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A few years ago, I was working for a health care organization.
My role was facilitating courses focused on communication tools for those in leadership.
It was the last day of an intensive four-day course, and I felt contented and satisfied to be able to work on a part-time basis after my formal retirement from 35 years of nursing.
As I gathered up my supplies, a young woman from the course approached me. She hesitated a moment, and then blurted out, “I want to be like you when I grow up!” I was intrigued and surprised. I smiled and asked her to tell me more. She went on to describe how she had been inspired by my authentic stories and examples of how I overcame challenges in my personal life by using the skills that I was teaching in the course. She told me she had learned so much and wanted to say thank you.
Wow! What a beautiful compliment. How would I respond?
I took a deep breath, and said, “Thank you, I like hearing that.”
That was all. I chose to accept her compliment without brushing it off, or diminishing her words.
After a moment, I told her how much I appreciated her comments and how encouraged I was to keep on in my role, knowing that I was making a difference. As we chatted a bit more, we were both smiling and appreciating the connection between us. I have never forgotten that memorable experience.
What really happened in this interaction? Why am I holding it so close to my heart?
This story illustrates of the power of receiving.
It has taken me many years to learn to receive graciously. I used to struggle with accepting compliments, and I often made excuses if someone acknowledged me for my accomplishments. I would give someone else credit for my success, or I would brush the person off by saying, “Oh, it was nothing.”
How do you respond when you get a compliment? Are you tempted to deflect, deny, or dismiss the gift you are being given? If so, you are not alone. Receiving is not easy. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be learned.
What Does it Mean to Receive?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines receive in these ways: to come into possession of (to receive a gift), to permit to enter (or to welcome and greet).
Can you imagine receiving a compliment being similar to getting a gift? Is it a chance to give someone permission to enter your experience or to welcome a positive comment? This sounds like a choice that everyone might say yes to. Why is it then that receiving is not a common practice?
What are the Barriers to Receiving?
One of the blocks to receiving is a feeling of being unworthy. I may be struggling from “imposter syndrome.” I suspect that if people really knew me, they would not think I deserved their praise. Or, I might say I was “lucky” this time around, and usually things don’t go so well. How can I receive if this is my view of myself?
Some of us may have childhood memories of being told that “bragging is bad.”
I remember being taught that humility was an important attribute. Because of this, I struggled with seeing myself as a good student, or a fast runner, or a gifted writer or artist. Have you heard the phrase, “Pride goes before a fall?” The implication is that I must not be too full of myself.
With this mindset, for years I naturally hesitated to accept comments that honoured me.
When I compare myself negatively to others, I am unable to receive affirming comments. I can always think of someone else who is a better writer, teacher, or athlete. My inner critic loudly reminds me that I have no right to receive the compliment, and often, I am not able to see the goodness in me that others see.
Another block to receiving is a lack of practice. How do I respond graciously when a compliment comes my way? I used to get embarrassed and I would push the comment away. Receiving is a learned skill, and it does get easier with time and repetition. I remember the first time I said, “Thank you, I like hearing that.” I didn’t add anything else. I felt awkward and stilted. Almost as if I was learning a new language. In fact, I was! I slowed down my breathing and smiled at the person who was complimenting me. The amazing thing was, they smiled back and we went on to talk about other things. No big deal.
Another barrier to receiving is the perceived risk that is involved. I may feel vulnerable when I say a simple thank you. Can I trust that the person really means what they say? More importantly, can I believe it? This gets easier as I give myself permission to receive authentically.
What are the Benefits of Receiving?
Remember the dictionary definition of receiving? It is linked to receiving a gift.
When someone gives me a positive comment, this is a gift for me. Here’s the thing. When I say an authentic thank you, they are also given a gift. As I receive their words, they are seen and appreciated.
When I authentically accept a compliment, both parties become part of a “gift exchange.” Both of us receive in that moment and there is an energy of goodwill flowing between us. I receive the gift of affirmation and they receive the gift of my gratitude.
As I receive from others, I become more of who I want to be. When I truly believe their comments, I am inspired to keep growing and learning. I step back and view my journey from a perspective of possibility and potential. I know that shame and criticism do not motivate me to develop in my life. Instead, it is the action of receiving genuinely that helps me move ahead with passion and purpose.
A spirit of gratitude is promoted when I receive fully. When I brush off a compliment, it can feel hurtful to the person giving it to me. In contrast, a connection of joy is forged between us when I genuinely accept their words. The mutual respect and pleasure that results has long-lasting effects.
Receiving has become a spiritual practice for me. What really matters to me in life is to experience joy. As I engage in the activity of receiving, I am finding connection, smiles, and an abundance of joy.
I invite you to engage in the practice of receiving. You will not regret it!
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