Savoring compliments instead of shrinking.
"Out of all the interns and trainees I've ever supervised, you are truly something special."
Two hours later, these words are still bouncing around in my mind. It was a lunch between colleagues, but also a lunch between a young woman and someone who is a little further along in life, both professionally and personally.
She told me that I am a specific type of woman, that this might make it a little bit harder to find a man who is attracted to that sort of thing, that I should be more confident. I accepted all her kind words with a wry smile, ducking my head sheepishly and turning a little red; if I'd had a skirt hem, you best believe I would have been fiddling with it.
Accepting compliments is hard for me, but hearing the words "you're special" is the hardest. They conjure up a passage from my favorite musical, A Chorus Line:
"Different is nice but it sure isn't pretty; pretty is what it's about.
I never met anyone who was different who couldn't figure that out."
Different, special... it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, everything I hope to be: unique, interesting, not like the rest. My own person, with that extra spark, that je-ne-sais-quoi, that intrigue. On the other hand, everything I fear I am: weird, unrelatable, not like the rest. An outsider, who is hard to understand, difficult to accept, impossible to love.
Compliments epitomize the struggle between my rational mind and my depression, that omni-present voice in my head. The one knows that the person across from me is saying these things because they believe them: they see something they like in me, something positive, and they want to let me know. The other is insistent that the person across from me is lying: they are making fun of me, or maybe just being nice, but they definitely don't mean what they say. How could they?
Somewhere along the way, special lost its positive meaning. I used to love being told by a teacher that I was special - I enjoyed the attention, holding my head a little higher, my back a little straighter. After all, don't we all want to be that One in a Million, if not for ourselves, then for someone else? "He makes me feel special", we say. "I'm going to wear something special tonight". "I'm saving this for a special occasion." All of these things are filled with excitement, with anticipation for something grand and unforgettable. So how can this word be associated with something so negative in my mind?
Let's reclaim special. While we're at it, let's reclaim different, too. And unique, and interesting, and geeky and empathetic and introverted, and of course, bossy. All these words which have picked up a double-meaning along the way, a whiff of negativity - I want them back.
You are allowed to acknowledge good things about yourself. You are allowed to feel proud of yourself. You are allowed to care about what people whom you admire and whose opinion you value think about you. You are special.
When someone says something wonderful about you, savor that moment of beaming pride, instead of shrugging it off with a sheepish grin, or automatically saying something to invalidate the compliment. Stop and really acknowledge that moment in which, simply by saying something nice, another person has brightened your day. Try to give that moment to others.
And for the love of Captain America, when someone gives you a compliment, muster your most genuine, heartfelt smile, and simply say "thank you".