It's all about surrounding yourself with the right tribe, writes Meredith Atwood.

The phrase “don’t take it personally” is probably one of my least favorites in the world. What does that even mean? How can you be on the receiving end of a complaint or criticism, direct or indirect, and not take it personally? So we aren’t supposed to take things personally. Okay, but then, in the next breath you will hear someone say that you must be able to take criticism with a grain of salt, and also implement change where necessary (when the criticism is correct, valid, or on point).

So don’t take the criticism personally, but then use it to personally improve yourself?
(What a bunch of gobbledygook.)

Here’s the thing: criticism is personal.

When someone says, “Hey, your run stinks” or “Could you be any slower?” that stings and zings—hard. However, when someone says, “I have a great idea that might help your run,” that is another story. That is the fine art of “constructive criticism,” and I am a huge fan.

In triathlon, there are myriads of coaching, training, and online arm-chair experts ready to give advice and criticism about everything under the sun about swim, bike, run, race day, nutrition, bikes, shoes, and more. Such a wealth of knowledge, but a huge pile to wade through as well.

People take the online forum and criticism, fast-fingers flying type type type, way too far, often, and it becomes hurtful. Don’t take it personally. But for the most part, we triathletes are simply trying to swim, bike, and run—and somehow get better at it—while also staying motivated and happy while doing it. Every blue moon, we’ll be bombarded by comments, criticism, some of it very unkind—and be left thinking, ‘Where did that come from? Did I ask for that?’

One of the great things about having a trusted coach or a tri club is that constructive criticism is held in its proper box. Sure, a coach or a fellow team member can really mess things up with words—but in that forum, it’s easier to receive pointers and comments that prove to be helpful to bettering your swim, bike and run. You can solicit advice, and know that the advice is coming from a good place—and if you don’t know that, then it’s time for a new coach or team, likely.

It’s about finding your tribe, your people—and tuning out the rest of the noise. Easier said than done, for sure.

As for the comment, “don’t take it personally,” I say: take it as personal as you want. It’s your life. Choose what words you let in, what people you let in, and how you react to comments that were not welcomed or invited.

Get your triathlon circle tight—with a group or few who you truly trust. Take what they say not only personally, but perhaps to heart in order to grow and become a better athlete. And then, you can let the rest roll off your back if you choose. But really, it’s all personal—we just need to learn how to compartmentalize the help and the love from all the noise.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com. In addition to Triathlon, she has a second book due out Fall 2019.