Am I? Musings on Compliments and #humblebrags and Other Such Stuff (Joy Preble)

Like a lot of us this month, I'm finding myself a bit flummoxed talking about the best compliment I ever received. It's easy to say nice things about other people. It's harder to believe nice things that someone else says about me. "Whatever," I usually say, sounding like a petulant twelve  year old. When what I should almost always say is, "Oh. Thank you. That's very kind of you."  (honestly, sometimes people just say things, right? "You're a great cook" they'll say and we all know that is patently untrue unless they've lived under a rock and never tasted food.)

"You're brave," a friend told me once, and I knew she meant it because she elaborated. While I appreciated this one, I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. The things she felt were brave-- like doing book travel to cities I've never been to and managing to find my way around-- were brave to her (she does not like to travel alone) but to me seemed just part of book promotion.

Compliments on my writing are tough for me, too. I can always think of a dozens of other authors who are brilliant in ways I have yet to achieve. Like I said, I KNOW I should just say thank you. But it's hard.

My mom was superstitious like that. She was definitely of the 'knock on wood,' 'pooh pooh' school of thought. Brag too much or agree with people's praise too loudly, and the universe will snatch it back was her general philosophy and that of her siblings and my grandmother as well. Don't show off was the message I got loud and clear. Just do what needs to get done. I think of all that every time I post a selfie, even a no-make up unfiltered one. "Really?" my mother's voice says in my head. "Who needs this nonsense?"

And speaking of self-compliments, the whole #humblebrag thing is like the worst, right? Please feel free to let me know if I ever post one something like "Oh I feel like such a loser. I've only published 5 books and I'm so behind on the three contracted projects and I'm not even packed yet for my European book tour and I still have to go to the publisher's special dinner party at BEA." Because seriously. SERIOUSLY.

So what are my favorite compliments?

"You're great at hand selling books to customers," my bookstore manager told me recently. Now that  I accepted graciously with a thank you. It's nice to have my efforts noticed. And it's quantitatively measurable, so I know it's not just blowing smoke.

Specific compliments about my own books are nice, too. If I can tell you read, and you're telling me about how I developed a specific character or whatever, I'll take that and smile.

Maybe specificity is the key. Yeah, I think it is. Not just you're a good cook, but "That chicken pot pie you made the other night was seriously tasty. What did you put in it? Really? And it wasn't organic free range artisanal, locally sourced chicken? Amazing."

(Okay, maybe I won't believe you if you go that far.  I have, after all, been known to throw around a few shallow compliments myself on occasion. Zipping my lips on what they are. I may try to use them on you at some point.)

Feel free to tell me you loved this blog post. But be specific.


  1. On a positive note, #humblebrags usually make me laugh at the person delivering them! :-)

    1. They're funny and irritating all at once. I think people seriously do not hear themselves.

  2. I liked your post. The description of your mom's superstition sounds like mine because I am always knocking on wood. I have a really, really hard time accepting compliments even from family. Weirdly, after my recently troubling lay off, I suddenly started embracing the compliments that rolled in on my teaching. After years and years of self-doubt, I suddenly knew this was a thing I was good at and that the temporary loss is a kind of tragedy for my college. This is not a humble feeling at all. I don't know what to do with it. Do I only feel self assured while also feeling bitter. I am a bad human being.

    1. Oh, by the way, this is me, Jen Dutton and what looks like my dog as my avatar.

    2. Self assured while bitter. Now that is a combination! Hey you!

  3. I specifically like the part about specificity. ;)

  4. I wish I knew why it's so hard to receive a compliment.


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