Let your light shine

Have you ever experienced a time where you weren’t sure how to receive a compliment? Did you shrug it off? Or did you accept it with grace? 

This is something I struggle with and am not sure why. I love giving compliments. However, I often feel awkward when I receive them, like someone has handed me a lovely gift, but I don’t know what to do with it. 

I was in this situation recently when I finished delivering a keynote presentation. It was a good day. A really good day. Okay, honestly, I nailed it. I had the audience nodding and laughing and crying and offering to give me their firstborn children. They were moved and inspired. And the standing-O, well, it felt amazing.

And then it happened.

Several audience members descended upon me following my speech. One said, “Thank you, Kelly, your message really hit home for me.” Another said, “You made me realize that I am not alone. Thank you for sharing your stories.” Another chimed in, “I don’t know how you do it. I’d be so nervous up on stage. You make it look easy.”

I shrugged my shoulders in embarrassment and offered these lame responses, “You’re too kind. Thank you. It’s nothing, really. I’m so glad you could make it.”

It was nothing? Are you kidding me?! I’d worked for weeks crafting this presentation, sweat and tears pooling on my laptop keyboard as I wrote it. I’d practiced giving it about a thousand times for my bathroom mirror, my backyard windows, my daughters, my nonexistent cat, and my incredibly supportive best friend. It wasn’t nothing. It was something. A whole lotta something. It was my passion—a piece of my heart. A labor of love.

So why couldn’t I graciously accept their compliments?

Was it because I was trained to be Minnesota Nice? For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Minnesota Nice means those of us born and raised in the Land of 10,000 Lakes are to be mild-mannered and friendly with an aversion to confrontation and a tendency toward understatement. Simply put, we are not to make a fuss. Or accept a fuss. Or have any part of a fuss. 

Or could it be because of Mennonite Guilt? You see, I was brought up Mennonite. And Mennonites are big on humility and frown on pridefulness. I recall my dear great grandmother telling me, “It’s not the Lord’s work if you have to tell someone you did it.” Bless her heart. Grandma Stahl was a hard-working woman with strong convictions. She did the Lord’s work every day of her life and never did toot her own horn.

So today I’m going to toot it for her. Because, honestly, she deserves a little fanfare! She helped feed the hungry and teach the children. She loved on her family in a big way and never asked for any recognition in return. It was her way. And it was good. 

But sometimes I wonder if her well-intended advice could be taken too literally. I don’t like it when other people minimize their gifts. So why is it so hard for me to celebrate my own? Can a person go overboard with self-deprecation? Honestly, I think we can. 

Now I’m not saying we need to puff up like shiny, attention-seeking blimps and brag ourselves silly. Not at all. We don’t need to have our names up in lights on a marquee. But I do think that hiding our lights under the proverbial bushel does us no favors, especially as women.

Career coaches tell us that men are not afraid to share their successes—to exude confidence—and that is what helps them get ahead in climbing the corporate ladder. So ladies, it’s time you claim your rung on that same ladder. 

I don’t care if you’re a CEO or an at-home mom, a number cruncher or a creative type, a student or a great grandmother. Do what you do…and do it like a boss! Own it. Celebrate it. And when praise comes your way, accept it gracefully and graciously. Smile and say thank you. Take it in the spirit it was given. You’ve earned it. Be both humble and confident. Be satisfied in a job well done. 

Think with the innocent confidence of a young child who draws a picture of a flower and a bumble bee and a stick figure with a head seven times too large for the body and says, “Look what I made! It’s so pretty.” This is not ostentatious; it’s confident and honest and sincere. It’s liberating and empowering. 

Go out into the world, brave ones, and do your thing. Give compliments and receive compliments, and let your lights shine!

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