When Evan and I joined our first connect group in Orlando, our friends JP and Teresa were engaged and in the middle of that chaotic, wonderful phase that is wedding planning. Not long before their wedding, the girls in our group—barely friends, still just getting to know one another—threw her a tiny, low-key bachelorette party. I don’t even remember what we did that night, except that it involved adding frozen raspberries to our glasses of champagne, which I recommend very highly, if you’ve never tried it.
At any rate, I have learned a great many things from Teresa over the years: I have learned about faith, about forgiveness, about family, about supporting my husband, about generosity, about ministry, and about kindness. Teresa also taught me how to take a compliment.
At this little party, I handed off my gift. Know this: I am terrible at wrapping gifts. It is an area of ineptitude I have learned to accept; there’s a running joke in my family that it’s very hard to tell if a three year-old or I wrapped a gift. I normally just throw things into gift bags, but if by chance I DO wrap a gift, I try to draw attention away from the smooshed, wonky corners by doing some kind of pretty bow or embellishment on top.
I remember what this package looked like, because the moment was so impactful for me: brown kraft paper, with a garland of little purple and pink butterflies layered across the top of the box.
Teresa looked at it and said, “This is so cute!” and I immediately started to explain why it wasn’t cute. I forget what I said, exactly, but one of my go-to compliment-deflectors.
“Oh, I didn’t come up with that idea! I just stole it from Pinterest.”
“Oh gosh, just don’t pay too much attention to the back.”
“Anyone could do it, really. It’s nothing special.”
And Teresa looked me right in the eye, put her hand on my arm, and said, “No, Lindsey. This is great. You are great. Take the compliment.”
I don’t know how I responded in that moment, but I have thought about it so many times since.
Sometimes we kid ourselves into deflecting compliments because we think doing so communicates humility, but that’s not really what’s happening in that moment. I am not being humble; I’m being insecure.
I deflect the compliment, disparage my work or my effort, or try to imply that someone else could have done it better; I think I do this for several reasons.
First of all, I am usually disappointed with my own efforts. For the perfectionist in me, no matter of effort or expertise will satisfy my impossible standards. This is insecurity masquerading as high expectations.
Secondly, I am afraid you’re actually noticing the ways my effort doesn’t live up to the hype. My thought is, “I better go ahead and point out the mistake, the flaws, the imperfections, lest someone else think I don’t notice.” At the same time, I am living in the wreckage of the future, anticipating all the ways I am likely to let you down one day. This is insecurity masquerading as humility.
I have a friend who does a lot of work in the public eye, once as a pastor and now as a writer, podcaster, and social justice advocate. He gets a lot of compliments, random strangers on the internet and friends thanking him or complimenting him for his work. And I’ve noticed that whether on Facebook or Twitter or in person, he often responds with the same phrase: “That is really kind. Thank you.” This is someone who has learned to take a compliment. His statement doesn’t denigrate nor puff-up the work that he’s doing. He acknowledges the other person’s effort in making the compliment and expresses genuine gratitude…and then he moves on.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” —C.S. Lewis
So, take the compliment, friends. Don’t feel the need to believe that the inherent flaws in your offering make it unworthy of the recipient or the praise. It becomes easier to take the compliment when we remember that we offer our contributions to the world NOT so that we will be loved, but so that others will feel loved.
All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share what happens when I try to teach kids to make mistakes.