Thank You, No Buts

I am a good writer. A great writer, in fact. Maybe even an exceptional one. It feels uncomfortable to type that statement and know someone other than me will read it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it’s true.

Seems sort of arrogant to mention though, right?

This particular skill is the one thing in my life that I do not apologize or make concessions for—I’m a talented writer and I know it. But it took many years of downplaying and underselling my abilities to come to this point; historically speaking, fielding other people’s praise of my writing makes me feel squirmy and self-conscious. Now though, when someone is kind enough to compliment my work, I swallow down those reflexive excuses—“It really isn’t that good “ or “It’s only popular because I got lucky”—and instead, simply say, “Thank you.”

But how often do you hear that? A woman paying herself a compliment or, at the very least, receiving another’s compliment without refuting it? It’s a rarity, to be sure.

Simply put, unapologetic confidence is an unpopular trait in a woman these days. It’s more becoming to remain modest, to disagree with a bestowed compliment than unquestionably accept someone else’s praise. If you’ve ever seen Mean Girls, (please say you’ve seen Mean Girls) you’ll recall a scene that portrays this matter perfectly. Over lunch, the ever-glamorous Regina George tells plain-Jane Cady Heron that she’s, like, really pretty. To which Cady simply responds, “Thank you.”

“So you agree?” Regina grills her, eyebrows raised. “You think you’re really pretty?”

“Oh…I don’t know…” Cady trails off, now uncertain of the right answer to offer.

While I’m not one for using Mean Girls to illustrate weighty life truths, this scene kind of hits the nail on the head. Cady, whom the other girls compare to a Martian due to her homeschooling background, isn’t privy to the social rules that govern being female. She answers the way one would expect is customary in fielding a compliment: politely. Appreciatively.

Except it comes off, instead, as being overconfident. Maybe even arrogant.

And isn’t that the problem? That we’re so afraid of being seen as a self-involved braggart or a haughty elitist that we automatically downplay our successes and achievements? That, in the face of someone else’s perceived judgment, we categorically deny the things that make us the most proud? Our default setting is modesty to the point of self-deprecation.

But how often do we find ourselves assuring another woman of her talent, her beauty or her worth in the face of her own denial? How many times have we convinced a friend that she looks fabulous in a particular outfit or a fellow woman that she is a great mother, all while refusing to give ourselves the same praise?

Fellow women: I say it’s time to stomp down this instinct and learn, for once, to accept a goddamn compliment. More than that, learn to actually compliment ourselves, to revel in our successes and celebrate our achievements the way they deserve to be heralded.

Wouldn’t it be groundbreaking if, the next time we received a promotion or experienced a parenting success, we not only felt comfortable sharing that news with others, but actually accepted their praise without question? And wouldn’t it be even better if we could replace the word “groundbreaking” in that sentence with “totally normal?”

I am just as guilty of these offenses as the next woman. Possibly even more. I constantly find myself turning a compliment on its head—“Yeah but it’ll look terrible again by tomorrow,” I say in response to someone pointing out my clean house. Or finding an excuse for why I was successful—“I was just in the right place at the right time,” I explain when a success comes my way. It’s a terrible habit and one that I’m determined to break.

So, rather than continue down this path, I’ve decided, instead, to commence a study of the art of accepting praise. Of the beauty of taking it at face value, instead of flipping it over and examining it at all angles. Of the simplicity of believing the truth behind a compliment instead of searching for a reason why I’m unworthy of receiving it. With the exception of a brief brush with pre-calculus in 11th grade, it’s probably the most uncomfortable I’ve felt learning something new. But I’m willing to give it a shot.

Though it’s certainly the bad habit of a lifetime, maybe it’s not so hard to break if I keep it simple. The analyzing and the scrutinizing is the stuff that’s gotten me into trouble up until now, so it stands to reason that straightforward and uncomplicated is the best approach to take. Which means that, the next time you pay me a compliment, you won’t have to hold your breath for the “but.” Because, from here on out, a simple “thank you” should just about cover it.

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Melissa Mowry

Melissa Mowry is a stay at home mom to 3 year old Chase and the slightly younger guy, Sam. She is the main voice behind One Mother to Another, which she started in July 2014 as a way to connect with other moms who felt just as lonely as she did some days. She is married to her high school sweetheart, Adam, and they live in their home state of Rhode Island. Melissa's work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, Coffee + Crumbs and Mamapedia, among others. Her book, One Mother to Another: This Is Just Between Us is for sale on Amazon.
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5 Responses to Thank You, No Buts

  1. Laurie Stone September 16, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

    Its funny, men have no trouble thumping their chests. And yes, we women have been conditioned to make ourselves smaller not bigger. I think its great you know your strengths. You are a good writer. I get frustrated when I go to compliment a woman (whether on her cooking, painting or tennis) and she waves it away, not believing it. That drives me crazy.

  2. Joanna Appel September 27, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    So good to “study of the art of accepting praise”. I still grit my teeth every time and say a labored “Thank you.” But I need to work on believing it in my heart and taking it on as the fact that I may actually be good at something. Good reminder, Melissa, Thanks. 🙂

  3. Jen October 12, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    I love this so much!! Accepting compliments is something I’ve been on a journey of learning to do the last five years, and I’m glad to see how far I’ve come, but I do worry about the social implications. My husband has recently returned to study and the teacher asked the class of mostly 20 and 30 year olds if they found it hard to accept praise. Every single hand went up. I found this so sad but it’s so true. We’re taught not to value ourselves and we’re taught that if others value us we should brush it off so we don’t become arrogant. So good to hear your thoughts. You are a great writer.

    • Melissa Mowry October 15, 2015 at 10:19 am #

      I think this is especially true for women. I’m no feminist, but have you ever heard a man brush off a compliment the way a woman does? I can’t imagine my husband or my father downplaying a compliment and saying, “Oh it’s just because of XYZ.” It’s sad that we’re taught that liking ourselves less makes us more relatable.

  4. Gretchen Kellaway April 21, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    I was told once that people didn’t like me because I thought I was better than everyone else. I didn’t actually. I just learned a long time ago that my confidence needed to be presented or I would quickly hide in the shadows again.

    I know what I am good at. I know that I am a good writer and story teller. I know that I am pretty. I didn’t always feel this way, but in recent years I have learned this all about myself, because I see it. So when I receive a compliment, I accept it and thank the giver. Not because I feel they are giving false praise, but because I feel it truly in myself. I know the truth.

    It’s not cocky, it’s not because I see myself as better than anyone. I just accept me for who I am and love her.

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