Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just say thank you

Thank you, dear readers! I am so happy to see my blogger dashboard with the stats that you're visiting my blog (and hopefully reading!) since I've started sharing a bit of myself with you last July 2011. It's been a few weeks now that I've reached a milestone of over 3,000 hits to my blog. And I'm still quite fascinated about the readership from across the world.

The United States now represents 75% of my readership, which is surprising since when I reported to you on my 1,000-mark milestone for hits, my U.S. visits accounted for 88% of my audience. That's quite a jump in international traffic!

It's remarkable to see which countries check out my little corner of the world. Just this week, I see Russia, Canada, Germany, Kenya, and Latvia on my dashboard. And this month, I've also had visitors from United Kingdom, Belgium, France, New Zealand, Sweden, South Korea, India, and Brazil.

Maybe they're not really reading, I think, but it's still cool to see. I know my chosen format is longer than most successful blogs, but I'm more of a storyteller and not just chronicling day-to-day events, so I really do appreciate if you take the time to read me.

And I recognize that my references to and love for all things Trader Joe's and good food still attribute for my broader following, accounting for a nice chunk of my traffic. But I do still like to share my thoughts on adventure and life lessons with you here and there, so I'm happy if you're finding something along the way that you're interested in.

So again, I'll just say thanks to my following at any level of participation! Thanking you is something I'm regularly compelled to do, since I want you to know I appreciate the opportunity to reach you in the blogosphere and the fact that you would even spend any of your precious time reading me.

That is me. I like to say thank you, sincerely. I've always been a bit of a stickler when it comes to teaching kids to say please and thank you. I've told you before that in my many years of teaching a fourth-grade catechism class, I noticed that many children aren't regularly practicing those foundational niceties, in some cases because it may not have been required of them by parents who may have thought their children were too young to insist on that. What a miss! To me, there's nothing cuter than a two-year-old saying please and thank you.

So my mom and dad did a good job there. I have no problem using those words. I especially like to call out and thank those who work with me on a job well done. Or thank someone who's helped me in a store or assisted me in some avenue of my life. It feels good to make someone happy, pointing out something special about them, whether it be a nice haircut, a pretty new dress, or a good idea. It's even better when the recipient lets you know that me taking the time to share what I did made their day. It's a win-win for everyone.

And I'll admit that I do like when others compliment or thank me. Who wouldn't feel good inside when someone tells us we did well at something, sincerely recognizing our best efforts? But that's been the clue for me--we may feel good inside, but we all have different mechanisms to express on the outside how those thanks or kind words make us feel.

Something Lucy Liu commented on in this month's More magazine, "for Women of Style & Substance," recently stuck with me a bit. (By the way, it was really creepy that I received an offer for that magazine on the day I turned 40. How did they know? Some database monitoring my life was just waiting to spit that out, I'm sure.)

In the recent magazine issue, Lucy talks about how we need to learn to say yes to compliments. She says, "It's amazing how we can't take a compliment. I say to someone, 'Oh, you look so beautiful,' and they're like, 'No, I'm tired and I ate blah, blah, blah last night.'" Lucy goes on to say, "They could just say, 'Thank you.'"

Lucy is right. Many times, women don't graciously accept compliments. It's not because they don't appreciate the compliment. Mostly it's because they just don't know what to say in light of their own self-doubt or insecurity.

I can identify with that, I'll admit. Although I do appreciate recognition or compliments, sometimes I'm just caught off-guard. Although Lucy's point about graciously accepting a compliment is on target, it's important to understand that we each have our own history, including how we've coped with compliments, or even criticism, in our own lives.

Although I love and appreciate nice feedback, I'll admit it's easier for me to give compliments and thanks than to receive them. I've worked hard to right this personality flaw throughout my life. At my age and level of understanding now, I can look better at events and circumstances that shaped me to be who I am at this moment, and every day I understand more today than I did yesterday.
A play on one of my favorite Steve Martin lines from The Jerk:
"Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor ugly child."
As a very young child I remember people telling me I was so pretty, even beautiful. And I heard my mom and dad proudly telling friends and family that I was so smart. It was a nice, warm feeling when I heard that others thought well of me. I didn't know it was unique to me. Remember, at a young age, we each only know our own family and we don't really know when our experience is the same or different than others.

Me at six.
Although it was frequently a good feeling to hear others thought well of me, I remember vividly one New Years' Eve and a party with all my parents' friends and their families, including children and grandparents.

One friend of a family friend, a man who I didn't know well, asked me, "How old are you?" I was very young, maybe six or seven. He then responded, "Well, you are beautiful and I want to marry you some day. Will you grow up and marry me, please? Oh, you will still be so young and pretty and I will be so old that you won't want me. But will you promise now to marry me?"

I didn't know what to say. That was a different compliment that made me feel a bit uneasy, especially since my dad became evidently furious and told the guy to get away from me. Ugh. I didn't do anything wrong, but what was all that about? That compliment provided mixed signals and overwhelmed me as a young child. I knew it wasn't good since it made my dad mad.

And then I went to school. I was happy to be there and meet new friends. Things were good. Until the first "mean girl" experiences. You know, I'm not complaining or looking for any sympathy. I was definitely more fortunate than others since it was never every day.

But we all know that stuff happens. Kids are bullied and picked on. It breaks my heart to read it and see it on the news. For myself, at the younger ages, I never really fully understood why it happened to me or others, since I never remember feeling that anyone showed a malicious intent to be mean to others. Why couldn't we all just be happy and co-exist peacefully, I thought? If you didn't like someone, just leave them alone.

But you know from the beginning of time one cave woman said to another, "You know you look fat in that saber-tooth tiger fur," as she worried her Neanderthal man would club the newly chic woman and drag her off by the ponytail for his own. A sign of her own insecurity, the first cave girl's tactic was to undermine the confidence of her friend.

And so there must have always been a few girls from the beginning of time on this good earth who couldn't help but be mean when they had a bad day. The small minority of mean girls unfortunately learn to make themselves feel better by making others feel bad. It's sad to me that women still attack each other instead of banding together in their search for the strength and security they crave.

And so I've heard it all at different points in time. As a young school girl, it's unsettling to hear from another girl, "Do you know you are ugly? You are the ugliest girl I ever saw. And you are stupid too." Not every day, but enough variation on those themes here and there that you go home and look in the mirror and think, "Maybe I am ugly and stupid and mom and the others just say those nice things because they love me." Mom told me no, that it wasn't true. Those mean girls were just jealous. I wanted to believe her, but some self-doubt surfaced here and there as I didn't understand why there needed to be jealousy when sometimes we were friends and nice to each other.

I love this picture of my Melissa.
I'm sure the photographer just told her
she looked pretty in her dress.
Hence, the pensive, no-smile face.
Experiences with my own young daughter about twenty years later reminded me that how we feel on the inside about compliments or criticism can affect our responses and reactions throughout life.

Everywhere we went, family, friends, and people on the street stopped to tell my young daughter, maybe two or three at that time, with her blonde curls and angelic face, that her dress was so pretty or she was so beautiful. For such a delicate little thing, she had this deep, rich voice that came out of her. Everywhere we went people cooed over her and told her over and over, "You're so cute! You're like a little Shirley Temple!"

I could see my little girl withdraw with all the fuss. She shut down and wouldn't answer the complimenter. At moments, I didn't truly understand since I was proud to hear the nice things being said to my daughter. I tried to teach her to say thank you to the giver of the compliment, but she wanted nothing to do with all the attention. And then one day she broke down crying when someone told her she was such a pretty little girl. That poor person!

Not yet making any connections to how I had felt at times as a child, I asked my daughter what was wrong and told her she shouldn't cry. She should be happy that others thought she looked pretty. She looked at me with a crying pout (still angelic) and said, "It ain't easy being Shirley Temple."

Out of the mouths of babes. She was right. It wasn't easy being the real Shirley Temple and it's not easy for anyone to get all that attention. It takes maturity to deal gracefully with both positive and negative attention. And it proves the point that even too much of a good thing is not better for any of us.

An overabundance of compliments or criticism isn't good for anyone. Both can make you doubt yourself. Too many compliments, you question sincerity and the reality of it all. And too much criticism undermines confidence.

We learn over time. And these experiences build our character. All the good and bad in our lives hopefully teach us to treat others the way we want to be treated. I can honestly say everything has happened to me for a reason to help me be the person I still strive to be. I am a work in progress.

But over the years I learned that as a child, I began to cope with compliments by saying something negative in response, as a fail-safe to ensure the complimenter, even if they were sincere, wouldn't turn on me if they started to see me as too lucky or fortunate.

If they said my new dress was pretty, I was sure to say, "Oh, no, this is old from last year," or I'd point out something wrong with it. If someone said I was pretty, I'd say, "Oh, no, I have this pimple here," or "My hair looks terrible today." Secretly inside I was very happy to receive the compliment, but I learned to point out my own shortcoming so no one would perceive me as full of my self. I was warding off any potential of jealousy, so friends would like me for me.

As a young adult, I still did struggle with compliments at times, until I realized over time I no longer was okay with putting myself down to make others feel better. I worked on it and worked on it. It was hard, but I learned to graciously just say thank you when I received a compliment. I was very happy inside, but always still slightly uncomfortable and shy about the sincerity and what it all meant.

Was this person really happy for me or would they later show some sign of jealousy, making my life more difficult in some way? I never knew for sure the outcome, but learning to trust my instincts, letting down my guard, and accepting the compliment at face value helped me more easily to just say thanks.

Or so I thought I had worked that all out pretty much. Yet I do find here and there my inner child resurfaces. It may be at a year-end review at work. Although I so appreciate the recap and recognition of my year's work and the kudos received, I've realized that I'm slightly dazed, not able to totally absorb it all. If the review wasn't also written down to be read again later, I'm sure I wouldn't remember everything that was said. And remember, this is not because I'm not happy to hear it.

And just recently, in a social situation, a good friend commented to another in front of me that my blog was well-done. Oh, that was so nice and wonderful that she shared that sentiment with someone! My heart skipped a beat with happiness. That's what I felt on the inside.

But in a split second I looked at my friend and embarrassingly (to myself, for sure, but I hope not to her) brushed over her nice compliment and continued the conversation with the other person. What a dork I can be! Not so gracious at all. It may not have been a big deal to my friend, but it's bothered me since. Again, none of us know what each other is thinking or shy about on the inside unless we share.

Now this friend has told me at another time that my blog was well-written and she enjoyed reading me. I was so happy to receive that feedback from someone I care so much about and admire. In that one-on-one situation, I was able to graciously accept her compliment and warmly thank her. I trust this person and know she's sincere. As I've said, I've worked on accepting compliments over the years, but her comment did surprise me in that particular moment. The shy child in me who's not so sure about the intent of the complimenter revisited and attended that party at that moment.

Yes, throughout our life, our experiences continue to shape us and how we react and respond to those around us. I'll admit I'm still a work in progress. I'm not done until I'm done. It's my joy and lifelong journey to create an order that I can feel comfortable with, to help me live better in my own skin.

After all, it's the least I can do to show on the outside what I'm feeling on the inside.

So, Lucy Liu, I know you think we should just say yes and then thank our complimenters, but if I'm lucky enough again for someone to tell me I look beautiful or that my blog is well done, I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable enough to say "Yes, I do" or "Yes, it is," as you suggest. I can't. If I let myself agree with your compliment, I may still wonder if you'll start to think I have a big head, and I want you to know that's surely not me.

But I will continue to work on being comfortable enough to just say thanks.

Until next time, yours in gratitude and appreciation...Therese


  1. Hey, girlfriend. Nice job!
    (When you accept a compliment, you give a little gift back.) XX Holly

    1. You are so right, Holly! It's a great lesson to learn. Thanks for your nice feedback and your friendship. It means a lot to me. xoxo Therese