Updated: Mar 2, 2020
I was out the other night in a restaurant with a group of people, including a couple of musicians, Paul and Marcus. A trio was playing quiet standards off to the side, so when the owner came up to our musician end of the table, the talk naturally turned to music and performing. I was half-conversing, half-looking at the menu, when Paul said to the owner, “I’m a talented musician.” I looked at him and smiled expecting that he would be smiling at the owner as if he was being funny or playful, because in my mind who says that for real?
Well, Paul does apparently. Or at least he did in this case. Because he just kept on talking with the owner without missing a beat. He wasn’t self-conscious about it at all. But nor was he acting arrogant. Paul, in fact, just went on being who he is—warm, friendly, expressive, free-flowing, and fun-loving. And I have to agree with him, as most do who know his songs and singing. He’s a talented musician. In fact, he’s probably my favorite non-famous songwriter. The real deal.
So this got me thinking. My perception has long been that it’s not considered good manners to say you’re good at something. It gets labeled bragging. I have lived since about age nine with, I think, a particularly strong internal voice who has brought the hammer down hard whenever I’ve felt like complimenting myself. And, unsurprisingly, I’ve also thirsted for praise from others. But it’s a weird idea to think you could authentically accept a compliment from another person without believing the same compliment when it comes from you. Something is either true or not true, regardless of who says it.
It’s also pretty well-established, I think, that people make more progress when they’re encouraged than when they’re berated. Finding things to appreciate and praise is like water to a plant. It helps people want to develop more, emphasize whatever uniqueness they bring to something. And I’ve found it often makes them want to know what they can improve on as well. So while you could argue whether self-praise is warranted on the basis of the quality of your efforts, I think it’s harder to argue that praise—no matter where it comes from—helps us do better.
It’s not a simplistic issue. Tooting your horn can in fact be annoying. But I believe that’s because the tooter is making up for secret insecurity and trying to steamroller though it. Actually, it’s not such a secret—it’s obvious to others, and that’s why it’s annoying. Paul's statement, on the other hand, seemed to me to rise naturally from a healthy recognition of who he was. That’s a talent we can all cultivate.
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