Tag Archives: compliments

The Devil Wears Pixels

(Originally a Facebook Note, posted August 2009 – but I have been thinking about it recently.)

I watched a deliciously girly movie tonight on FX – and amid the pomp and circumstance of the fashion and fuss, I was reminded of some amazing lessons I’ve learned in my career.

I’m not one of those people who is overly critical of movies. I consider films great if I laugh or cry and absolutely phenomenal if I get to do both. Beneath the gilded tapestry of lines in the Devil Wears Prada are some wholly un-materialistic value messages.

There’s a scene where Andy and Miranda are in a town car in Paris. Andy says “I could never do what you did” and Miranda retorts “You already did.”

If you’ve seen this scene you know exactly how cutting this exchange is. If not, it is like your mother holding a mirror up to your face the morning after an all-nighter.

You feel shame and disgust and guilt even if you didn’t do anything.

I am so fascinated by the way women treat each other in life and in business. One of my favorite sayings is that ‘only ugly girls are catty’. If one looks okay on the outside and is still obsessed with cutting and undermining, well… that ugliness lives somewhere.

I remember in my teens and early twenties, I proudly pitched myself as a guys’ girl. I simply didn’t have anything in common with other women. They were idiots or bimbos or superficial or prissy or backstabbing or bobbleheads. And then I realized I was simply hanging out with the wrong women.

In addition to a few, key teammates and some artistic types, I credit my friend Martina with helping me embrace my universal sisterhood. As a transplanted woman, she focused exclusively on cultivating friendships with strong, smart, fun women. Since we’re still friends, I’m going to assert that she was wildly successful in her venture.

It took me a long time to figure out how to navigate the treacherous and often treasonous world of female friendships. Admittedly, I sometimes still get it wrong. But for all of the mistakes I’ve made (too often when I felt my most awful and insecure), I have done some things right.

  • I believe in giving women compliments. I give them all the time. I give them to people I know and to total strangers. I don’t care if anyone knows or hears except for the recipient. Women don’t know enough good things about themselves. Women NEVER hear enough good things about themselves. There is nothing like a spontaneous compliment to plug the leak in the self-esteem drain.
  • I also believe in honesty. False support/friendship is a weakness and should be banished from our gender’s repertoire.
  • I promote the idea that two wrongs do not make a right. And a shallow, caustic comment should not inspire an equally biting retort.

This goes for work environments as well.

In advertising, I was privileged to work with a lot of women. I mean that. Privileged.

That doesn’t mean that I liked or respected all of them. And that doesn’t mean that my first impression was right all the time.

But here’s the thing…

It is a mistake to stab people in the back, or the front.

Anytime.

No matter what.

(SIDE NOTE: Have you seen the great speech Robyn Williams delivers to Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Patch Adams” about being a dick?  He says that it is a mistake of youth to think that one has to be a dick to get ahead in life and naiveté to think that it is a new concept. It is a brilliant statement to me. Simply brilliant. Because for all of our striving and struggling and studying and suffering… what, in effect, will our legacy be?)

In the movie, Andy goes to Paris instead of Emily. She says she had no choice – it was to preserve her future.

pumpsMiranda scoffs at Andy’s repugnance with the comment “Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us.”

I

think

not.

For me, I am laying down once and for all any feelings of betrayal or indignation or rage. People make choices that we cannot understand or explain or accept. But that is really, in the end, only their problem. It becomes ours when we hold onto it.

As for me, I plan to love and be loved. I plan to teach and to learn. I plan to hope and to laugh.

And to wear fabulous shoes.

Enough about me, what do YOU think of me?

Last week I got together with about 300 or so of my closest friends (a.k.a. clients and industry peers) for an annual outing on Lake Michigan.

This event is always a little nostalgic for me for reasons not relevant to this post but this year’s was particularly emotional.  After two years of fairly rough waters, my life has resumed what I would consider smooth sailing.  My bank account looks hurricane-ravaged.  My self-esteem has been leveled like a tornado tore through it.  Yet on that boat, I felt the warmth of some of my sunniest days.

There were some unabashedly joyous reunions.  I loved every one of them.

Two were outright surprising though.  Both former male colleagues, whom I liked then and now, gave me what seemed like spontaneous, candid insight about how they see me.

In the order they were given, “Christine is like, ‘Process, Schmocess.  What do you need done?  Pffft!  I got this.'” and “Christine is like TWENTY MEN… and three women.”

I was flattered, humbled, awed, and tickled all at the same time.  It has been a long time since I felt like I had the world by the proverbial balls but neither of these guys knew that.  They still saw me as the maverick, competent, sometimes legendary gal they worked alongside.

HOW. GOOD. IS. THAT.

It got me thinking about other great compliments I’ve received in my life.  There was the female classmate in Japan who told me that I was the perfect balance between masculine and feminine.  There was the high school crush who told me I may not be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen but I was definitely the sexiest.  There was the man  who said I was the most grown up person he’d ever met in his life.  And that same man also said that he never thought about having kids until he met me.  When he finally told me his feelings, he said “Christy, I don’t just love you.  You’re the love of my life.”  I married him.

But I don’t think compliments are common.  If reality shows are any indication, I think we tend to experience schadenfreude more than we share our admiration, respect, or pleasure for people.  Why is that?  And how do we unlearn that behavior?

With the inexorable deluge of criticism playing on a loop in my head, it is refreshment to hear something positive from another.  It helps me silence my past, my family, my ghosts and view myself more fairly, as I am, right now.  I know I’m not alone.  Women, especially, seem to be finding new ways to hate and punish themselves all the time.  And when we REALLY hate ourselves, we often punish each other.

In face, I think we’ve gotten so bad at being nice to ourselves that many of us have forgotten how to TAKE a compliment as well as how to give one.  I would bet that if we got better at both, the popularity of the behavior would grow exponentially.

What do you think?

Want to do an experiment with me?  Ok… for the rest of the week, give out five GENUINE compliments.  They can be spontaneous or premeditated.  You can give them to strangers or to family.  You can give them all to the same person or to five different ones. 

Listen to what they say after you give them the compliment.

Then come share your experience here.  I really find your stories interesting!

(Four to go…)