Do you care what people think of your work? How about what they think of you? Should you care? Why? These are simple questions, but they are surely not easy ones.
If a client hires you and then says he or she doesn't like the job you've done, should that matter to you? If you value that client or your reputation among those people the client speaks to, then I would say it should.
If a band member tells you that you're difficult because you insist your song be played a particular way, does it make any difference to you? What about if a reviewer says your album's no good and your hair is bizarre?
There is no definitive answer to these questions; too much depends on circumstances. For a start, consider the source. Is the person speaking some wanna-be rock-star lead vocalist who wants to build him- or herself up by tearing you down, or is it the person who produced three out of five of your all-time favorite albums?
Another thing for you to consider is how an opinion is offered. Is it a sweeping statement barreling down a highway of vague generalities, or does it sound reasoned and specific?
Logical considerations are just the beginning: are you certain of what you're doing, or are you feeling your way? Are you in a mood to hear what anyone has to say? Each of these factors can be liquid and can land at either extreme of your personal scale of validity — or in the continuum between.
Many years ago, my father — clever man that he is — taught me the proper conjugation of the word stubborn: “I am stubborn, you are obstinate, and he is a pig-headed fool.” No less than David Crosby sang, “Hear, you must hear what the people say” (“Long Time Gone”). It is indeed the fool who refuses to ever listen to what anyone tells him or her.
Fine. But is refusing to listen when someone is laying The Word on you inherently foolish? Albert Einstein (who more closely resembles my father than Crosby in that he no longer tours much) once said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Or, as Ray Davies of the Kinks more succinctly put it, “I'm not like everybody else.” I'm sure I've been identified with the third-person-singular conjugation in my father's definition at times; perhaps this is why. Or maybe I'm just full of myself.
Now that I've chased in circles for a few hundred words, I'm supposed to come up with a neat and snappy conclusion, and I'm going to (more or less), but I'll bet I get as many flying eggs for it as nodding heads. So be it.
If there is no definition of “solution” and no stability in circumstance, how do you sort out whether to care about what people think of you and what you do?
The only thing I can trust that won't lie to me is my gut feeling. I can fool myself with my brain, and I can lie to myself with my heart, but my gut has proved its accuracy time and again, and In Gut I Trust. That much presents me with a nice, pat solution. The trick, of course, is keeping everything else from obscuring the signals, and that turns out to be quite a chore.
Sorting through my take on the validity of the source, subduing my ego, and avoiding double-thinking myself into fatal insecurity — all those things and more are like the summer fog that envelops San Francisco in the late afternoon when the Central Valley heats up. If I can keep tabs on the temperature in the Central Valley and see the fog coming, I might be able to hightail it to the top of Mount Tamalpais, where I'm above the fog. If not — well, Dad also used to say about me, “often erroneous, never in doubt.”
But I'm willing to take that risk because there is more than one right answer to many things in this life, and no one has a lock on The Truth. Or, as the famous philosopher Anon said, “You can't believe everything you hear.”