An Open Letter About Compliments from Someone Who Hates Open Letters

To the friend who complimented me at Starbucks last week,

You complimented me on my confidence, and I don't think you know how nice that was. It was really, really nice. It was instantly-make-it-into-the-top-five-best-compliments-I've-ever-received nice, right up there with "your face reminds me of sunshine," "you magical, sparkly unicorn of glory," and "I'm pretty sure anyone in this cast would do you sober" (back before I believed that I'm beautiful). You said my level of confidence is substantiated and refreshing, and I felt myself blush, waved my hands, said it was mostly bluster when I display it, and came back with a compliment for you.

A couple of hours later, I realized that it seemed like I had just blown off what you said, and then said something nice because you said something nice first. And I don't know if you saw it that way, or if you've thought of this interaction at all since. Which is a major part of the reason I'm putting this in a blog post as opposed to just saying it to you. #awkward. But I wanted to put it out there because, at the very least, I've been thinking about it a lot for the past week.

It was such a lovely thing to say because my confidence is something I've been working hard on over the past few years, and I'm proud of it. I get compliments about my looks on a semi-regular basis, and they're all very kind, but they're usually about the accident of my genetics. They're easy to graciously accept because they don't involve any kind of major insight on the part of the person giving them. It's always appreciated, but it's not like I did any work to grow my eyes.

But my confidence is still something I struggle with every day. Most days I have good days with it now. I do believe that I'm pretty, and I like what I see when I look in the mirror. I know that I'm intelligent, and I keep reading books and seeking out friends (like you!) who stimulate and challenge me to keep growing. I understand that I'm funny because I make smart people laugh.

There's a huge difference, though, between intellectually getting all of this and emotionally accepting it.

When I first started auditioning after college, I was quiet and polite. Absolutely nothing about me stood out. And I was only okay as an actress. So I really wasn't getting anywhere. I got my first callback after an audition where I had already been having a good day, so that followed me in to the audition room, and I realized that, if I don't show my personality, then I'll never be cast in anything. And if they don't like my personality? Well, that was a major worry of mine, but if I don't show anything I'll also never be cast, so it was a risk I was literally forced to take.

But I was into such nerdy stuff and spent most of my grade school life being liked, but rarely as much more than an acquaintance, that I didn't think anyone would really like me. I've had to pretend that I'm not terrified to show who I am for years now. And I've gotten better at it, to the point where I almost never have a problem anymore. But it's always there in the background, the only part of me in which I assume "real adults" are interested. I have to fight it every day, and It's a source of great pride for me that, most of the time, I win and can be my ridiculous, vivacious, pun-loving self.

So when you saw past my obvious positive attributes to compliment something truly meaningful to me, I just didn't know how to handle it. It's not often that anyone feels really seen, but there in that Starbucks, I felt under the spotlight, far more so than I have ever been on stage or screen, in the best possible way.

This whole post is my long, complicated, deeply-over-intellectualized way of saying thank you. The original interaction may not have meant much to you. This may be a way over the top form of thanks. I honestly don't know.

But it was really sweet, and even if it was just an everyday conversation to you, it meant the world to me. It's something I really care about, and I love that you saw it and believe in it, too. So thank you.

You da best.

Emma