“Arrogant. Yucky. Can’t do it.”

On April 5, 2013 at 9:23am, I received the following email from a woman named “Alice.” (Name changed for her privacy.)

The backstory:

Alice signed up to receive my weekly e-newsletter. After a few months, she decided she wanted to unsubscribe. When you unsubscribe, you have the option to tick various boxes to explain why you are unsubscribing. You also have the option to type in a personal reason for why you no longer wish to hear from me.

This was Alice’s reason:

I really loved what I was reading at first, but over the last few months I’ve felt Alexandra has gotten really arrogant. It’s great that she’s becoming successful but she doesn’t have any humility, thinks she’s the greatest thing ever and I find it really uncomfortable and yucky to read. Reading your stuff no longer makes me feel good. Can’t do it anymore.

This happened years ago, but I still remember it vividly. I remember reading Alice’s note over and over, feeling sick to my stomach. I really don’t mind when people choose to stop receiving my emails, but this particular note felt so hurtful. Specific words and phrases kept echoing inside my mind: “Arrogant.” “Doesn’t have any humility.” “Yucky.” “Can’t do it.”

I remember thinking, “I don’t think those statements are true. I don’t think I’m that type of person.” But of course, I also couldn’t help but wonder, “Or what if she’s right?”

My boyfriend urged me to ignore the message. Don’t respond. Just let it go.

But I couldn’t let it go. I decided to reply. I wrote a personal note to Alice.

My note said:

 
It sounds like my writing isn’t resonating with you anymore. I’m sorry to hear that.

It’s interesting to hear that you feel I’ve become “arrogant” and devoid of “humility.” I doubt that you intended for those words to feel hurtful, but they did.

While it’s true that I’ve enjoyed some success in recent years, my goal is always to make my readers feel inspired, empowered, and capable of enjoying their own version of success. And while I’m certainly not perfect, I try to pass along everything I’m learning along the way.

I can see how my positive, upbeat tone might come across as arrogant – but that’s certainly not my intention.
 

I never expected to hear anything further from Alice.

She surprised me.

She wrote:

I appreciate you taking the time to write to me. I think you are very talented, have a lot of great advice to offer, and I’m sorry you were hurt by what I said. I didn’t mean for it to come across so harshly, so I apologize for the caustic tone that was on my part unintentional.

A few minutes later, she sent another follow up reply:

Hi Alex. I’m feeling really bad and embarrassed now, I really didn’t mean to hurt you and I think was also a bit vulnerable this morning and perhaps unfairly projecting things onto you. I sincerely apologize.

I responded:
 

No need to feel embarrassed. I’m glad we could have this dialogue – and I hope that whatever’s making you feel a bit vulnerable gets resolved.

PS. I just peeked at your blog. As someone who has also recovered from an eating disorder, I want to say: you’re doing beautiful, important work. Keep it up.
 

Our email exchange continued – back and forth – and ultimately ended on a very positive, mutually respectful note. (I was very surprised by the outcome. Unexpected and beautiful.)

I learned a lot from my conversation with Alice. The lessons still ripple through my life today.

Specifically, I learned that:

– You might have the best of intentions (to help, teach, inspire, uplift) but somewhere, out there, someone might feel like your tone is arrogant (or stupid, bossy, mean, greedy, too bubbly, too boring, what have you.) There is not much you can do to change this. You can control how you write, but you can’t always control how your writing is absorbed and perceived by others. This is the reality of being a writer (or engaging in any other art form.) It’s something that must be accepted.

– Sometimes, people have bad days and they do unintentionally cruel things. You do. I do. We all do. No one is perfect in this regard.

– Sometimes, people see a blank Internet form (“Enter your comments here”) and use that form as a therapeutic venting-box – forgetting that eventually, those words are going to reach an actual, living human being with actual human feelings.

– Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – it is possible to have a civil, respectful and humane conversation with someone who has criticized you harshly, or who sees the world very differently than you, even someone who deeply dislikes you. (This gives me great hope for humanity, particularly in our current political climate…)

The next time you feel criticized – by a “stranger” on the Internet, by your boss, your client, perhaps your own parent, child, or partner – I hope the story that I’ve just shared brings some comfort to you.

I hope this story reminds you that what people say about you isn’t always true, that people say things for all kinds of reasons (some of which involve you, some of which do not), and that even if harsh words have been exchanged, it is still possible to talk further, to understand one another a bit better, and potentially reach a positive conclusion.

It’s not too late for that.

Minds can change, hearts can open, surprising connections can form, apologies can be shared, past wounds can be healed, sometimes in the span of just a few hours (or emails).

Miracles like this happen every day.

Perhaps you’ll experience several miracles – in your own inbox, in your own life – today.