"A couple of years ago, my partner Brandon, a chef, wanted to start his own restaurant. I sort of naively said, 'I'll help you! How hard can it be?'" Franzen says. "Spoiler alert: it's really hard."
It was a two-person operation — him cooking in back, her running the front of the house. Just as they started to build a positive reputation as a neighbourhood brunch spot, they received their first negative online review, which started with "overrated," threw in "gross" and a bunch of exclamation points, and ended with "I wouldn't come back."
"Negative reviews are never fun," she says, "but this one, for a variety of reasons, just really felt especially heart-breaking. I think it's because it felt so personal. ... When you've got a business or a project that's in its baby, baby stages, it feels like everything is on the line."
It wasn't as if Franzen had never dealt with rejection but she couldn't stop thinking about this particular situation. So she did what she usually does when struggling with something: she started writing about it, and wondering how big the issue was. She reached out to friends and colleagues across industries and professions. "Everyone — literally every single person I reached out to, was like, 'Oh my god, I have a story for you.' Or 'I have 10 stories for you.' It was sort of surprising and also not surprising that everyone has their own version of the one-star Yelp review story."
More than 15 professionals shared dozens of their not-so-fun situations for her book. Here are seven of Franzen's favourite tips from their advice and hers for dealing with criticism, rejection, public humiliation, discouragement and other "soul-crushing experiences."
- Manage the crisis as best you can. "There are certain instances where either you've made a mistake, or maybe you haven't really made a mistake but something has happened to kind of shatter your reputation in some way," Franzen says. "I think it is important to manage it. […] Sometimes you need to post a statement, sometimes you need to apologise, sometimes you need to add an editor's note to the article to note a mistake that you made. Deal with it in the most classy manner that you can. […] Oftentimes, when you do this, you actually end up winning more fans and supporters because people are impressed with how you handled the situation."
- Shake it out of your system. "Part of building resilience means, even if you've had a setback, even if you got a nasty blog comment or review, or you didn't get the job or the client that you wanted, resilience means being able to go 'ugh, that hurt,' and do whatever you need to do to shake it out of your system, whether it's yoga or meditation, or calling a friend, or punching a punching bag, or whatever, but then when tomorrow rolls around, you do the work again," Franzen advises. "You post another post, you spend another hour practicing, you send another pitch or query letter. You just don't stop. You just keep marching."
- Work harder. Do better. "Sometimes criticism can be uncomfortable because it's illuminating something that's at least partly true that we need to look at," Franzen tells us. "One of the stories with Brendan, my partner, talks about a chef who was very unimpressed with some work that he did. You know, one person could interpret that as 'Oh, that guy was so mean. I'm amazing.' But Brandon's interpretation was, 'Well, maybe I could do better.' And that was valuable fuel for him."
- Look at the whole picture. "Get feedback from many sources and look for trends rather than one review. … My mum likes to get what she calls a holistic look at how a project is doing, which means looking at everything, every possible marker of success to get a general picture of what's going on," Franzen advises. "And I do think that that can be really valuable because you're really looking from every angle, rather than obsessing about one review, which is often very skewed."
- Remember that everyone goes through tough stuff. "Remember that literally everyone, everyone throughout history, your friends, your colleagues, the people you admire, everyone has gone through a rough patch, or a rough day, or a rough decade," Franzen says. "It's not always posted on Instagram, and it's not always discussed publicly. I wish it would be more."
- Open up a conversation. "Find some kind of opportunity with your friends or your kids or your clients or on onstage or wherever you tell stories, to open up and share one of your own survival stories because it will be so healing and you might really impact someone big just by sharing. […] I think the more that we share these kinds of stories, the healthier we are as a society, and the less shame and panic people feel about discouraging moments because it normalizes it."
- Figure out your own coping strategies. "We all have a different toolbox of skills, but we can all build more resilience and bounce back from those discouraging moments a little faster and hopefully not let it derail us, and certainly not let us give up on our dreams," she says.
For Franzen and her partner, they have got one new coping strategy in particular. "It turns out that one review did not ruin our restaurant," she says, laughing. "And both of us have just decided not to read Yelp reviews any more."