Women are terrible at accepting compliments. No, really – it’s true. We refuse to accept them outright and instead focus on flaws or find ways to prove the complimenting person wrong. I’ve tried to be better about it, but even when I accept a compliment with a verbal “Thank you,” there’s a voice in my head that’s still going to argue or think the person is just trying to be nice or what have you.
I received a really great compliment last week. I was on the phone with a law school mentor (I’ll call her Julia) who has been an excellent resource since I decided to switch careers. She, too, has not used her law degree in a traditional manner. She used to work at my law school, so she saw me compete in the Moot Court program. (For those of you who don’t know, Moot Court is like Mock Trial for law school, except Moot Court is at the appellate level and Mock Trial is at the (you guessed it!) trial level. For those of you who don’t know what Mock Trial is, this may give you an idea.)
I won’t lie – I was pretty good at Moot Court. My team excelled both years we competed, and I loved and hated it – loved it because you always get a rush when you’re excelling at something, but hated it for all the hours of my life it consumed. It was one of my favorite experiences from law school.
One of the things my team had to do both years was an “exhibition.” At our school, two teams were assigned to each competition (one arguing Petitioner and one arguing Respondent). For both of my team’s competitions (my 2L and 3L years), we had to argue against our school’s other team in a public event at the law school. Fellow students, professors, alumni, and sometimes the general public came to check it out. We argued in front of local judges, who asked questions, challenged us, and then decided the “winner.” It was exciting and terrifying.
Anyway, Julia was talking about how surprised she was when I decided not to practice law. She said she’d been blown away by my Moot Court performance and that she and others just assumed that that kind of work was “in [my] blood.” I thanked her and truly appreciated the compliment. In your head, you always think people won’t remember things like that, so it was cool.
But once I got off the phone, my female brain started to morph the “you blew me away with your awesome skills” compliment into “why do you quit everything you’re good at?” Logical, right? Here’s how that went down:
I was really good at Moot Court and people noticed. Cool. People were surprised I didn’t want to do that forever. Okay. But I’m really happy with where I’m at now… Except maybe they’re disappointed that I didn’t do it forever. And maybe I SHOULD be disappointed that I didn’t. And maybe I’m just a quitter. And I quit everything I’m good at… What have I done with my life?!?! *Cue minor internal crisis*
Then my brain went down the is-this-a-life-pattern analysis in which you try to find patterns that you otherwise would never have noticed or cared about…
1. High School – I’m awesome at Mock Trial and at English. I quit both of those things to major in History and Political Science.
2. Undergrad – I’m awesome at History and Poli Sci. My senior thesis wins an award. I quit History and Poli Sci and abandon the PhD track to attend law school.
3. Law School – I get really good at things like Moot Court. I excel at job #1, which also deals with appeals. Then I change jobs.
4. Job #2 [the job that encouraged me to catapult out of the legal field] – I get into a completely new area of law that is way more business-y and has nothing to do with appeals. I get pretty good at drafting commercial real estate contracts. Right when my boss tells me I’m “hitting my stride,” I peace out.
And in my craziness, I started to think about quitting travel baseball right before high school and not playing again. And abandoning creative writing after Power of the Pen. And suddenly I’m analyzing my 7th grade self and going “WHO AM I?!”
Now, this progression in my brain leaves out the fact that in each of these instances, I was following what I wanted to do. I was pursuing my passions. I was a changing, evolving being. And each time (except for #4), I was happy doing what I was doing. And I’m thrilled with the job I currently have and with the career I’m building toward. In fact, all of these choices led me to where I am today, and I like where I am. So good for me! But that day, my brain just didn’t want to hear it.
Instead of accepting a perfectly innocent, sincere compliment and moving on with my life feeling slightly more confident, I followed a downward spiral of overanalysis, determined to find flaws that either did not exist or were inconsequential.
I guess the point of this is that my train of thought was ridiculous. I got all freaked out because I have trouble taking a compliment. But you don’t have to balance one positive with a hundred negatives. You don’t even have to go one-for-one. You can accept a compliment and move on. You can say to yourself, “Yeah, I’m pretty awesome,” and that single statement by itself doesn’t make you an asshole. And just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s your calling.
It’s okay to be smart, it’s okay to change your mind, and it’s okay to do what makes you happy. And for the love of God, when someone compliments you, it’s okay to just say (and mean), “Thank you.”