Compliments vs. Encouragement
by Alex Shippee in Labels: ,

When I usually go to my professors’ office hours, it’s to talk about an assignment or at least with a solid question in mind about some piece of literature. We’d go back and forth for a while until one of us would have to go to class, to either attend or teach. It was an invigorating experience to have a fast-paced dialogue with somebody who knew so much more than me and I’d spend the rest of those days exuberant with the afterglow. This semester, though, it has been different because I’m finishing my undergrad degree and leaving those professors behind.

Today, I had to meet with my philosophy professor about an assignment, but he was with somebody. I decided to visit with one of my favorite English professors and to ask her a question about my favorite book, Dante’s “Inferno.” We discussed it for a while, like usual, but we quickly switched to my plans for after college. I mentioned that, a couple years down the line, I might like to go to graduate school.

Every so often, for a reason that usually perplexes me, somebody will pay me a compliment. That’s what happened to me today. My professor told me she had confidence in my abilities and that she could write a great letter of recommendation for me if I would ever want it. My philosopher professor, whom I’ve known personally for the last two years, said much the same thing: he would love to write a letter of recommendation for me and thinks I’ll do great after college. I didn’t know what to say.

Compliments feel great. We guard ourselves against flatterers so much that we become wary of any praise or positive feedback. Occasionally, though, somebody in a position of authority will bestow you with a legitimate vote of confidence and it can be overwhelming. If it’s unsolicited, it feels even better. But compliments exert a sort of negative momentum that can be dangerous and keep you from moving forward. It’s important to not see them as compliments, but as encouragement that you’re on the right track and that you need to keep going.

If something derails you from continuing your effort to contribute to the world, even if it’s meant as a good thing, then it’s only doing you harm. Marcus Aurelius has a great line about how, “The object of praise remains what it was – no better and no worse.” More than that, genuine compliments or praise should inspire you to become worthy of that high estimation. I’ve been the worst of offender of savoring the sensation of praise, but as I’m about to leave college, my comfort zone, I have the encouragement of my professors to remind me that I’ll be alright, as long as I continue trying.

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