I wasn't a cute kid, or a beautiful child. I wasn't ever pageant worthy and I certainly wasn't being asked out on dates.
Like most kids, I thrived on compliments. If someone couldn't muster up the you are just about the most precious little girl I have ever seen nicety, what could they possibly say about me?
I found humor.
I figured out pretty quick how to get a group laughing so hard their ribs hurt, wiping away tears while falling off their chairs. I also learned that it's an act: disengage and go for broke. Before you know it, you'll be known as the funniest person I ever met! And to me, that was just about the best compliment anyone could ever give me.
The problem with being funny is that everyone assumes you're always happy.
Look, I was pregnant at a young age. The father was uninvolved to say the least. I felt very alone and I was very broke. Then I married someone I had only known for a handful of months and that ended disastrously at best. And then I found out I was pregnant. Again.
I had boyfriends who promised to be over with pizza but get sidetracked at the gas station meeting the love of their life. I met a wonderful guy who I thought was madly in love with me, only to tell me the formal event we were scheduled to attend two days later - he would be taking another girl. One he met at the flower shop where he stopped to get me flowers. It is important to note that both Pizza Guy and Flower Guy had the same name. And, yes, I immaturely judge all men as douchecanoes who share this name.
Needless to say, while my ill choices in men provided excellent comedic fodder for others, it left me feeling like shit the majority of my adult life.
Couple that with crappy jobs, lack of income, crappy so-called friends, and one particular holiday season which left me praying to God that I had been switched at birth and soon my rich biological family who lived in a mansion along the East Coast would save me. This was long before I learned earthquakes along the East Coast were possible. My daydream has since morphed into a wealthy long-lost great aunt who just happens leaves me a ton of money.
Needless to say, there was a time I didn't feel happy. I didn't feel like my life was fun. I didn't feel like I was enjoying anything. I didn't feel like I had anything to be proud of.
I was depressed. I was lost and sad but mostly angry. I was pissed off that my life sucked. And it sucked bad.
So, I sought out an innocent counselor and unleashed my burdens on her: I don't want to feel this way! I screamed. I had visions of her ripping a crisp, white square of paper off her prescription pad and a cool drink of water while swallowing the pills. Help was on the way!
Except she didn't prescribe anything.
Instead she gave me a task:
Each day I want you to write down all the compliments you were given. No one ever compliments me. I work two crappy jobs then come home and take care of two kids who have no idea who I am.
And each day I want you to give three genuine compliments to people and write those down. Who the hell am I going to compliment? The chick that walks into the liquor store when I'm working? Super cute ID pic, lush.
And then I want you to write down three things you are grateful for. Well, I can breathe on my own, does that count?
This woman was off her freaking rocker. I couldn't pay my heat bill. The only guys interested in me were jokes. I could have/should have gone to that audition at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan; instead I was employed as a Data Entry Clerk at some podunk factory and working at a discount liquor store on the side. How would telling someone I liked their sweater make a change in my life?
The first night with my journal I sat and stared at it with nothing to write. Here I was, the self proclaimed writer, with not one word to put to paper.
I started with the easiest:
Three compliments I gave today:
- I told my daughter she was smart.
- I told Joyce I was glad I worked with her.
- I told the guy who works in the IT Department he did a good job handling all my computer problems because my crappy computer was acting up again. Like always.
It was a start (albeit a half-hearted one).
Now I needed to remember if anyone complimented me today. I was pretty sure they hadn't. I didn't do much right in my life - that was kind of obvious by the divroced with two kids from two different fathers thing. And the fact that my water was about to be shut off. Again.
This manager from another department came by to watch me type. He said I was the fastest person he's ever seen... and heard. Because I guess I hit the keys super loud or something.
Hey, that was something wasn't it? I could enter that data in my sleep. I didn't even need to think about what I had to type. My eyes saw it on the paper and my fingers just went where they needed to... completely skipping the brain processing part. I was pretty dang good at that.
Three things I'm grateful for:
- my health
- my children's health
- at least I have a car even if it does look like something an old lady would drive.
The point was, I did keep track. Every day. Before I knew it I'd hear someone say something and think that's a compliment! I get to write that down! I was shocked at the number of times people were nice to me in any given day.
And I found I liked giving compliments, too. I figured you never knew who was putting on a strong, happy exterior while inside they felt their world crumbling. Maybe they also had an assignment where they needed to write down compliments they received throughout the day. I wanted to make sure they heard mine.
Soon I was looking for people to compliment: the cashier at the grocery store, my daughter's teacher, a co-worker, the lady walking out to her car - I really did like her sweater!
And with this simple exercise came the most dramatic change of all: my perception of my life.
The thing is, nothing changed. I was still the girl with two kids from two different fathers, working two dead end jobs and not making enough money to keep my heat on. Or my water. Or my electric. But I could now see all the other things in my life; the things that made my life worth living.
I found there was so much to be grateful for. The beauty that surrounded me... a flower growing up in the crack of an old crumbling foundation. Bright suns and soft moonlight. The full, rich sound of a cello. Choco-tacos. Live music played in a coffee shop. Baseball. Special Olympics. Movie theaters and their popcorn.
But mostly, I found that I'm incredibly grateful for the power of words; they way they inspire, and lift and make others laugh. Without a doubt, I am most grateful for words.