On accepting praise

It is an unwritten, but strongly supported, policy at work that if it is your birthday you must bring in edible delights for general consumption.  You can leave them in the kitchen for people to pick at throughout the day, or you can invite people 'to cake' in the common room.  The Tesco across the road does quite well out of this policy, and many people bake things at home.  Basically, we don't appear to be a fussy lot and will eat anything that appears in the kitchen (meeting that was catered and there are leftover sandwiches? Gone in seconds!).

It was my birthday over the bank holiday and I obviously was not at work.  Therefore I took cakes into work on Tuesday.  I'd made them myself, a lemon drizzle cake, a tray of chocolate brownies, and some plain vanilla biscuits (in different shapes and sizes).

I left them in the kitchen in the morning and one of the admin ladies emailed the dept to say there were cakes in the kitchen from Amy to celebrate her birthday.

I enjoy baking, and quite like an excuse to bake - living with only one other person means that if I do bake something, we tend to eat quite a lot of it, which tastes good but isn't particularly healthy (and it does take a while to eat an entire fresh cake!).  I'm never going to be appearing on Bake Off, and I can't ice (don't have a steady hand, and can't draw a straight line with a ruler) but I do enjoy the baking bit.  The recipes I chose for work are ones I've made time and time again, and are ridiculously simple - put ingredients together (melting, creaming, stirring as appropriate) then put in tray (rolling and cutting out the biscuits first) and then baking in the oven.  Really not that complicated.

I got several emails saying happy birthday and thank you for the cake, and several people popped by my desk to say thank you in person.  One lady said she was really impressed that I'd made them all myself the previous day!  She doesn't bake and admired my ability.

I said thank you, and was about to say I was a tad annoyed with the biscuits as I'd left them in a few minutes too long and they were harder than I wanted them to be - I'd left a few too-dark ones at home.

But I stopped myself - this lady was complimenting me on something I'd put time, money and effort into, something she couldn't (or wouldn't) do herself.  Couldn't I just accept her compliment without criticising myself with things she in all honesty hadn't noticed?

I did the same thing a bit later when someone else said thank you, and commented on how quickly the lemon cake had gone and that only biscuits and a few bits of brownie remained.  I know that this was because lemon cake is always the most popular in our department, and therefore it was not to do with the biscuits being over-baked, but once again I was about to point out my biscuits' flaws.  I stopped myself, and jokingly (or perhaps not so jokingly) promised double the amount of lemon cake next time.

I realise I've done this quite a lot recently - I made a cardigan for a friend's baby, showed it to my mum (who is a knitter) and pointed out the mistake on the button band where I'd purled five stitches rather than four so the button band was wonky for just one row.  Mum said it really did not matter, and I know it doesn't (I doubt the parents will notice and the baby certainly won't) and I should take the compliment that it is a lovely little cardigan in a lovely colour.  Which it is.

Last month at work I had my annual appraisal - I had to fill out the form beforehand listing my objectives from last year and deciding if I had failed to meet them, met them, or exceeded them.  There was one where I know I exceeded the objective, as the work it revolved around was particularly good and everything went well, but I did hope that my line manager would agree, rather than thinking that I thought too much of my abilities in this area.  As it turned out, my manager completely agreed with this and even 'exceeded' me in another area I thought I'd 'met'.  I think I'm a pretty self-confident person, and I'm aware of my strengths and weaknesses, but perhaps some of my strengths are stronger than I think. 

Similarly, I've complimented people and had them point out flaws, or errors, or say that next time they'll do this or that instead...and then I reassure them of the compliment, it's not them looking for more praise (at least, I hope not!) I think it's just a trait that people can be self-deprecating.  I'm sure there are people out there who can sew/knit/bake/enterotherskillhere better than you, but you're the person I'm complimenting, right now, based on what I see before me.  Then I go and do the same thing myself.  Yes, a lemon drizzle cake is pretty much the easiest cake I know how to make, but for someone who can't/doesn't bake, that's quite a skill to have and makes a change from popping across to Tesco! 

So I've resolved to accept compliments graciously, and not undermine them by pointing out the overbaked biscuits or the purled stitches.  Yes, my baking and knitting could be better, and hopefully I'll continue to develop these skills.  But I need to remember that actually, I am pretty damn good.


  1. this is a great post, and I must think hard next time I receive or give a compliment as I'm sure this must happen to me! never thought about it before but I'm glad you've written about it :) and happy birthday! sounds like you need to send some of that lemon cake along the internet to your readers :D jenny xxx

  2. Very, very true!!! Well done, by the way, for baking your own!
    I tend to be like that when people complimented me on my flute playing- I'd then say, "But...." and one day, the first oboe player said to me- "It's actually quite rude not to accept a compliment. Just be gracious about it!". So now, even though I want to run myself down, I say, "Thank you for saying that, you are very kind!"


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