Be Generous with praise

My father became a small business owner when I was a Junior in high school. He owns a prop rental company. If you need a tiki bar for your party, a giant man-eating plant for your Spring Musical, or a Santa throne for your Christmas Breakfast with Santa, he’s the guy you call. When he was getting started, he occasionally hired local artists to make custom props for plays, movies, music videos, etc. (did I mention that his business is SUPER cool?).

I remember that with one particular artist, whenever he was finishing up a project, my dad would call my mom and invite her to come up and see it. Then, in the artist’s hearing, she would gush about how wonderful the work was (and she was right). As I remember it, this professional painters was accustomed to getting commissions for custom work, murals, etc. and then the recipient/customer would always criticize the work or look for flaws when it was delivered because they didn’t want the artist to ask for more money (or the customer wanted to get a discount now that the work was done).

So, my dad made sure that this artist knew that he was appreciated for his talents and skills when he worked for him. It was a small, but significant gesture. The artist kept working for him. He built good relationships and developed trust in the community. And, all these years later, his business is still there.

My mother does have a unique gift for making people feel seen and appreciated for their gifts and talents, but I think that we can all be more generous with our praise.

Today, I came across this tweet by writer, Meg Conley (full disclosure: I’m not familiar with her work beyond this tweet and have no idea why anyone would send her hate mail):

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As humans, I think it’s so common for us to complain, criticize and point out what is wrong with things. Perhaps we assume that people already know how much we appreciate them, but we need to let them know when they have fallen short of our expectations in some way.

We’re often like the “other customers” the artist who worked for my dad worked for: we’re afraid that if we’re generous with our praise, support and encouragement it will cost us something. So, we withhold our praise or move the bar ever farther out of reach. Whether it’s the strangers we read on the internet, our kids, our partners, or ourselves.

We think, “if I savor this moment it will somehow spoil it, jinx it, or make it end.” But I don’t think that’s true.

I’m fond of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech (made re-famous by Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly):

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I agree that it’s easy to sit on the sideline of life and criticize the people ‘doing’ (whatever it is). I also agree that the people in the arena deserve credit and often get the lessons and gifts offered by a worthy cause.

But — what a gift it is to have people in your arena cheering for you, encouraging you, and believing in you. It can be hard to give ourselves this gift, but as the wise twitter sage “lex” reminds us: “You believed in Santa for 8 years, you can believe in yourself for 10 seconds.”

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So, whether you’ve had a rough day, have a habit of being hard on yourself, or of moving the bar on the people around you. I encourage you to take a moment today and let someone know what they did well (including yourself).

Maybe you got spectacular service at the drive through. Maybe someone clearly went above and beyond for that presentation at work. Maybe your child kept at something even though it was hard. Maybe everyone got to all the places today and is sleeping soundly in their bed now.

You have the gold stars. It’s okay to hand them out.

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