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I think the best compliment you can give a young person is to tell them how lovely their smile is.

I was checking into a hotel on a work trip recently, and the clerk was an older, Turkish man who was very kind and helpful.

Of course, I was being that customer who had errors on her reservation and had to run him through the mill several times before my card would work properly and all the dates of my stay were correct. (Travel Tip: Make reservations online, not over the phone.  And I try to avoid travel-planning sites and go straight to the source.)

The clerk kindly told me that my room was at the end of the hall, to the left, breakfast started at 6:30, and

You have a very lovely smile.

I both sputtered and blushed as I thanked him and scurried to my room.
(Yes, I think I can accurately say that I actually scurried.)

Now, in case you are wondering, it wasn’t creepy.  It may sound very forward, but trust me, wait until I tell the tale of the hotel clerk who was also a prince. ;-)

His gentle and kind compliment got me thinking (which is, of course, why you are now subjected to reading this).
I was an awkward child.  I was never the one with the great body, the athletic bent or social glamour.  I didn’t have money for or time for the cutest clothes or accessories, and no one was going to tell me that I was supposed to waste one of my precious hours of sleep to get up early and do my hair and make-up.  Ponytails and t-shirts were perfectly fine, thank you very much.

Maybe it was growing up between my brothers or alongside the Olsen twins, but I was not sheltered from the fact that I was not stereotypically pretty.  (If that had bothered me, I suppose I would have traded in on that sleep?).  I have never been one to care much about fluff or sugar-coating, so I didn’t regularly seek approval of what I wore or how I appeared.  I took objective note about myself and went on, because there were simply things I cared about more.

Now, let’s be real here, of course I was an insecure child/preteen/even adult.  No one wants to look fat in her prom dress or called names by the jocks, and there were times when I was sensitive of things like that.  But here’s the point.

I didn’t seek compliments like this, and I didn’t often get them.  And (or?) when I did, I often quickly became skeptical or brushed them off, because those words weren’t for me to keep for everyday use.  I didn’t ask for them, so I wasn’t prepared to take them in – and often I didn’t even want them (they were so illogical!).

However.

People were always telling me they loved my smile.  How it just lit up the room when I sang at church, how it struck or stunned them, or how it made them smile as well.  This comment was such a consistent part of my life from such a variety of sources that I had to believe it.  I had to own it.  And heck, if it was making other people smile and feel loved, I had to use it.

And so, I did.  I’m still not sure that I ever thought my smile was pretty, but I knew that it had this sort of power, a power like no other that I possessed.  As I continued to grow up and continued to grin as regularly as possible, people would call me Elf:

I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite!

Once, I was working as a student in our college admissions office, I was complimented (in the usual fashion) by a couple of visiting parents.  Their enthusiasm was so warm that I needed to verbally process it to one of my coworkers.

I mean, I know I smile a lot, and that always makes people feel at home, but it’s not like it’s actually stunning.

My boss, of course, takes that moment to walk out and look at me seriously and say,

Oh, it is.

and return to her office.

And then this clerk.

I continue to hear this in my life, in a time when I have finally learned the feminine grace of a good sundress and how-in-the-world to use a mascara brush.  Clerks at hotels who have a much better reason to hurry a disorganized visitor on her way do not need to stop and come up with a physical compliment when she is just trying to be as easygoing as possible.  Bosses don’t have to stop their work to reaffirm a childhood asset.

This could turn into an even longer post about the power of positivity.  About how to properly instill self-confidence.  About how we just need to smile more. (I mean, we could obviously totally just stop and talk about how pretty I am if you want to.)

But really, I think what I learned most – even more than how a smile is the most attractive (and cheapest!) accessory – is that letting someone know how great it is to see them smile is the best gift you can give them.  It makes people like us want to smile.  It makes us take the time to see the positive side, the small funny things that busy people forget to laugh at, and the soul nearby who just needs the warmth of a friendly face.

So look around today, and notice a beautiful smile.  And then share it.

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