“I just think you have a really interesting voice,” he said. There was a twinkle in his eye. I was trying to hold his gaze and not jet out of the room, as I often do when someone surprises me with a compliment.
“I appreciate your candor,” he continued, to my equal parts horror and delight. “It’s so refreshing at a time when it seems like everyone is trying to hide everything,” he finished.
At least, I thought he was finished. In my bones, I was hoping at once that he was done and that he would continue.
Instead of falling back on my trademark guffaw, the one I inherited from my beautiful dead mother, the one she used whenever she was keenly uncomfortable, which was often, as she was the single greatest example in my life of someone who absolutely refused to see, acknowledge and embrace her inherent gifts, I stayed steady.
Instead of falling back on that sound, which was cued and lurking in my throat, more than happy to roll out at any given moment, I connected to my breath and I thought of something I genuinely wanted to say in return.
“I’m just being myself fearlessly, in the words of Anita Moorjani," I said. "She’s inspired me so,” I added with a smile that stretched ear-to-ear, in a heartfelt response, in an authentic voice with breath and meaning, meeting his eyes calmly and not at all in a creepy way.
Damn, that felt good.
He smiled and nodded in return.
We adjourned our session. I stood, donned my coat, and headed out the door, thinking about what had just happened. Perhaps this was the first time in my life that I had knowingly accepted a compliment and said something true as a response — instead of shucking and jiving and leaving the compliment flailing on the floor, having fallen on deaf ears and been deflected like spittle or some such unsightly mistake.
How often do we do this — shirk a compliment? Shrug when someone praises us? Look around as if to say, Who me? You can’t possibly be referring to little ol’ me?
This same character, whom I’d just finished a meeting with, had spent several minutes, breaths and words explaining to me that his graphic design business of 15 years was only successful via luck, as if that’s possible. Any self-employed person can tell you, the only way to profit is to work your ass off. In practically the same breath, he had explained to me how year after year he had forgone holidays in lieu of working for a living.
And I wonder how his business became a success?
I’m not trying to be sarcastic, although admittedly I am. But I’m trying to make an essential point: Own it, people. Own your billy-badass-ery.
Stop pretending like someone walked up and handed you your successes already. Get in there and say — This! This is what I’ve done. It was not easy and it was not all graceful, but by golly, I created this!
(Whatever this is — a quilt, a meal, a career, a family, a painting, a sonnet...) With my hands, my heart, my blood, my sweat and hell yes, some tears. I had dreams about it, nightmares about it, laughter and tears, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow — it’s all wrapped up in this expression of me. Please admire it.
At the very least, please take the time to stop and look. If you have the inclination to share a heartfelt compliment with me, great. If not, that’s fine too. But it’s mine. I did it! Me!
Talk about refreshing. Owning your creations, now that’s refreshing — even when they’re shit, even more refreshing.
Let’s try something.
Just lean in, already. Yes, you. Lean in. Here you go. I just saddled you with the ability to see yourself as we see you. Ok, there you are. You’re pretty? Yes, you are actually. We all are in our own way. Quite so. And see how everyone around you is happy to see you? Yes, yes, they are. And see how you are looking the other way with embarrassment?
Yes, you do that quite frequently.
Do you get it now? Do you see how it’s not serving you, this tendency to pretend like you’re unimportant?
Ok, great. Then it’s settled. You’ll stop now. Thanks. I’ll take my saddle back now. Don’t worry, it will be here next time you forget your magnificence. I’m happy to strap it on you any time. We’ll call it — The saddle of vision. And any time you forget your inherent beauty, your skills, your love, your capacity to nurture, your fearlessness, your intelligence, your gifts, your accomplishments, your lessons in life, your contributions — it will be here.
We’ll cinch it on tight and you can again see yourself like we see you — with love, with laughter, with integrity. And in that regard, I’ll remind you again — Own it, please. Own your badass-ness, your magnificence, the amazing essence that is you, at once completely unique and exactly like everyone around you whom you are infinitely connected to. You. And thank you.