Driving through China during Chinese New Years is an unsettling experience at best. Normally, these streets are bustling with thousands of people day and night. In fact, even smaller cities outside in the more rural parts of China can give the bustle of New York City a run for its money, but during the Chinese New Year, everyone goes home to be with family. The result is massive cities that look virtually like ghost towns.

One evening we were driving through a smaller town during a family road trip. I looked out the window to see the empty street as shown below.

Upon sight, immediately I thought of just how unwelcoming this street appeared. I have a tendency at times to be “dark and twisty” as a close friend would say, but looking at this street felt oddly familiar, almost like I was looking at a piece of my own mind. I snapped the picture shown above and we continued on our trip.

Later that night I began thinking about what was so unsettling about that moment, and I came to realize that my life and journey felt much like that street; an unwelcoming place filled with shadows and negativity as I attempt to move from one light to the next, trying to simply push forward towards my goals.

Much of the negativity that you face as an artist is going to come from those closest to you. While some negativity is quite straight forward and easy to brush off, family and friends will often unknowingly plant seeds of doubt in your mind.

Ultimately, however, it is the soil of your mind where these seeds will grow into complete rooted doubts and uncertainty. For many, simply facing these doubts will be the greatest challenge and obstacle in pushing forward into a creative profession. Here are a few concrete tips on dealing with haters and translating the naysayers.


Often times our worst critics are the people we are closest to. I’d highly recommend that you disconnect from all friends, even best friends, that are spewing negativity and discouragement your way. These are not friends worth keeping because these are not friends.

That being said, please understand that there is also a valid difference between the true friend/family member who helps you to play devil’s advocate in offering constructive critique/advice, versus those simply offering negativity. The biggest difference? The presence of solutions in addition to the critique provided. What’s a hater or what can we classify as “hate”? In my opinion, it’s negativity without the presence of a solution.

While haters are all over the internet spewing their word vomit, they are most damaging when they come in the form of friends, family, and even parents. Unfortunately, it’s a little more difficult to make the decision to disconnect from family. So instead of removing these individuals from your life (except in those cases when it is necessary) try understanding their intentions and interpreting their advice, critique, or self-proclaimed wisdom.

To understand their intentions, know that each of the things they are saying are most likely rooted in their own history and decisions. More often than not, your family and close friends do love you, they are simply channeling their own fears and self-doubt your way.

Here are some examples of things I heard when I quit Ernst & Young with Justin/Chris to start up Lin and Jirsa Photography:

  1. Father: “Had I known you were going to quit accounting to become a photographer I wouldn’t have helped pay for your degree.”
    Interpretation: “From my own experience as an immigrant, I don’t know of any other pathway to earn a living other than earning a degree and working for someone else.”
    Outcome: It took 5 years, but a couple years back my father visited me and our studio and said, “I am proud of what you have created.”
  2. Close Friend: “You are quitting to start your own business? That’s really risky, are you sure you know what you are doing?”
    Interpretation: “I tried a business in high school and it failed miserably. This was probably because I didn’t have a solid business plan in place prior to starting. Either way, a back-up plan might be a great idea just to stay safe.”
    Outcome: During a conversation, my friend disclosed to me that he now understands that the traditional career path is not for everyone. That some people simply don’t fit well into the system. While risk is a valid concern for some, for others, staying inside of a system that doesn’t fit is riskier than venturing out.
  3. Close Friend: “Nobody makes money in photography, it’s extremely competitive.”
    Interpretation: “I don’t know anyone that is a successful photographer in my circle of friends. It does seem like an easy field to enter and say you are a professional photographer. I love the creative arts, but I am unwilling to risk uncertainty.”
    Outcome: This close friend now sees what we have done as an example of “yes, it’s difficult. But, these guys did it and it is possible.”

In each of these pieces of advice, critique, and commentary there are truths that we can glean wisdom from. They key is to first run them through your internal translation system.


How about the hater sipping on their ice cold glass of Haterade; the ones we described as offering negativity without the presence of a solution?

These are the ones that you need to remove from your purview and the easiest way to do that is to first understand their motives. Haters spew negativity for one simple reason, they are jealous or upset with your desire to work towards accomplishing something that they never had the drive or courage to do for themselves. They are unhappy with their own life and decisions, and thus they derive self-validation by convincing you to make similar decisions. In other words, they are emotional thieves that prey upon your desires and dreams.

If you have haters in your life that you call friends/family, my advice would be to avoid them at all costs. You have bigger and better things to worry about. Surround yourself with those that only wish for your success. Better yet, surround yourself with family/friends who provide you with constructive critique with the presence of solutions.

While you are on your journey, watch your own behavior to ensure that you aren’t being a hater to those who may follow in your footsteps. Your journey will inspire others, newbies will follow just like you were a newbie at one point in time. Some may even gain success before you do, but don’t let it affect your positivity and your own journey.

Perhaps the single biggest factor influencing a haters behavior is their belief that someone else’s success prohibits their own. I have said this a million times, I gain pride when the friends around me succeed in their goals. It makes me happy and motivated to know that I am surrounded by people that do, versus people that just simply talk.

The truth is that the success of my friends only serves to help validate my vision and confirm my path by giving me a clear idea of what is working and what isn’t. They are literally a walking and talking example of the things that I wish to do. My friend’s success doesn’t diminish my own, it enhances and increases my own likelihood of success through their example.


Ever noticed the blinders that horses wear during a race (like the one here). There is good reason for such devices. Blinders prevent the horse from focusing on anything in their peripheral vision. A simple and quick glance to the left or right can cause a horse to lose an entire race, or even worse, stumble and fall, potentially injuring itself and the rider.

My advice? Be the horse. Once you have decided to push forward in pursuing your dreams, it’s time to put on the blinders. Create a game plan and then stay focused on your vision and goals. Now, this isn’t to say plans can’t be adjusted, it simply means that you need to prevent yourself from being consumed by distractions.

Comparing yourself to your friends, comparing your art to others, endlessly surfing social media, posting images just for validation, focusing on negativity, paying too much attention to non-valid critique, and the list goes on. These can all be paralyzing distractions that will quickly end the race.
Stay focused in your perfect tunnel vision towards your end game and push forward. I’d like to end by sharing one of my favorite quotes from Rory Vaden’s Take the Stairs, “Success is never owned, it is only rented and the rent is due every day.”

I would love to hear your comments, experiences, and advice in handling the critique and negativity of those around you, post in the comments below.


Resources Recommended In The Series:

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Take the Stairs” By Rory Vaden

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