Items removed from the wingback chair before sitting down to write :: 1 book (Little House on the Prairie), 1 small black stone (pilfered from the backyard), 1 towel draped over the back (it was a saddle for the chair’s alter-ego, the Horse).
Over the course of months, I’ve been starting to take notice of what people compliment me on.
Compliments come in a variety of packages, don’t they?
Recently I’ve been getting a bunch of compliments that aren’t actually compliments. More of the type of “You’re so <insert strength or natural attribute>” — which really means that they are NOT. And perhaps your success in this area provides them with irritation and aggravation. Compliments with a bite.
The first couple took me aback. I couldn’t figure out how to respond. If I responded by celebrating the compliment, I’d walk away feeling like I was coming across as boasting. If I downplayed whatever was being complimented, I felt that I was betraying myself by playing small and belittling the work and investments I make.
I finally remembered that compliments aren’t really about me. I learned this first in college when I was finally blossoming as a singer and was suddenly the recipient of a lot of compliments. I was initially quick to point out where I had messed up in whatever performance, the mistakes were so obvious to me! Negating compliments, not good.
The other extreme was, of course, letting it all go to my head. I wasn’t keen on that one either. Definitely not a centered response.
I really hit my stride when I realized that the compliments aren’t really about me. Compliments are about the person who gives them. When compliments are given in sincerity, they are worthy of being received graciously with gratitude. Even if I have a differing opinion on the quality of whatever they are complimenting.
When compliments are really about the other person’s issues, then it’s good to realize that it’s still not about me. I take a moment to recognize what struggles are being revealed – jealousy, struggle, insecurity, overwhelm.
I’ve deemed one response to be universally appropriate, no matter the origin of the compliment :: a heart-felt Thank You.
It covers all the bases and allows me to be true to myself. No opening myself to unneeded criticism, no betraying myself through playing small. I can walk away centered and thankful.
Which is a huge sidenote to what I actually wanted to write about. Let’s backtrack again.
Over the course of months, I’ve been starting to take notice of what people compliment me on. Certain things crop up again and again, in many different contexts and from many different people. These things are worth examining, and, perhaps, holding on to. It’s part of my ongoing exercise to find good things about myself and name them. It’s also part of the blooming process.
So let’s take a look-see, shall we?
I have a degree in Music Education with Vocal Emphasis. I completed half of a master’s degree in Vocal Performance from USC. For a very few, brief, heady years, I used to perform regularly. I put it aside for these years of babies and small children.
It’s been over five years since I sang in public. Sang anything. Anywhere.
And yet. And yet. I consistently have people asking me when I’m going to sing again. Telling me that I have such a beautiful voice. Remembering this performance or that performance. For them, my voice isn’t about nostalgia (like it has threatened to become for me), it’s about a present and future reality.
I am good at directing children’s choirs. I can say this easily, without any puffing up, because it has come so naturally to me. Yes, I’ve worked to hone skills, but there was no struggle here like with other gifts or talents. This ability is truly a gift, I can’t take much credit for it. I enjoy the work that I do with my choir, and the kids and families who I am privileged to work with.
“You’re so calm” and “you’re so peaceful”. I hear these a lot. There are even one or two people who come to stand next to me for a few moments at church, telling me they are soaking up the calm.
I do work hard at this attribute. Maintaining an inner serenity or calm or peace is an ongoing practice that I value. I like the way it feels. When I was a teenager I called it “My Happy Bubble”. Bubble, of course, implies ignoring difficulties and ugliness. Serenity or peace, on the other hand, acknowledges and works through problems.
I love yoga. I’ve been seriously practicing now for seven years, with another three or four of intermittent practice before that. In some areas I am very flexible, in others I am not. I do have a liking for the wowee poses, but I like them for the challenge and exhilaration, not the show-off factor.
I don’t know what criteria people base good mothering on, but this is my current lifework that I invest blood, sweat, tears, and sleep into and I am glad for any affirmation that comes my way.
What about you? What do people compliment you on?