Each morning, on my “power walk” route, I pass an older gentleman, standing in the same spot, looking out over the city. Perhaps this is his morning ritual. Each morning he tells me I look beautiful as I trudge by him. Recently he added that my nails looked pretty too.
I dismiss these compliments somewhat automatically. Is he kidding? I’m sweaty. I haven’t washed my face. Or showered. I do not resemble the young women that pass me on the left in their color coordinated Lycra. I wear an old sweat shirt from the kids high school sports teams — a politically incorrect Native American’s profile plastered on the front. I did recently buy some pretty snazzy sneakers though…although I don’t think they are called sneakers anymore.
I easily decide he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Today on my way back past him he added, “You look like a movie star.” I smiled. “Lily Tomlin, that’s it, you look like Lily Tomlin.”
Now…I think Lily Tomlin is funny as hell, but I don’t think she is pretty. I actually think she is a bit homely, in an Edith Ann kind-of way.
For as much as I thought I had disregarded his compliment, I noticed the impact his comparison had on me. My feet felt heavier.
Almost home, my front steps in the distance, I realized I had “done it again.” I had dismissed a compliment but readily believed a slight — even though I knew he hadn’t meant it as such. Why was being compared to someone I didn’t think was particularly attractive a perfect fit, while being told I looked pretty rolled off my back?
Do you do this?
I remember many years ago speaking at a conference for therapists. I was the last speaker on the last day of the conference. Not a great placement.
I did my talk. I saw heads nodding which I took as a good sign. People were a bit ansi to get on their way, but I thought I held their attention.
At the end of the presentation I read through the participants evaluations. They were filled with good to excellence scores and comments. Except for one person, who clearly HATED me and everything I said. She, I assume it was a ‘she’ from her floral penmanship, wrote that my presentation was not based in the real world of addictions, that my ideas were pompous and that I should park my Mercedes at the door.
Ouch. The air left my lungs.
“But I don’t own a Mercedes,” I countered to myself as I read her responses. “I once had a Oldsmobile Bravada but got rid of it because I felt pretentious driving it.” I wanted her to know this.
I drove home hunched over the wheel, replaying her assessment of me. Not one of other kind, positive, complimentary comments, from the other 100 evaluations, made it into my long term memory.
I was told as a kid, more often than I needed to hear, “Don’t get too big for your britches.” Or worse yet, “You’re getting to big for your britches.” I had been caught thinking well of myself. I had the audacity to consider myself, even for a moment, special, smart, funny, or cute. If my mom got the faintest whiff of my ego’s presence she would escort it quickly out of the room.
I didn’t learn to believe well of myself.
My mentor in grad school told me that 50% of the people were always going to like me and 50% would not. He suggested, for me to have a happy life, I might want to stand with the 50% that liked me.
Huh. Novel idea in my world. What if I did?
So I will take the compliment. I chose to believe I look pretty — just like Lily Tomlin. My nails look pretty too. Not bad for a Thursday morning. I will take all the positive comments that come my way until I begin to believe them.
It takes 7 compliments to undo 1 criticism.
But whose counting?