I kicked ass today. I got up in front of a room full of people gave a presentation on a topic I don’t even fully understand myself and kicked ass. Afterwards, I had several people come up to me and compliment me on my vast knowledge on the topic in such a short period of time and professional presence. I work with some really smart people. Smarter than a lot of people. I work with doctors and scientist and engineers. I should have been totally stoked to get those compliments from such a group amazing intellectuals. I should have known myself that walking into a room with minds like that and impressing them was a huge feat. You know what I did instead? I shrugged it off. I got insecure. I joked. “Oh, I was faking it most of the time” or “did you really not notice I had no idea what I was talking about!? Whew!” and “well, I’m not curing cancer like you guys, but I get something once in a while”.
As I’m batting these compliments off like mosquitos it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve been encouraged to be modest my entire life by society. We’ve been taught that it’s not lady like to take a compliment. Think about the movies: “Wow, that sure is a nice dress” to which the young lady would reply “Oh, this old thing”? Now, I am curious, what about not taking a compliment makes you modest? I think it actually makes you slightly rude and annoying. Just keep in mind that I am talking about my most recent actions too before you get defensive. We’re just dissecting this thing together. So, I thought about when I give someone a compliment, women in particular and I thought about how they react. For example “wow, have you lost weight? You look amazing in that outfit!” to which the reply was, “no and I really need to loose like 10 pounds, you haven’t seen me sit down in this, my stomach just rolls up and it looks awful. Watch I’ll show you”. She was so determined not to take a compliment she even took physical action to show me wrong. It felt like she didn’t hear me or maybe she just couldn’t. Either way, I found myself feeling awkward and at a loss of what to say next. The conversation is different when someone takes the gift of the compliment you have given them. For example “Wow, you did such a great job on that project” to which they replied “Thank you, I worked really hard on it”. That was a smooth conversation that ended with a smile instead of a confused look wondering what to say next.
You see, the thing about compliments is that they are given to you. You are supposed to graciously accept them not refuse them. They are gifts, that is why they are given and not just stated. Have you ever heard the phrase “paid you a compliment”? That’s because they feel you are “worthy” of receiving it, they are recognizing your worth and therefore paying you a compliment. You in turn are supposed to accept this for a job well done. You wouldn’t turn your check back into your boss insisting that you were not worth the pay, you should not give their paid compliments back either. So, now that I have caught myself I have made an active effort to grit my teeth and reply to my compliments with a Julia Roberts smile and a great big confident “thank you!”. I hope that you will join me in accepting the recognition of others and in congratulating yourself on your own self-worth. Otherwise, you’re just making everyone stand around awkwardly trying to figure out what to say next. Because ultimately, confidence is always sexier than meek modesty any day.