A few years ago, typical conversations in my life would go like this:
Friend: Congratulations on winning first place at debate!
Me: Oh, thanks, but everyone else was really good too, and I just got lucky with that judge.
Friend: Your hair looks gorgeous!
Me: Thanks, but you have no idea how long it took to get it like this.
Friend: Why didn’t you tell me your drawing won that award?
Me: I don’t know, I mean, it wasn’t really a big deal.
Do you see a pattern here? I didn’t, at least not until I started to notice that while my female friends responded to admiration or praise by downplaying it, my guy friends were openly proud and didn’t hide it.
At first, I thought being so open about their accomplishments was arrogant, but then I started to wonder if maybe boys are conditioned to take pride in achievements or praise whereas girls are conditioned to downplay it, so that they seem humble. But what if being humble also meant you never got to enjoy or celebrate the good things in your life? Also, I started to see that being confident didn’t mean you weren’t humble, because there’s a difference between arrogance and confidence.The boys who accepted the praise weren’t arrogant. They were confident that nobody would call them arrogant.
So I decided to try an experiment without telling my friends. Next time they praised me, I wouldn’t add a disclaimer. I would just smile and say thank you. I would see what it was like to respond as if I deserved the praise—just like most guys did.
These new conversations went like this:
Friend: You were so good at the tennis match!
Friend: A 97 on the math test is insane!
Friend: You look gorgeous!
It felt uncomfortable at first not to add a disclaimer, but then it just felt good. I didn’t have to downplay who I am or what I do. I really think this is a result of cultural conditioning, and now my friends and I are practicing changing that, one compliment at a time.