The other day, I was in a coffee shop drinking my water, minding my business. And by the other day, I mean pre-pandemic, and by water, I mean coffee.
In came an elderly lady who sat next to me. We exchanged pleasantries, and by pleasantries, I mean a nod and a smile.
She, too, was drinking her water. Although, I'm not sure she was minding her business because, from my peripheral vision, I could see her staring at me—rather intently.
After what felt like an eternity, and by eternity I mean one sip of her water, she finally said, "Wow, you have beautiful skin!" I smiled, a bit uneasy and deflected by saying, "Yes, it's the weather, doing me all levels of justice!" And my urge to over-explain was brewing; I mean ready to bubble over. She looked at me, and in a matter-of-fact tone that only comes with an elderly badge of honour, she said, "Oh, hush, could you just take the compliment?"
Feeling a little shame, I said coyly, "Yes, ma'am, thank you!" and we continued to chat briefly. As she left, I could no longer focus on my reason for being there. I had an overwhelming urge to dig deeper. "Why did her compliment make me uncomfortable?"
I began overthinking my whole life. Wondering how I, the one who loves telling others, "SMT, just say thank you when someone compliments you," is now in a quandary. #amIthedrama
It all reminded me of the time I was dating a guy who would look me deep in my eye socket and say, "You're so beautiful." It made me a bit uneasy, and I suppose my aversion to that phrase was more evident than I would have liked to admit. He must have picked up the vibe, and finally, he asked me, "Why can't you take a compliment?" Again, I deflected like, "Dude, stop!" In all honesty, I guess I wasn't sure his motives were pure. Sadly, now that I'm giving this real thought, why was I even spending considerable time with a person whose motives I was unsure of?
Anyway, I had to consult my girl, "Miss-Know-It-All," and by 'know-it-all,' I mean Google. In the search bar, I typed, 'what does it say about me if I can't take a compliment?' In the brief moment that it took her to populate eleventeen-thousand expert opinions, I was steadily bracing for impact. We all know, WebMD has a talent for equating everything to a near-death experience. #amthedrama
There it was, staring back at me, two reasons that resonated to the recesses of my soul. First, your self-image doesn't align with what was said, and secondly, you want to appear humble. It was then I had to ask, "What do I think of myself? And what is my view on humility?"
Let me just say, I wouldn't trade in my church background for anything, but there were so many things I had to unlearn. I had this stint where I responded to compliments with a justification. Like, "Oh girl, only because of xyz, abc happened." Or, in other instances, in my effort to seem humble, I would say, "To God be the Glory!" 'Cause hey, that's the deep Christian thing to say. But was me, saying that, really what gave God the glory? And did I really feel what I did was even praise-worthy?
Listen, I get it; it can be awkward trying to respond appropriately when someone compliments you. I find this occurs when a person says, "You look really nice," or "You have beautiful eyes." Saying, "Yeah, I know," will definitely make you sound arrogant. And the simple act of saying, "Thank you," can sometimes seem not quite enough.
I wasn't satisfied with that explanation alone, so I clicked on another site and saw the phrase "Imposter Syndrome." It's defined as when a person doubts their abilities and feels like a fraud.
Could that be what I was suffering from? Is 'Raquel,' with all her God-given abilities, confident enough to sit at the tables where these gifts could take her? Was she sure enough about who she is and not be intimidated by those who may, in fact, be better or who was in the game longer? Can she stand firm in her own lane? At that moment, the answer was a resounding, "No!"
While I knew, did I really understand the depth of what I carry? While I'm knowledgeable, was I stuck in a state of unconscious awareness of what it means to be me and how my existence should impact my world?
That day the avoidance of a compliment went beyond flawless skin or outer beauty. The truth is, I, Raquel Sherron, in many ways felt unworthy. While I said I deserved happiness with my lips, at my core, I believed I'd sown enough seeds of contanker-ism to reap a lifetime of mayhem and madness. As if God's grace is not sufficient.
In hindsight, there were many moments I felt behind schedule—like, at some juncture, some chain reaction was set in motion, causing karma to seek me out. I couldn't help but reflect on my first book and how the uneasiness of exposing my failures kept delaying that project.
Seriously, should one even be able to write about 20 years of life with no real accomplishment as the highlight? Just a collection of incidents that should disqualify me from anything good. And there it was again, an unconscious admission that failure was my main attraction and not part of the journey.
"Tell your story," they say (insert side smirk). Whew, chall, doing that takes a level of comfortability in your skin that no empowerment seminar can teach you. It's being secure enough to be naked while allowing folks (especially those not in your inner circle) not only to see but to give commentary on your imperfections.
But was I telling of these less than stellar moments, disguised as my story, so someone could reassure me and make me feel good about myself? Or, was I telling them because telling them meant I would not be held hostage or made to feel ashamed for my errors in judgement? The latter made the most sense. But honestly it was perhaps a little of both.
The truth that no one talks about when telling your story is that if told in true transparency, sometimes, it reveals things that you avoided admitting to yourself. An aha moment worth having if there ever was one.
That day in the coffee shop, it was amazing how one compliment spiralled into a needed moment of enlightenment. How could Miss Ma'am telling me I have nice skin suddenly make me aware of all my other imperfections? I honestly wanted to say, "No girl, but see this mark here, left from a pimple I had in fifth grade. This here makes it imperfect!" Yet her retort of, "Just take the compliment," was like God asking, "Adam, who told you you were naked?"
No, Lady-all-in-my-grill wasn't trying to suggest there were no imperfections in what she was highlighting. Rather, she was saying that this particular thing about you, at this exact moment, is praiseworthy. Stop trying to get praise for something past or things yet to come—acknowledge the moment. Learn to revel in that.
Paul says this, And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8 NLT)
That was my issue for a lot of my life. I was hardly ever focused on the praise-worthy things; thus, I was uncomfortable when light was shed on them. "Oh, I like the background!" is usually said by all the people destined for the spotlight. Staying behind the scenes is usually their way of them saying, "No, but see, see, this part right here is broken, that's why I belong back here!" #ahhhnooo
What does it mean for the conscience to be unconscious? Well, it means you do not take the time to consciously reflect on the appropriate actions to take; your responses are immediate but not always logical. In other words, you revert to a negative default position. Like recalling the memory of that one teacher who said you'd never amount to anything, regardless of the countless ones that did.
We're often operating from a place of insufficiency because we've not spent enough time building a worthy self-image. You know, in the effort to stay humble. After all, we shouldn't think of ourselves more highly than we ought to, right?
But what if Jacob focused on the fact that he was a cheater? Then there would be no Bethel as we know it. As messed up as it was, what if David hadn't stolen Bathsheba? There would be no Solomon. What if Moses hadn't committed murder? Then he would never have fled to the desert for his burning bush experience to know he was the chosen leader of a chosen people. What if Samson hadn't fallen prey to Delilah? Then when he died, he would not have killed more enemies than when he was alive.
Awareness is knowledge and understanding that something is or exists. Don't let who you are, reside in the place of unconsciousness (the part of the mind that is inaccessible to the conscious mind but affects behaviour and emotions). Remember, "Awareness is like the sun (Son). When it shines on things, they are transformed." ― Thich Nhat Hanh.