the power of simple compliments

hafiz-light-of-your-own-being

I'm typing this from the window seat as I fly back home to Nashville from Boston, where I just attended and spoke at the fabulous MEDA annual eating disorders conference.

I am gradually feeling more confident about this whole speaking thing, and left feeling reenergized about eating disorder recovery —excited to dig deeper into some of the topics that were presented and share about them here.

I had pretty limited time to tour Boston for the first time, since it was a short trip and much of my time was well-occupied with the conference (not to mention that the hotel was in a 'burb about a 20-minute Uber ride from the city). Still, I had a lovely few hours exploring the city this morning.

In the Back Bay, I stumbled upon The Fairy Shop — anyone who knows me well would say "that's definitely a Val thing." The guy inside told me I looked like a real fairy, which is probably one of the best appearance-related compliments I could get ;) and he agreed with my father-in-law's assessment that I should be cast in the next LOTR film. Ha!

I have to share the poster I bought there — hilarious.

alice_dorothy

Anyway, one of my favorite moments was—believe it or not—in the TSA security line at Boston Logan airport this afternoon. When I got close to the people who scan your ID and boarding pass, I heard one of them (an early 20's TSA agent) give a genuine, enthusiastic compliment to a customer about his glasses. Glasses guy grinned widely as he thanked him. Then, the lady behind him was complimented on her beautiful sweater. I was up next, and he said, "You hair is looking lovely today. [Scanning my ID] And Valerie — great name. You should thank your parents." (Hey, thanks Mom & Dad.)

As I continued on into the next phase of security, he just kept going with each traveler. The girl behind me noticed too, and laughed, saying, "Most entertaining security guy ever!" I was laughing, smiling, and truthfully, fighting back tears as I listened him continue to compliment each person who came up to his station. I couldn't always hear exactly what the compliment was, but I knew it happened every time — I'd look back and see another person thanking him and smiling.

A cynical younger me might have brushed it off, thinking, "Whatever, he's just trying to pass the time, and he doesn't mean any of that stuff, he's just trying to be nice because that's his job. He especially doesn't mean it because he's complimenting everyone, so I'm sure a lot of them are BS."

I certainly still have a cynical (well, perhaps just more "realist") side... and even though so much of what I hear in my professional work is about the atrocities of humans hurting each other, as I get older I seem to gain more faith in (and love for) humanity, rather than less. 

As I heard that young man offer compliments to each of these strangers that he encountered, this is what was going through my mind:

"I wish you could know the power of the loving words you're sharing. I wish I could tell you how much those words touched me at the core — far deeper than the seemingly surface-level compliments, to an acknowledgment of our shared humanity. A humble recognition of the love that we can have for each other, even as complete strangers. You have no idea of the gift that you're giving with these simple words."

The funny thing about this statement is that I wrote it before I came across the Hafiz quote (that I ended up using as the image for this post) a few minutes ago, while window shopping for UU stuff on Etsy, and don't think I'd ever seen it before.

Freaking synchronicity.

I came across a post by writer Alexandra Franzen a few months back called "It all matters." (I highly recommend reading it.) In short, a male hairstylist was engaging and kind with a female customer who came in one evening with plans he had no idea about. She had planned to kill herself that night, and wanted to look nice at her funeral. But because of his kindness, something shifted enough in her to drive herself to the hospital that night instead. As Alexandra so eloquently wrote about this,

Your words, your actions, your art projects, your efforts, every small, tender, beautiful thing that you put forth into the world matters so much. So much more than you may realize. Every single day, as you go about your work, you have no idea whose life you could be impacting for the better — often, in ways you can’t even imagine.

I know compliments can get a bad rap — we shouldn't need external validation, blahblahblah. But I believe that, especially between strangers, a simple compliment is like a hug, a wink at our common humanity and our desire to connect despite the many forces pulling us in opposing directions in today's world. 

Perhaps I'll try to send this to Boston Logan TSA to see if they can get it to that young man. I want him—and everyone like him who offers kindness, simple compassionate words and gestures to strangers— to know how noticed and appreciated their efforts are.

Compliment someone you love. Compliment someone you've never met. Love is what binds us, forever and ever. 

2 Comments

Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.

looking for direction? ask what your 10-year-old self would do

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Photo: My cousin Taylor and I being entrepreneurial with our blue lemonade and blue yogurt pies. Miss you always.

This is certainly not an original idea (are there any?), but it's one that has helped guide me many times, especially recently. Are you struggling to figure out what your passion or purpose is? Or, perhaps you have so many that it’s hard to land on any one thing long enough to gain momentum, and you don’t know how to narrow your focus?

Just ask what your 10-year-old self would enjoy doing.

In the past year or so, I was doing this before I even explicitly realized it. I sheepishly dipped my toes into the metaphysical realm, exploring crystals, energy, the Tarot, flower essences, etc. At first, I felt a little embarrassed about my interest in these areas since I tend to consider myself an educated skeptic, and also because the whole Bohemian hippie thing is really “in” right now and I didn’t want to think I’d just jump on the bandwagon of whatever is popular just to be "cool."

But the fact is, 10-year-old Valerie would have loved the shit out of all this stuff.*

And when I was 10 — sure, I had plenty of insecurities and flaws — but I was unapologetically ME. I was witty, creative, and I didn’t believe my potential was limited. I loved fairies and gemstones and anything sparkly. I loved reading and writing stories. I was a novice cellist, good at math, and obsessed with singing. I believed I was creative and had a lot to offer. I believed my body could do really cool things (like gymnastics!).

Sure, I wasn’t free of anxieties of fears. I’d worry that the boy I liked wouldn’t like me back, or that my friends liked each other more than me** — but my inner critic didn’t yet have the power to stop me from doing the things I loved.

Then, slowly, I started growing up, and little-by-little, losing that clarity of what made me come alive.

I only played the cello for a year (don’t even get me started on that; my school had limited electives and I regret not having chosen orchestra over choir), and I never followed my aspirations of acting because I didn’t start theatre by my freshman year and then told myself I was already “too late." My attempts to actually perform as a singer (outside of my bedroom or car) came in fits and starts “because no one wants just a vocalist” and I didn’t play an instrument, or genuinely care enough to learn one because my musical passion thus far has really just been singing.

In the past year, I have been more committed to my own personal growth journey than ever. I’m a voracious reader of self-development books, and spend most of my 2-hour-a-day commute listening to podcasts in that realm. One of the best pieces of wisdom that I’ve taken and applied to my own life is that, if you want clarity on how you should be living, look back and consider what you would have enjoyed doing at age 10, and there’s a good chance you’ll love doing something similar now.

Of course, it’s not advice to be followed 100% literally, as otherwise I’d be sitting around watching Ghost Writer, reading Baby-Sitter’s Club books, belting out Alanis on my karaoke machine, and eating Little Debbies all day long. On second thought, that sounds pretty great. But my husband would probably start to worry about getting the bills paid. So, it’s not about being literal, but rather, looking at the kinds of things you enjoyed back then and seeing how you could have more of them in your life now. Thus far, almost all the things I’ve loved doing more of are all things that my 10-year-old self also loved.

I’m singing in a band. I wear glittery eyeshadow and dye my hair bright colors. I wear Lisa Frank headphones (like right now). I write and tell stories and jokes. I eat ice cream almost every day. (ok that’s definitely not new) I get excited about learning about and trying new things, both practical and “magical” (anything with an air of whimsy!) I hang out with girlfriends and have a great time talking for hours on end. I go on adventures, like today when I hiked with my husband into what felt like a “hidden trail” in our neighborhood to a “secret pond” and got drenched in rain on the way home. I play games with my friends, like Dungeons & Dragons, am reminded of my favorite live-action role-play game from when I was 7 or 8 years old, and promptly find and buy it on eBay (then warn my friends they will be coming over soon to play a child’s game from 1993 with a unicorn on the box.)

I won’t delude you or myself that I do these things all the time. In fact, I’m usually pretty boring. But I have seen that the more that I intentionally challenge myself to integrate 10-year-old-Val activities into my life, the more alive and more “me” I feel. And it can apply far beyond hobbies or activities, all the way to what you want to do with your life professionally. At around 10, I was already filling out guided journals and reading Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and other books that were the equivalent of self-development for kids. By 12, I had started my own girls-only online club, Shimmer Gurl. Not far jumps to my current job, working with groups of women on their healing journey, and writing online to share my passions and expand my reach.

If you want to feel more alive in your day-to-day, or more clear on your “big picture” direction, try writing a letter from your 10-year-old self to you today, about all the thing you loved doing. Look at old photos of yourself and talk to parents, siblings, or friends who have known you since childhood. You may very well find the clarity or direction you’re looking for, and you’re damn-sure* to have fun in the meantime.

*My 10-year-old self would not have approved of the use of the words "shit" or "damn," but some things change, right?!

**I acknowledge that a lot of 10-year-olds have much bigger problems than this... but at that point in my life, the impact of an amicable divorce was about the most serious thing I had going on.

6 Comments

Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.