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Let's face it -- whether we're talking about complex creative endeavors or really basic stuff like breathing and pooping, most of us have basically no idea what we're doing. We all wander in a dark, collective abyss that can be home to no man or beast, with only our insecurities to keep us company.

And we pass the time by criticizing the hell out of each other.

To be human is to be constantly evaluated by other humans, and not all of us are happy to do it quietly. Still, just because our lives are full of rampant judgment delivered with all the subtlety of a subpoena wrapped around a hatchet does not mean we can't learn to deal with it efficiently. Here's what you need to do if someone swoops in criticizing your lovingly crafted fan fiction:

6
Do Not Reply Straight Away

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Look, it's entirely your business what you were criticized about. Maybe someone sent you a hate-filled rant nitpicking some perceived mistake in your work. Maybe it's about that box of priceless crystal skulls you were juggling, followed by the inevitable loud crash and a long, ominous silence. Maybe it's just your general inadequacy as a human being, or a lover, or a law-abiding citizen. I'm not here to judge.

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Mark is here to judge. Fuckin' Mark.

Let's assume that the unwarranted criticism comes in the shape of an angry message or email, because come on -- it's the Internet age, of course it does.

When you're slapped in the face by the smelly trout of criticism, your knee-jerk reaction is to reply right away, possibly by hunting down the jerk that dared affront you and introducing their face to your knee. It is important to resist this temptation.

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What, where did you think the term comes from?

At this point, replying is the absolute stupidest move you can possibly make. There are precious few things in life that can't be ruined to a magnificent degree with an ululating phone call or a hasty "Oh, you think I suck on a professional level? That is curiously similar to what I told your mom last night" reply to the unpleasant email from the boss. The important thing is to remember these simple things:

First, step away from the keyboard. Seriously, back the fuck down. Right now, there's nothing you can do with that thing that will not get your ass in trouble. Wait at least an hour before replying, it'll give your brain time to sand the edges off your rage. To take your mind off the topic for an hour or so, maybe pop on over to the nearest sports store and idly pick up some random items. A ski mask, for example. I mean, obviously that's just one off the top of my head, but yeah, pick it up. Shopping can be very therapeutic; it'll soothe you.

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Go to a spa. Or, just repeatedly say the word "spa."

If at all possible, reply with a phone call instead of emailing back. It's noticeably easier to keep your calm when you're actually talking with a fellow human being. If you think you're still too pissed off for that, you can try typing up the angriest reply you can possibly muster from the bile of your hate-filled system -- just do it on a notepad or something, so you can refrain from actually sending it. This should help you clear your head and assess the situation calmly.

It didn't? Shit. I was afraid that might happen. Still, before you click "send," at least take some time to ...

5
Determine the Type of Criticism

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Before you start dealing with criticism, it's important to determine the specifics of the critique in question. Is it constructive or mean-spirited? Valid or unjustified? This may be the key to decrypting the sensitive situation you're facing, and a viable option to your first instinct of using your life savings to purchase a military drone and rain hellfire upon your critic's house. While most criticism may appear vile in nature, it's not always a personal attack: More often than not, the critic ...

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... who, for the purposes of this analogy, we'll call Jerk McDumbface ...

... is merely attempting to create positive discussion about the possible flaws in your work and/or actions. Even if their phrasing seems overly harsh, it's not necessarily meant as an attack: Maybe they have chosen an intentionally confrontational style to draw your attention, or maybe they are tragically unable to form neutral sentences because of their stupid, stupid caveman face.

Give them a chance, even though it may seem like they are not giving you any -- after all, there can be any number of reasons for the oral diarrhea they're passing off as well-constructed argumentation.

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If they criticized you by computer, assume they're blind and hit keys randomly.

To recap: Always remember that there is a very good chance the critic is not trying to hurt your feelings, but instead acts out of genuine desire to correct a perceived error in your actions. Your actions are correct, remember, so really the fault lies in the critic's inability to perceive things correctly. You're right.

Hey. You're right.

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4
Acquire an Unmarked Vehicle

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Still hung up on the criticism? Put your energy to good use and do something productive! The process of buying a car suitable for the next step may seem simple -- determine budget, select vendor and vehicle, negotiate payment, drive away. However, there is an art to it. Luckily, you're not alone in your struggle: With a simple click, you can access many informative, trustworthy guides for buying and owning cars. Just follow their advice and you'll accomplish your car quest with barely any prison time at all.

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"Barely" being the operative word here.

When going for inconspicuousness, the absolute worst mistake you can make is getting a new car. Fresh-off-the-factory vehicles bleed their value away faster than you can say "real rear wheels and tire irons" three times fast, and also there's a ton of paperwork that will help the authorities trace the car back to you if things go awry.

What you need is a sturdy, old, unmarked car with some miles behind it and, preferably, a large trunk. No vans, mind you. Literally every secondhand van on the market is either battered enough to scream "serial killer" to every passing cop, or actually filled with the screaming ghosts of the victims of the actual serial killer who used to own it. There is no such thing as an inconspicuous van; your only worse bet would be to get a car with tinted windows.

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Though it is a sad testament to our day and age that Driving Naked Glasses are illegal in so many states.

To keep your profile as low as possible, you should buy the car from the used-car vendor with the most horrifying, color-clashing polyester suit in the entire state. That person is the least likely to put an emphasis on stuff like unwarranted paper trail, and also probably the most willing to haggle the price.

Speaking of the price, negotiating it is the perfect time to practice your ...

3
Smile

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Yes, I'm saying you should smile in the face of criticism. In fact, the bigger your smile, the better.

The old saying that smiling takes far less muscular effort than frowning might not be all that it's cracked up to be, but that's no reason to refrain from turning that goddamn frown upside down. (Yes, we're damn well using cliches at this point.) Smiling can absolutely help you become the lean, mean criticism-handling machine you've always wanted -- nay, needed -- to be, because even a forced smile can totally make you happier. Yep, even though your anger-addled brain sees your critic as the misguided and probably racist jerk that they clearly are, it's completely possible to ease your emotions into a calmer state by simply smiling. Go on, try it. I'll wait.

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Almost there ...

See? Even if your amount of criticism-induced stress is currently ranking somewhere in the Old Faithful ballpark, a smile can reduce it to the levels where you can function as something approaching a regular human being. It doesn't need to be a genuine smile, either -- just a forced, creepy grin will do.

After all, with what you're about to do, a nice, wide slasher smile is only going to be appropriate.

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Yes. Yes. Good.

After perfecting your new Joker outlook on life, you're finally ready to deal with criticism in a manner it deserves. It's time to ...

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2
Reap the Sweet Fruits of Vengeance

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Marcus Aurelius once said, "The best way to confront one's enemy is in the parking lot, as they leave work," and that's as true today as it was when he said it several ... many years ago. At this point, your choice of vehicle becomes extremely important: The more indistinct your car, the better your chances of not really standing out in security-camera footage. It's a shame you don't have anything on hand that could make you similarly inconspicuous, but- Hey, wait. Didn't some smart fella tell you to buy a soothing ski mask earlier? Why not put that on? Wouldn't it be fun?

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They'll know it's you, but you need the mask for effect.

The hideout you have prepared should be located in a place that is conveniently positioned vis-a-vis the site of the abduction. Abandoned shacks and old cellars are go-to choices here. If you're forced to settle on a hideout in a more populated area, noise could become a problem; unless you've been dealing with a lot of negative feedback before, chances are you haven't had the time to soundproof the premises. A simple ball gag will have to suffice.

The method of retaliation should always depend on the nature of the criticism. If you're a numbers cruncher by trade and your professional integrity has been insulted, a terror trap that can be escaped only by completing a string of hellish Excel macro missions is always appropriate. If they're insulting your jokes, strap them to a Clockwork Orange-style contraption where you can subject them to hours of the comedic stylings of Jeff Dunham and Dane Cook. Don't let your revenge be hampered by lack of creativity here -- when constructing your traps, think less Saw and more 1960s Batman.

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If your critic happens to be an actual film critic, you can just cut the middleman and make them watch 1960s Batman.

It is crucial to keep your retribution at the same approximate level of the original criticism. Even the most vocal objection should never be retaliated with more than a couple of hours in the giant squid pit. [Edit: I should have told you to pick up a giant squid pit at the same sporting goods store where you got the ski mask, but I forgot. That's on me. You're a good kid.]

Sportsmanship is also important: After the punishment has taken place, shake the critic's hand and let them know that, as far as you're concerned, you're now even. "Water under the bridge," you amiably shout after them (which -- and I don't want to force your hand or anything -- will carry an added flair of poetry if you'd confronted your critic beneath this really spooky and sparsely populated bridge about 10 miles outside of town that I know about).

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"I don't give a dam!" also works.

And, of course, the water is not under the bridge. It never is. More often than not, they have criticized you plenty more by the time you're done dealing with their initial offense. They've screamed insults at you from the second they woke up and found a way to remove the gag. "Maniac," they call you. "Crazy goddamn idiot." That one guy even tried to punch you. How dare they critique your fine work, goddammit? It's almost as if they didn't appreciate the hours of effort you put into this. But they will pay. They will all pay! Ahaha. AHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHA!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! AAAAHHHAHAHAHA-

1
Embrace Criticism and Learn from It

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At the end of the day, criticism is not necessarily a bad thing. Granted, some of it is mean-spirited, but most of the hurt we take from it is due to a phenomenon known as narcissistic injury: Whenever someone criticizes something we do, our ego reacts by assuming it has been punched right in the dick. This is our biggest challenge in dealing with criticism, and one that we ultimately need to conquer if we want to be able to embrace it.

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Of course, some critics do communicate entirely with dick punches.

Yes, it is perfectly possible to take criticism as a positive force. In fact, if you want to learn from it, this is a necessity; the ability to handle your shit when it comes to criticism is one of the few sure-fire recipes for improving yourself, especially in a work environment.

The possible negative feelings criticism may initially cause can -- and should -- be handled exclusively within your own head, and it is highly inadvisable to take those feelings out on your critic. Despite what I might have accidentally stated earlier, you should never physically retaliate on them. Under no circumstances at all should you build Adam West-themed dungeons beneath that sick bridge with "Pauli's Revenge-o-Rama" painted anywhere on or around the premises. And whatever you do, absolutely never drunkenly abduct Dean from Marketing and attempt to chain him up down there. No, not even if he did passingly mention to you that not wearing pants in meetings is kind of unprofessional.

Was that all right, officer? May I go now?

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"For the last time, not until you explain what happened to Fred from accounting."

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