I’ve long told myself, “I’ll know I’m getting somewhere when the haters start hatin’.”

I create public-facing work in various capacities. As a writer, photographer, podcaster and visual artist. By the nature of being an individual who puts his name on his subjective work and sends it out into public, there is vulnerability. I’m exposed. 

My work, my name, the heart I put into the work and, out of necessity, then subject it all to the opinions of others (thoughtful, empathetic & intelligent – or really not) … It all ends up feeling synonymously me in a way that working for The Man, fulfilling someone else’s ideas and goals, doesn’t.

I recently noticed a notable decline in the average audience rating on the now primary podcast I host and produce, and for which I write and photograph: We Are Chaffee’s Looking Upstream. The rating is on Spotify, where there’s no room for comments, just star ratings 1 through 5. 

There aren’t many ratings there. Only five in total, so far. It’s been a lesser-used app by the audience for this particular podcast. That makes the math easy. The show had a 5-star average rating … until suddenly it really didn’t. Now it’s a 4.2 average rating. Simple deduction shows me that the newest rating cast was a 1-star opinion. 

At first, I did a double-take. Then I thought the anomaly was amusing. Then the people-pleaser in me started to feel other things. And then I arrived at this moment: Have I finally started to receive the hate that means I’m getting somewhere?! (More thoughts in, “What We Create Isn’t for the Haters“)

I would have been bothered more by a 3-star rating. That might have required a listener’s relatively thoughtful meh reaction to the good and human piece of myself I put into this work that is based on shining light on the humanity we all share. 

The work I do matters to me. The care and effort I apply is considerable. It has purpose and meaning. I have to rally myself to push through the vulnerability of it over and over to keep going. I’ve accepted that as part of the process.

A 1-star review is, like I said, a clear anomaly to the feedback I’ve received from listeners across all platforms and in person. It shows me that the person who gave this rating likely is lashing out through their own filtered, emotional state of being. They wanted to swing as low as possible.

Is it a mark against me and my skills? Is it a mark against the humanness of the podcast as a whole? (Some who view my dealings in humanness receive it in a political light.) Is it against a specific guest? I recently published a newspaper column up and down the valley, highlighting a controversial guest I was grateful to talk with on the show.

The rating probably has little or nothing to do with me or my talents in any objective way. Still, it’s someone trying to harm the podcast and, because it is somewhat synonymous with me, me. They are using the tool at their flippant fingertip. Only as the Internet anonymous and unhealed can. And only as those outside the arena can. 

I’ve been in the arena for far too long, though sometimes I wish I wasn’t, and am much too sensitive and empathetic to cast anonymous stones from behind my keyboard. If I don’t connect with someone’s work, I move on. Quietly.

As far as my sometimes wishing to escape the arena and not subject myself to others’ opinions, in the end I keep choosing to stay. I don’t know how else to be. I assume that’s the case for anyone called to be a creator in this life. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it hurts. But the vulnerable and courageous keep on keeping on.

In my better moments, I feel for anonymous Internet haters. And for those, in general, who are hurt people hurting people. It’s for them as much as anyone that the light others create in the world must shine on. They might not know it. They might not accept it. Such is truth. People who are hurting hurt themselves at least as much as they hurt others.

Thank you to all who give supportive ratings and leave thoughtful comments where you can, like on Apple Podcasts. And for engaging in all the good conversations that are happening out there, the ones I rarely if ever know are happening. The ones that help the work I share to move onward and upward.

We’re all in this together, whether or not we recognize, accept or like it. 

We’re all Humanitou. (And for those in the Looking Upstream podcast listening community: We’re all Chaffee, too.)

The AI-generated image above was created using DreamStudio, with this prompt: “middle aged bald big beard vulnerable podcaster writer receiving a bad audience review in public”