Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
Children may not obey
But children will listen
Children will look to you
For which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say
‘Listen to me’
Children will listen”
Disclaimer: Children will listen, but the message they hear may be different from the one you think you are sharing. In my mother’s defense (and not just because she might be reading this), I’m sure what follows isn’t exactly how this story went. This version is how I remember it, though. It’s what stuck with me from my little girl brain. Knowing my mom, I’m sure my tone of voice was overly proud. It’s possible I wouldn’t stop talking about it and my mom was sick of hearing it. Whatever the full truth of it is, I know for a fact the end result wasn’t her intention. My mom still is my strongest and most beloved role model. She gave me my independent spirit and taught me to be understanding of others.
Once upon a time when Nina was a little girl, perhaps seven or eight, she was on a plane coming home from a summer with her grandparents. She was traveling on the plane by herself sitting in her window seat with a ginger ale and coloring books, proudly wearing the airline wings pin the stewardess had given her. On the aisle seat beside her sat a business man in a stiff navy suit. He had a briefcase on the empty seat between them, both tray tables open to spread out his many papers, a calculator and a pen. This was the era before laptop computers.
As a mostly only child (half-siblings you don’t live with or see often make for “mostly” an only child), I was pretty good at keeping myself entertained. When the coloring books and word search puzzles lost their appeal, one of the things I liked to do was sing. At home when no one was home I would sometimes belt out whatever was my current favorite song. In public I would sing under my breath. I still like to sing in my car like no one is watching.
Side note: I have always been amused by the fact that we all seem to feel isolated and free when we are in our cars. I am in a box surrounded by windows and yet I will dance, gesticulate, sing and make weird faces when I’m in the car by myself. I’ve witnessed enough other people in their cars jamming to whatever is on the radio often enough that I know it’s not just me that feels invincible in my metal and glass box on wheels. Okay, getting back to the tiny Nina on the plane…
My crayons were long forgotten. My ginger ale mostly just sweetly flavored ice cubes. I was staring out the window of the plane getting lost in the fluffy clouds and imagining myself curling one around me like the softest blanket. I was also singing to myself, probably “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Scarlet Ribbons” as both songs had special sentiments that stick with me today.
Then came the time to get ready to land. I gathered up my crayons and put them into my bag with my coloring books. Meanwhile, the man next to me shuffled his papers together and snapped them closed in his brick of a briefcase. The stewardess came by and I held my now empty cup out. My arms were so short the business man had to take it from me to reach the trash bag. It was the only time on this flight he acknowledged me.
After handing the stewardess my cup he smiled at me and said, “I was a little worried when I had to sit next to a kid, but you’re really great. Thanks for letting my spread all my stuff out.”
“Sure,” I replied feeling just as awkward about talking to a stranger as I do now.
Then he leaned toward me conspiratorially, “And, hey, I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I heard your singing. You should know you are really good. Your voice is beautiful. I think you could even be a singer someday.”
“Thanks,” I said feeling really excited by the compliment.
The business man then went back to prepping for the landing. We landed. I got off the plane and ran straight into my mom’s arms. I was so happy to be home.
I chattered to my mom all the way home about my trip. About the road trip we had taken to the Grand Canyon, the donuts Gramps and I would get almost every morning and the Bearobics* tape Grams had bought me.
*I’m sure you are dying to know… Bearobics is aerobics with your teddy bear.
After we were home and unpacking my bags I shared with my mom the incredible compliment I got on the plane, how the man said I was a wonderful singer and he was really impressed.
My mom’s response to this was to tell me I shouldn’t be boastful. She didn’t say a word about my singing ability or if I had deserved the compliment.
My pride was squashed by guilt. I still vividly remember the physical feeling of that moment when I was told the need for humility far outweighed my need to be proud. That one comment, that my mom probably doesn’t even remember, seeped into my being and took away what little confidence I had to share my accomplishments.
That feeling comes back every time I want to share something I am proud of, even today. I feel guilt when I want to share how well a new act went or tell someone about I show I have coming up that I’m really excited about. I feel the need to downplay my biggest moments. I still get anxiety when I sing solo in front of anyone. I panic when I have to advocate for myself to get the promotion at work I know I truly deserve. I let the need for humility cast too-dark shadows on my accomplishments until I feel forgotten in those dark spaces.
Humility is a quality I highly value. Humility allows people to value each other and work together. Humility allows us to grow by accepting that we have more to learn and accomplish.
However, too much of a good thing can also be harmful. Too often I have seen humility become a looming beast. Too much humility will stop someone from advocating for themselves. We will make ourselves appear smaller and are then perceived as weaker. I can think of so many times in my life when I didn’t speak up when I should have. I can think of so many moments where I had an opportunity to grow if I hadn’t been so busy making myself smaller. I’m disheartened to think of all the compliments I dismissed and excused away because I didn’t want to believe I deserved them.
I’ve always been a late bloomer, but it’s never too late to change. I’m learning to balance my humility with a healthy dose of self advocacy. I’m learning to ask for what I need without demanding it. I’m learning how to take a compliment. I’m taking my growth into my own hands rather than waiting for someone to give me permission.
Another side note because it’s my blog and proper writing be damned: Learning how to take a compliment starts with remembering the compliment tells you more about the person giving it and less about you. As someone else once told me, by dismissing the compliment you are in a sense telling this person their opinion is wrong. Is that really what you want someone to walk away feeling? Take that reverse psychology!
So, here I am now, writing because I think I have some ability in doing it and asking the world to give me some of their precious time to read it. I feel I deserve that time. Not just because I think I have an opinion worth sharing and the brilliant words to do so, but because I hope it helps my reader learn something about themselves as well. Let’s lift each other up, be proud of who we are and what we can do, and do so with a healthy dose of humility.