by Niall Doherty

“But this payment goes well beyond my generosity,” the monk responded.

“Don’t say that again. Life might be listening, and give you less the next time.”

The Alchemist

Back in 2007, I left a good web design job in Ireland and moved to the United States. I remember, in the few weeks leading up to my departure, my colleagues would often mention how much I would be missed. They’d tell me how they appreciated my positive attitude and attention to detail, and assured me that it would be a struggle to fill my shoes.

Every time I was told these things, I came back with a similar response: “Ah, you’ll find someone just as good to replace me, if not better.”

I might as well have been saying, “No, you’re wrong. In reality, I suck.”

Fast forward to the present day. I’ve announced that I’ll be leaving my current job in November. Deja vu: my colleagues tell me that I’m a valuable part of the team, that I’ll be sorely missed, that they’ll have a tough time replacing me. The comments are the same as they were three years ago, but my response is different. Now, I reply with a simple and sincere, “Thank you.”

Somewhere along the line, I came to appreciate my own self-worth. I came to see that I didn’t have to deflect praise, that I could accept it without losing my humility. In short, I learned how to accept a compliment.

Why we deflect

I have a female friend back in Ireland who still has trouble accepting compliments. The girl is absolutely stunning. She could literally be a model, and people often tell her so. I recall a middle-aged lady approaching her mother at a gathering a few years back, and offering sincerely: “You have a very beautiful daughter.” Overhearing this, my friend immediately gave a little laugh, shook her head and responded, “Oh no, not really!”

She’s not alone. Lots of people — my 25-year-old self included — respond in a similar way when offered a compliment. But why?

I believe we deflect compliments for one of two main reasons (and sometimes a mix of both):

  1. We don’t believe we deserve such admiration.
  2. We want to appear humble.

Both these reasons suck.

With the first, we’re simply selling ourselves short. If everyone tells me that I’m good at something and I refuse to believe them, all I’m doing is holding myself back, killing my self-confidence. I should wake up and give myself credit. I should try to see the brilliance in me that everyone else can see. It’s all well and good to be aware of your shortcomings and to work towards improvement, but if you don’t pause regularly to appreciate the person you’ve already become, you’ll always be miserable, never believing you’re good enough.

As for appearing humble, you can still do that while accepting a compliment. You don’t have to choose one or the other. You can simply offer your sincere thanks and then steer the conversation towards something less self-serving. “Thank you, I’m glad you like my painting. It took a lot of time and effort, so it’s nice to know people appreciate it. Do you also paint?”

Accept with gratitude, humility and sincerity

Next time someone offers you a compliment, let your default response be one of gratitude. Say thank you, sincerely. Realize that the world can never be a more giving place until we all become more receptive to the gifts we are offered.