At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was dealing with an overwhelming amount of rejection in my career as a journalist and was feeling discouraged. One day, I decided to revisit some of the kind remarks my clients had made about my work in the past. Reading about how I did “fantastic reporting” and “have a great writing style and so much enthusiasm” filled me with gratitude and made me feel proud of my work.
To be able to tap into that feeling at any time, I made a folder on my desktop and called it “You Are a Prolific Writer” as an homage to the time an editor dubbed me with such an honorable title. In the folder, I’ve compiled screenshots of affirmative feedback. These positive remarks were completely unsolicited and often arrived unexpectedly in an email and made my day. It’s easy to forget this praise when I’m not feeling stellar about my work.
Now that I have an actual feedback folder, I visit and click through the photo album often—especially during bouts of imposter syndrome when I’m in dire need of being reminded of my wins. The empowering feedback as well as constructive criticism from editors continues to propel me forward.
Reading through the screenshots has become a self-care practice for me and has helped me improve my self-talk when it comes to my career. Knowing editors from major publications such as InStyle, Refinery29, Architectural Digest, and more have taken the time to encourage my work makes me confident in my abilities as a journalist. Their remarks bring me a sense of accomplishment that motivates me to keep sending pitches even in moments that feel fruitless. Having a literal place to go when I need some encouragement has helped me remind myself to take pride in my work. The folder has also helped me stay in the abundance mindset and kept me confident that as long as I put in the effort, more work will be available.
And I’ve realized I’m hardly alone in relying on a feedback file for a boost. I often tweet about the realities of freelance journalism and one day shared that I had screenshotted uplifting feedback from a new-to-me editor who said I did an "awesome job" and that the article was “really fun and interesting.” Some of my writing peers shared that they’ve also made a habit of saving encouraging remarks. Ali Wunderman keeps a folder called “Atta Girl” with screenshots of praise to look at on a tough day and Tammy Dandan has a similar folder called “Pep Talk.” Sarah Bence takes it a step further and prints out the emails, cuts out the phrases, and pins them to the bulletin board above her desk.
No matter what kind of work you do, you can benefit from filing away positive feedback and revisiting it when you need a pick-me-up. None of us are exempt from needing a little bit of encouragement from time to time. Taking a few moments to reflect on the great experiences you’ve had may help you focus on why you do what you do and give you a boost on difficult days. For me it helps when I’m coping with a story being killed, making revisions to a heavily edited draft, or having a tedious day of following up for the third time on pitches that have disappeared into the abyss. For folks in other industries, perhaps it will help you home in on your talents after a particularly difficult day at the office, refocus after dealing with unappreciative clients, ease your worries about job security, or move forward with your work after receiving harsh feedback.
To make your folder, go back through your emails, chat messages, performance reviews, and any other notes of praise and kind words you may have received from your boss, colleagues, clients, and other professional contacts. Take screenshots and save them in a folder on your computer or in your inbox. If you offer a product and a customer leaves you a nice review, take a screenshot of that and add it to your folder. For snippets of feedback you didn’t get in writing—those kind words your coworker said about you in a meeting or what your manager told you during a review—just type them up.
You can name the folder after one of the compliments you’ve been given about your work, as I chose to, or after its purpose, as Wunderman and Dandan did. For more visible affirmations, print the comments and post them on the walls in your workspace, the way Bence described. You could even add adornments to make the praise feel decorative.
Whatever form your version of a feedback “folder” takes, keep adding to it every time you see or hear something uplifting about your work. The positive reinforcement will help you navigate challenging days when you need to be reminded of just how excellent you are at your job. My feedback folder has proven to be a constant source of encouragement and I hope yours will too.