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.