I close my eyes and let myself be teleported back to my childhood living room. I am there, in a busy house, as my childhood home always was, and I feel excited about something. Maybe it is a good grade, maybe it’s a new hairdo, maybe it’s reciting back to my parents something that I was told by someone else. I was a junkie for their praise. Always. And my dad, most certainly trying to instil in me the virtue of modesty, would gesture to the window and pretend to speak to the imaginary fans of mine that would have gathered there: “go on, go away, enough, go away everyone!” It may have been funny at some point, I don’t really remember. I do remember a feeling in my gut that was part oh, I get it, this is how my dad does praise and part shoot, I was too full of myself just now, this is not ok.
I hear people many times refer to children as sponges – describing how they learn ever so quickly. Very true and nice metaphor. I only wish we would stretch the metaphor. This is not only true about children. I think this is true about all of us: we are all sponges, our entire lives. We suck in the messages that best fit our inside voices. It’s sort of like, as soon as you bought a bright red Ford, the whole world seems to drive bright red Fords.
I have always been very afraid of sounding boastful, ridiculous, too full of myself. And my fear, well fed by the chasing away of imaginary people in the window clapping at my successes, is that overwhelming that I have unlearned (if I ever knew) or never learned how to enjoy the moments when I do get things right.
This week I delivered my first ever keynote speech. It was something I practiced for, wrote myself and changed many times, I rehearsed and changed some more and when it was time to actually do it, delivered it quite nicely (anxious as I write this even), with sweat dripping down my upper body. Despite the internet playing its usual tricks on us, I think it went pretty well. The feedback was great … and quite quickly dismissed. From the conversation and from my brain. I dismissed the imaginary fans myself … . I have not found the sweet spot. The sweet spot between bragging about things I have done and not wanting to ever talk about any success I work hard to achieve. I am a passionate student of coaching so maybe there is hope for me, who knows?
I want to end this piece today with a call to action: watch your language when people are sharing their joy or pride with you. Try not to phrase things in ways that burden: but of course you succeeded! or I expected nothing less from you! – these phrases aren’t praises and they discount the effort that went behind whatever was achieved. Not to say anything about the pressure of perfectionism that they reinforce. Stay away from dismissing joy – why would anyone ever do that? The lesson here is only that joy should not be displayed, this never models modesty. Instead, wholeheartedly share the joy of the other, no words are needed, just connecting in the rejoicing and holding space for the other to be happy. It could just mean mirroring a smile as large as the other one’s face or a hug, or even a bigger gift, that of sitting down and offering the best gift of all – time. Time to hear about the experience, to ask about how the other is feeling, allowing them to bask in their joy and maybe only uttering five simple words: I am proud of you!