Why Women Deflect the Praise They Deserve
Shonda Rhimes breaks it down in ‘Year of Yes’
This story is part of The New Self-Help: 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century.
At a dinner celebrating women in the TV industry, Shonda Rhimes recalls in her book, Year of Yes, the emcee called out each honoree by name and spoke of her accomplishments. The response of each and every one of these accomplished women deflected or downplayed the praise.
“What is wrong with us?!” the TV mogul and legendary showrunner asks.
This vignette gets to the heart of Rhimes’ book, which traces her yearlong experiment of saying “yes” to opportunities and challenges that come her way. Yes, she’s embracing possibility. But central to this process is an acceptance of being seen as she is, and owning her story.
Rhimes’ determination to accept “any and all acknowledgements of personal fabulous awesomeness with a clear, calm, ‘Thank you’ and a confident smile and nothing more” is an invitation for us to do the same: To accept a compliment. To accept care. To receive kindness. To make leaps of faith.
Here are some of the key lessons she imparts along the way.
Don’t be afraid to accept generosity
As women, we’re often taught to be humble. We shouldn’t appear to be “full of ourselves” or “better than.”
Strong women are, alternately, often seen as “bitches” or “ball breakers.” As a result, we are afraid to be successful and strong. This may also explain why it’s common for us to feel uncomfortable — guilty or, somehow, unworthy — when offered gifts, praise, or advancement.
Just this evening, as I was riding public transit with my dog, the woman opposite me pulled out a plastic bag labelled “Lamb lung $3” and, with my permission, started offering my grateful pup pieces of it. The more she fed her, the more uncomfortable I felt about this act of kindness, with a twinge of guilt. That feeling intensified when the woman offered that I take the rest of the bag home when we arrived at my stop.
Maybe it was the cost factor — to some people, $3 is nothing; to some, it’s a big deal. But the woman wouldn’t have offered if she didn’t want to give. Why did I feel uncomfortable about accepting? Why did a stranger’s kindness feel like “too much” to receive?
There’s vulnerability in owning our self-worth, whether we’re accepting our own success or acts of kindness from others. It’s something many of us need to learn how to do.
Let go and embrace the new
When we make changes in our life, we need to be amenable to shedding some of our identity to take on a new one. It’s scary. Who am I if I quit a job, move cities, sell my company, or stop eating meat?
Rhimes writes that, when you’re trying to grow or change, “nothing works if you don’t actually decide that you are really and truly ready to do it.” She’s referring to her own efforts to lose weight, in this case, but it applies to many situations. She goes on: “Everything sounds like crap until you are in the right mindset. Everything sounds like crap while you are still busy listing reasons why you should eat the whole cake.”
At the same time, if we “wait” until we’re absolutely ready to make change, we might never move forward. If we wait until we think we’re ready, we might miss some great opportunities. The point of saying “yes,” Rhimes shows us, is that it forces us to take the plunge outside of our comfort zones.
Sometimes we need to dive in with faith and trust. Sometimes we’re more prepared than we think we are. Ready or not, here I come. You jump, I jump, Jack.
Don’t apologize for who you are
As Rhimes puts it: “We all spend our lives kicking the crap out of ourselves for not being this way or that way, not having this thing or that thing, not being like this person or that person.”
The solution? “Don’t apologize,” she instructs. “Don’t explain. Don’t ever feel less than. When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story.”
When we worry that people are looking down on us, it’s likely that that judgment is coming from within some part of ourselves. And if people do judge us, it’s rarely actually about who we are; it’s about them.
When we realize that our insecurities are simply a story that we’re telling ourselves, we can change the narrative.