A few of the neighborhood families ate dinner together while the kids played in the yard, stopping by the table for bites of food and conversation. As one of the girls swung by the table, a group of us congratulated (we’ll call her Sally) Sally on an online performance of the middle school spring musical.
“Sally, you were awesome!! What a great show – and what a great job you did!” we said.
She blushed, she demurred, she kicked away the compliments with a whole bunch of “Nah, it was pretty awkward” and “Oh, you all saw it? How embarrassing…”, and “It wasn’t my best…”
As moms can sometimes do, we encouraged Sally to accept the compliments.
We can write Sally’s response off to the awkwardness of the early teen years, certain that she will outgrow the instinct to hide from future congratulations.
And, we can notice how much many of us are still tortured by the idea of basking in the light of attention.
I can hardly keep track of the number of times I have heard someone – someone experienced, talented, well-trained, well-regarded and truly impressive – gently (and sometimes not gently) dodge a moment of praise by saying things like:
🤷🏽♀️ It was nothing…
🤷🏽♀️ Oh, I was just in the right place at the right time…
🤷🏽♀️ It’s weird that it went well, I usually screw that up…
I know from my research and work with people after professional disappointment that the ability to claim our worth is a key to unlocking our ability to move forward, in work and in life.
Claiming our worth requires that we develop a fluency and comfort in sharing what we’re great at.
This takes personal exploration, practice and refinement.
It takes new habits of mind, and new action.
It starts with us observing and accepting when we do well.
It means allowing ourselves to be seen, appreciated and valued.
It means allowing ourselves to shine.
And it’s the opposite of how most of us were trained to think about feedback, and in contrast with how our brain will naturally work as it latches on to bad news for survival. It can be at odds with how we think about hard work or growth.
❇️ If we hold values around humility, we may think it’s arrogant to bask in praise.
❇️ If we have a learner’s or growth mindset, we may think we risk becoming lazy if we accept too much appreciation.
❇️ If we value self-improvement, growth and competition, we may worry we’ll get soft if we let all that credit go to our heads.
But what if it’s true that we can do both, allow ourselves to be seen and recognized, and continue on our path towards growth?
I know it’s possible to let ourselves been seen, in ways that feel honest, humble, and genuinely grateful.
Last week, I had an alignment meeting with a client and her manager to share the findings of some 360 degree feedback and her development plans for our work together.
During this conversation, as we were digging into data, analysis and plans, the manager stopped and said to my client: “If I haven’t said it enough, I want to say that in the last ten years of my leading senior teams, I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone who has as many options as you do, who can go as far as you can, who has the potential you do…You bring great insight and momentum to this work and it will take you far…” and he put his finger back to the report on his desk and moved on to the next agenda item.
My client looked at me (amazing how you can see that over Zoom), her eyes filled up, looked back at her boss and she said, “wait, can we go back a minute?”
She said: “Before we move on, I want to say thank you. That thing you said, about my potential and how you see me, that’s one of the best things I have ever heard in my career, and I don’t want to rush past it. It really means so much to me. Thank you.”
I loved that moment.
In that moment, my client was letting herself be seen, be appreciated, be celebrated.
Later on, when it was just the two of us, we talked about that pause.
My client said: “For years, I let those things go. I always focused on the deficiencies, the ‘room for improvement’ areas and most of my time I was thinking about those things, not what I was doing well. I didn’t expect him to say something like that, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it, so I just needed to stop for a minute and let it sink in.”
That’s my invitation for all of us in the coming days.
When someone wants to thank us, praise us, compliment us, reward us: can we let it sink in?