“Give me compliments, I said give me compliments” is the refrain from a strangely compulsive YouTube video (pictured above). No matter what the under-appreciated protagonist achieves – getting to work on time, loading the dishwasher – he gets no praise. His awesomeness is written off as if it were “of coursedness”.
It’s good to learn to live without praise, and not just because you’ll sometimes live or work in environments where it’s simply not forthcoming. The reality is that throughout life, your contribution will be making a massive difference to other people and you won’t always know. It won’t always be possible, or appropriate for the person you’ve helped or inspired to tell you.
Sometimes you have to trust that if you’re living your life as well as you can – and doing your work as best you can – you are making a difference.
In my first ever full time job (a junior press secretary in Parliament) I had a boss who used to announce, as he left the office each day: “thank you for your contribution, it has not gone unnoticed”. It was tongue in cheek but it was also correct. Yes, you went through the whole day without continually (or in fact, ever) receiving praise, but nonetheless your contribution made a difference, and he was aware of it.
I was on a radio panel recently with an experienced co-contributor who really helped me through the experience. He had a way of participating that created space for me to contribute, as well. He made it fun. I’ve told about four people how much I admired the way he operated, but I haven’t told him. Why haven’t I? Lots of reasons: I haven’t come across him since we were on the radio together. It seems like an inconsequential thing – how would I explain it? I don’t really know him, so I’m not sure how he’d feel about receiving unsolicited praise, from someone he barely knows.
There’s a woman in my neighbourhood who walks everywhere. Almost every day I see her, sometimes up in the hills near my home, sometimes in another suburb altogether, or on the road into town. I’m always in my car; she is always walking. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t walk for the exercise (she’s not wearing “activewear”), and she never seems to be in a hurry, though I always have a sense that she’s going somewhere, not just wandering. And every time I see her I wonder about her story, and I admire what I perceive to be her calmness, and her work ethic. Of course, she might be neither calm nor particularly hardworking. These are attributes I’ve assigned to her. But I’ve drawn some inspiration from them – from her – nonetheless. And she will never know that.
Each of us, at some time, is that person. The one who is having a positive impact on other people, without even knowing it. Of course, there’s a flip side. We can unintentionally have negative effects as well, and it’s important to be conscious about that.
I trust for most of you, your impact will be more positive than negative.
You might not necessarily get praise for your awesomeness. You might not receive the compliment, but your impact is no less real and valued because of that.