This last weekend, I had a rather new experience. It wasn’t something I expected, and I wasn’t sure how to react to it. My initial reaction was a little bit of surprise, mixed with a desire to just explain things away. I wanted to deny the experience… of others, and of myself. Ironically, this was one of the very topics of the talk that I gave – denial – and here I was, mired in it.
A Powerful Set Of Reactions
If you read my post last week, I talked about how I was terrified of the presentation that I was preparing to do at a conference and how I need that terrified energy to drive me forward. I used that energy for my talk. I got up on stage, and I did my best.
It went well.
Apparently, better than I had expected or believed it would go. The reactions that I received from the talk were far more numerous and emotional than I have ever experienced for a single talk – and this wasn’t the largest crowd to which I have spoken. There were multiple persons nearly in tears after, a few hugs, and more stories of a very personal nature than I can remember.
To say that I was stunned by this would be an understatement. I didn’t know how to react. So I started to do what I always do: deflect the attention away from me by trying to explain why I said the things I did. But I stopped myself just in time, and I remembered that I need to accept things graciously sometimes.
Learning To Accept A Compliment
For as long as I can remember, I have had a very hard time accepting compliments. I don’t know if this stems from low self-esteem, other people consistently belittling me in school as I was growing up, or what the sources are. But it is what it is – me having a very hard time accepting compliments.
When I was younger, I would directly explain the circumstances under which I was able to do whatever it was that earned the compliment. I would explain it away, deflecting the attention away from me – and inadvertently deflecting the grace and favor of the person from whom the compliment came.
It turns out this isn’t a very nice thing to do.
Insulting A Compliment
I was unaware of the insulting nature of explaining away a compliment, for a very long time. One day someone told me to learn to accept a compliment and leave it at that. They were pretty upset at me at the moment, because I had just explained away yet another favorable mention.
It took a moment to think about this, and a few moments of discussion, for me to realize that my desire to let the other person know how I felt about my accomplishment was directly diminishing the other person, and not just myself.
“Your Opinion Is Invalid!”
Say you’re in an art gallery, admiring a painting. Another person comes along and looks at the same painting. When they ask your opinion, you freely express how wonderful it is and how it makes you feel. Now imagine the other person informs you that they are the artist. Then they begin telling you that you’re wrong; that you know nothing of art and your opinion is invalid. Clearly, you don’t know what you’re talking about and you should leave.
How would that make you feel?
I would be insulted.
Yet, this is exactly what I was doing every time I explained away a compliment from someone else. “What’s that? You liked my presentation? You felt inspired? Actually, let me tell you who you should really look to because I didn’t do anything of value, here. In fact, your opinion of me is wrong. There’s no way I could have inspired you. I was simply relaying what someone else said, and you should thank them and not me.”
I’m Working On It
I did my best to say “thank you” at every right moment – to the point of over-stating it and saying it at inappropriate times once or twice.
I still have a hard time accepting compliments at their face value. There is still a part of me that wants to believe it wasn’t me, but some circumstance that the other person should be appreciating. But I know that this is destructive, so I script my response, practice saying “thank you” and shut my mouth after that.
Honestly, I prefer the non-verbal compliments – hugs, hand-shakes, a simple nod and a smile. It’s easier for me to accept that, because there is no expectation of a verbal response from me. In other words, I get to keep my mouth shut. But I don’t want to deny someone else their desire to express themselves verbally.
That would be as arrogant and destructive as me explaining away a compliment.
It is a tremendously humbling experience to see someone else fighting back tears of joy, understanding, and compassion – someone reliving the pain, happiness or other emotion – from a talk that I gave. I don’t want to undermine your emotion, your reaction, your compliment or opinion of me in that moment.
So I try to keep it simple. I try to say “thank you” and leave it there. I try… and I want to say thank you, myself.
Thank you to everyone that was there, that listened and allowed me to share. Thank you to everyone that spoke with me, hugged me, shared a moment of emotion or a personal story with me. I treasure all of those moments. Thank you to all of you, reading this now. Thank you to everyone that has put up with me, understood me in spite of me, and been there to help me become a better me.