As a performer, I am no stranger to praise, and attempting to stay humble has always been an important part of who I am. Because I started dancing when I was four, I was taught from a very young age how to receive compliments gracefully and how to always make sure I thanked people for coming to see me. Since then, my performances have expanded to include theater and voice and the same rules still apply. What I discovered as I grew older, however, is that praise is a very difficult thing to deal with. If you let it go to your head, you become prideful; if you deny it, you become ungrateful…not quite so glorious as it may seem. I think praise can be very useful, but only if you know how to handle it.
Unfortunately in the past couple years I have gone in and out of confidence in myself and the talents I possess, mainly when it comes to singing. I just did not understand why or how anybody would want to hear me sing. “You’re not that good,” I told myself. And even more frequently, “you’re not good enough.” I stopped singing as much as I normally did. I stopped accepting offers to sing at events. Pair this with the constant and enthusiastic praise I received on the off chance I did perform, and you’ve got one pretty confused young lady.
Now, some of this insecurity had to do with me being a bit of a perfectionist, but it also had to do with seeing potential in myself that I had not yet reached or that I felt discouraged about reaching at all. Everyone, I’m sure, deals with the frustrations of “not being there yet.”
But what does my lack of confidence have to do with praise?
As can be expected, religion has changed my life, and the way I look at my talents. Now that I have reached my ‘wisely foolish’ second year at Bryn Athyn College of the New Church, the pieces have just started fitting together. Here’s what I found out:
Everything that is good comes from the Lord. This is a very simple idea, one that I’m sure does not come as a surprise to anyone reading this. In fact, it did not even take any collegiate level religion courses for me to know that one. But what I did discover is that this ‘simple idea’ is immensely powerful. And here’s why: let’s just assume that my talents are ‘good,’ and since all good comes from the Lord, then my talents must be from the Lord and not from me. Again, this probably isn’t the most mind blowing thing you’ve read all day. However, it has turned out to be extremely comforting and important, because it gives purpose to my performance. I should not sing because it makes me feel good, or because it makes people like me better, or because I am lauded for my efforts. I should sing because my voice is a gift from the Lord that makes other people happy. This lead to the answer to all my problems: the fact is, people enjoy listening to me sing at the level I am at now, so depriving them of enjoying it because I’m “not there yet” is, I think, misusing the Lord’s gift and therefore has actually very little to do with me at all!
Unfortunately, as I started to look at my talents through this lens, I was faced with another dilemma. I now felt frustrated and upset when people complimented me, because all I could think was “but this isn’t me, it belongs to the Lord!” However, as I said, praise can be useful. We are asked to praise the Lord and do so repeatedly through music, prayer, and grateful rejoicing. And as long as it is not taken too far, it is good for us to praise others as well because it helps us recognize the good in others and gives us a way of expressing approbation and appreciation for that good. In reality, praising something good is indirectly praising the Lord anyway! It is also a way of encouraging each other to continue pursuing our gifts.
One thing I have learned both from experience and from my extensive contemplation of praise is that it can be better in the end to be thanked, rather than praised, for what you’ve done. If I think someone plays the guitar extremely well, I could simply tell them how wonderful I think they are at playing the guitar. But this is merely stating an opinion or fact. If, instead, I thank them for playing, then I am expressing my appreciation for the sharing of their talent, while also acknowledging all the hard work that has gone into preparations for the performance. What is even more meaningful and fun is when people point out something specific you did that they enjoyed, because that can help you learn what people like, in addition to being encouraging!
All this being said, I do not want to sound ungrateful or to give the impression that I think praise is evil or anything of the sort. It is incredibly kind of people to say anything at all about my performance and the performance of others, regardless of what is said it is extremely nice to be acknowledged at all! So thank you, on behalf of all artists, for your continued support.