply
  1. Steven S. Vrooman, PhD
    Steven S. Vrooman, PhD says:

    Thanks for this post! As speakers, we don’t talk enough about these kinds of experiences. And you’re totally right — we’ve got to share.

    I’m still a bit flabbergasted that he would say that to you anyway. Yikes!


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