The Best Advice I Got: Take Compliments
I’m passable on the drums. I can keep a beat and do a few fills. My first gig in Portland, I sat in on drums for a band I’d eventually play guitar and sing for, the Bo’Weevils.
We played on the lawn behind Silly’s Restaurant. It was a gorgeous spring day and there was a pretty good crowd.
I paid barely any attention to my surroundings though, deeply focused on the music. I desperately wanted to get into the band scene any way I could. I felt how this performance went would set my fate.
Afterwards, a friend of the band I barely knew walked by. “You sounded great!”
I immediately started apologizing for a litany of mistakes I’d made, cataloging them in great detail. I thought I was being humble and conscientious by admitting my many flaws, but her face was crinkling up. As if I’d farted and she smelled it. I stopped talking. There was a pause.
“When someone gives you a compliment, just smile and say thank you.” She walked off.
It took me a long time to understand what I’d done wrong. Non-musicians may not notice or care about all the details of a performance. Instead they just like what they like. By telling her all the things I’d done wrong, I implicitly criticized her opinion.
As if I’d farted… and then told her about it. Listen, don’t point out your flaws to people. Good people want to see you successful, because they want successful people around them. And bad people, we don’t need to gift with ammunition.
Last, you don’t need to do that to yourself. After every performance, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny writes ten pages of notes critiquing himself. The amazing discipline Metheny has cultivated results in spectacular music… but he doesn’t make the audience listen to that part.
Some people like to say how they always speak their mind. They pride themselves on brutal honesty, they make sure everyone knows they don’t care who disagrees.
It’s funny to me now, how rarely the brutal truth these people feel compelled to share expresses gratitude. I certainly fell into that category back then.
It took me a long time to realize ingratitude made me utterly miserable. The best advice I got wasn’t really about compliments, it was about learning what I’d done wrong.
Know your blindspots.