So I’ve had kind of a weird perception of myself over the last couple years. I’ve been called mean a lot by one particular person, and for whatever reason, that’s really started to inform my self-image. I barely even see this person nowadays, but his words still bother me.
But I did what any self-respecting asshole would do and just kind of adopted the identity for a while. I think it initially started as a sort of coping mechanism because being called mean legitimately bothers me (I never want to hurt anybody). After a while, though, it really started to become empowering.
My boss didn’t help. He said I shouldn’t care if people thought that I was mean because how they react to me is their problem rather than my own. He told me that managers have to make tough decisions and that sometimes, those decisions are going to come off as mean.
I don’t disagree with these things, but I also don’t want to ever be cruel. It’s unnecessary. It’s bad karma. It feels icky.
It also feels lazy. If, as a manager, you don’t have the emotional intelligence to deliver bad news or feedback in a gentle way, you need to work on your grace.
Lately, I’ve done better at getting back to where I used to be. I’ve started putting in the work on myself to be a better person. I stopped being so intellectually lazy, and thus stopped being such a bitch.
It’s been nice!
And then I found an opportunity to spend an entire day dedicating myself to building other people up. I jumped on it. I spent an entire day complimenting everybody.
Here’s what I learned.
Complimenting Everyone for a Day: Kinda Awkward
We’re still currently in quarantine, so I had to do this from home, which I think changed things a little bit. Essentially I just re-posted something from Facebook along the lines of, “Tell me your favorite color and I’ll tell you what I love about you.”
The exercise starts off kind of awkward. I think it takes a lot for people to actually start the process.
I know for me, if I saw a post that said, “Let me give you a compliment,” I would have trouble accepting the offer. It feels needy, right?
But a few adventurous people kicked it off, and pretty soon the post took off.
Challenge One: How much do I write?
I didn’t really know how much to write for people when I kicked this off. One of my friends had done it the day before, so I guess I just kind of defaulted to following her lead on the length. I knew that I didn’t want it to be uneven. I don’t know whether anybody would think twice about getting a few sentences when other people got entire novels written about them, but I wanted to avoid that possibility.
I mostly let the words flow organically, so I ended up with about three paragraphs on average.
Challenge Two: Near-strangers
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a lot of the people I’m friends with on Facebook. My Facebook account has existed for close to half my life at this point, so I’ve got a lot of acquaintances on there. For a long time, it was my go-to when someone asked for my phone number.
I’ve also been through several periods of “add everybody Facebook suggests to me that has even a handful of mutual friends in common.”
I have a lot of friends, but I can’t tell you where I know them from. Or I can, but I haven’t spoken to them directly in like a decade.
If you’re going to do this, I recommend preparing yourself for how you’re going to handle it. This might just look like stalking their profiles to find out how funny or insightful they are. Maybe you send your mutual friends some messages along the lines of, “What has this person done that you think is super neat?” Maybe it’s even seeing a picture of their kid and saying, “You seem like a hard-working parent and your kid is beaming with confidence in every photo I’ve seen. I can tell that you make him feel loved. That’s really powerful.”
Challenge Three: Frienemies
I, naturally, don’t have such a thing as frienemies. I definitely love everybody I have on Facebook.
But if I did have frienemies, I would have had to find a way to compliment them, too. And in several ways, because you definitely have to compensate for the passive aggressive rage you feel toward them by making sure you compliment them at least as much as you did your favorite people.
Now let’s talk about lessons learned.
Lesson One: I really like complimenting people
I had so much fun with this challenge, y’all.
My cup runneth over.
Seriously, I was on cloud nine all damn day. When I woke up this morning, I still felt really good.
There’s something about spending an entire day looking for the best parts of people – and then pointing them out – that really changes what’s happening in your brain. I wasn’t feeling particularly negative before I started doing it, but I wasn’t feeling particularly positive either. I’ve mostly felt kinda funky (in a bad way) lately. This pulled me out of it.
I feel good.
Lesson 2: People want to reciprocate
There’s a lesson from Rich Dad Poor Dad (that’s an affiliate link) that you may remember if you’ve read the book. If you haven’t, I… kind of recommend it. Read it for the self-improvement portion, but tread lightly on the specifics.
Anyways, in it, Kiyosaki talks about the power of giving things away. If you expect money, you have to first give it away. If you expect to gain knowledge, you have to first teach. That kind of thing.
I didn’t start this exercise looking to receive compliments, but that’s exactly what happened. Some people just outright responded to my compliments by paying me one (or three) in return. A few people demanded that I tell them my favorite color so they could compliment me.
I felt like it was against the point of the exercise, so I didn’t oblige, although looking back, maybe that wasn’t for the better. I felt like I should keep it focused, but maybe denying someone the chance to return the favor is also hurting the exercise. I don’t know; there is no rule book here. You’ll have to make that choice for yourself.
Bottom line, I received more compliments yesterday than I normally do. It wasn’t even by any means (I didn’t need it to be). You’re probably not going to get compliments in a 1:1 ratio. But you are gonna get them in return, and it still feels good.
I think this is a larger lesson for life in general, too. I think it is important to give before you can receive.
One of the tenets of minimalism is to recycle, gift, or donate something unnecessary before you go out and buy another thing because it keeps you surrounded only by things that are of the highest value to you and eliminates clutter.
There’s a reason why tithing is a thing in churches.
The time in my life when I’ve felt the greatest and the happiest was when I was volunteering every single week for several hours.
If you put good out into the world, it comes back to you. Sometimes, that’s in tangible ways. Usually, it’s going to be more abstract. I don’t know why it works, but it totally does. Magic.
Lesson Three: You’re gonna make a difference
This exercise feels small. It doesn’t take a lot to give somebody a compliment. It’s very simple, doesn’t cost anything except a little bit of time, and doesn’t impose on you.
But I know I made some peoples’ days.
And I know that some people really needed to hear what I had to say to them, mainly because they told me.
I also know I made some people cry because they told me.
Imagine barely knowing somebody and then hearing an earful about how awesome you are and how much you mean to them. I think the people I barely know got more out of it than the people that I’m close to, because I’ve never really taken the time to compliment my acquaintances, while I do try to make it a point to tell the people I’m close to how much I love them (although I’m committing myself to being better at this from now on). There’s something extra powerful, I think, about a relative stranger thinking you’re the shit.
But there were also people who I was once close to, but haven’t spoken to in a while. I think it’s also nice to hear that people you’ve lost touch with still think you’re a bad-ass and have a lot of cool memories of you. It’s nice to see that you made a lasting impression on them.
So I know I made a few days brighter. I’m thankful for that. All of these people are legitimately cool. They deserve to feel good.
Lesson Four: You’re gonna cry
I got really emotional when my sister commented on my post. Those of you who know me know that our relationship is a bit strained and has been for about half my life now. I’m somewhere on the path toward being able to reach out to her and fix our relationship, but I haven’t made it there yet. I’m not big enough for that yet.
But I had to compliment her.
I did take the opportunity to admit that I haven’t been the best brother to her and to apologize for that. I did tell her I hope that we can reconnect someday.
That day isn’t today. But I do hope, sincerely, that we can get there one day. Life’s too short for grudges. As much as I’ve told myself that family is chosen rather than by birth, I don’t think it’s true for this particular situation, because there’s still a lot of hurt and emptiness in my heart.
(I’m gonna cry again.)
The point is that you’re going to find some kind of feeling that you weren’t letting yourself experience during this exercise. Maybe it’s hope for a relationship you’d otherwise damned. Maybe it’s a feeling of regret for not keeping in touch with somebody who profoundly shaped your life. Maybe you find yourself praying that someone specific reaches out so that you can tell them how you really feel, as if this exercise is permission to speak from your heart.
But you’re definitely gonna cry.
Lesson Five: I should do this more often
This exercise was easy. It was meaningful. It was powerful. I sincerely believe it made the world a better place, temporarily, for me and for everybody who responded.
The benefits were incredible.
But I haven’t complimented anybody since I finished the exercise.
It was way too easy to fall right back into the normal, self-absorbed screen time that most of us call “living.”
I want to keep this going. I want to make it a point to tell people how cool they are more regularly. I want to make this a habit.
I don’t know if I will, though. It’s so easy to forget to do all the shoulds, isn’t it?
If you’ve read this far, know that I highly recommend you try this exercise. Make a post on your Facebook, make it a point to compliment everybody you see for a day, or just take the time to reach out to somebody and tell them kind things once a day.
Know what would work really well? Shower somebody with compliments on their birthday. Don’t just write some generic happy birthday text message. Take the time to make it meaningful and thoughtful.
See how you feel after a couple days. I’m willing to bet your world’s going to feel a bit brighter.
Have you tried this? Are you going to? Leave a comment to talk about your experience or what you’re feeling about it! Also consider subscribing to this blog for more content like this!