The Art Of Taking A Compliment

The Art Of Taking A Compliment

By Matthew Holtby

 It has come to my attention over the past few years that I’m not very good at taking compliments. Just last night we played an in-store performance at the lovely Kops Records in my home town of Oshawa. I always do my best to support my friends and local artists. There were, therefore, two opening acts we had handpicked. Both were great and after each of their sets I made my way over to tell them how much I enjoyed the music. I gave them a hug and didn’t think anything of it. In fact as I’m writing this, I’m thinking of how they reacted and how calm and friendly each of them were simply saying, “Thanks, man” and that was it. No inner turmoil or quivering voices implying things like “Oh, really? But I messed up that second verse” or “I was really nervous and sang out of key but I appreciate you saying that.” None of that. It was pure appreciation for the compliment given and to me that is pretty badass. Enter my friend Cheryl who had the audacity to not only listen intently while sitting crossed legged on the floor of the record store but later approached me after our set to tell me my voice was “like butter.” No, she wasn’t doing an impression of Mike Myers playing a Jewish lady on SNL. She really meant it. She embellished a little and I had a moment where I said out loud, “you know, I’m going to accept that. Thank you.” I probably also mentioned that my wife is constantly reminding me that it’s okay to take a compliment and shut up about all the bullshit that’s actually going on inside my head. I can’t speak for all artists but for me that voice is the same one I’ve had inside all my life telling me I’m not good enough or that everyone is going to notice that I put on a few pounds over the holidays.

Truth be told, nobody actually gives a shit and they don’t owe you anything, especially in the compliments department. As the night unfolded and it was time to pack up, a few other people waited around to tell me what they thought. A young woman who’d just moved here from South Africa told me she was in tears through one of my songs. “I haven’t been moved like that in a long time, '' she said. Instantly, that voice becomes skeptical and tries to shut down any such notion that something I did, specifically something I sang, could have had this effect on anyone. I took the time to make a quick mental shift and offered my hand, asked her name and thanked her generously and genuinely.

So why exactly is this such a “thing” for me? Was there some awful programming in our home when I was young that made me this insecure little boy who’s now in his forties? Nope. Actually, it was always quite the opposite. My parents always made me feel proud of my accomplishments and so did my friends. There isn’t really any reason for this tendency to be insecure and to be quite honest, it’s really annoying. I’ve noticed there are others who do this as well. It’s evident when seeing it from that perspective that it’s just plain silly. The art of taking a compliment and telling yourself affirming things is something we all need to do more frequently, especially artists and performers. This article could have been about comparisons and unrealistic expectations when it comes to body image and shaming and I imagine that will come a little further down the line. For now, the intent here is to suggest that we might take a moment to appreciate how tough it can be to truly accept a simple compliment and receive it in the best way. To use those words of encouragement to add fuel to the tank and not be so damned skeptical all the time can be hard. But what if someone really does love your songs or you really did usher in a moment while you stood up there trembling, wondering what they were all thinking. Words are powerful and can impact us for better or for worse. My personal goal from this moment forward is to quiet that inner voice that is super critical of every little thing and embrace the positive stuff. Anxiety is a word used all too often. However, it’s a true emotion we all go through in one way or another. We’re not alone in any of this and if there’s anything I’m learning by performing more these days, it’s that it’s okay to tell myself something kind, too. It’s cool to say, “thank you” and really mean it. It’s okay to think a song you wrote rocks or that you really nailed it up there.

There’s enough doubt and negativity in this world. Let the music be the one place you can revel in. Feel comfortable knowing that you might actually make a positive impact on someone because of a song you wrote or a moment you shared. Tell that negative inner voice to shut up for once and allow the positive one to step forward. You may even thank yourself for it later.

Matthew Holtby is a Singer/Songwriter living in Warkworth, Ontario


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