I’m a huge offender of this, I’m not going to pretend I’m not.
You ever have someone look at your work and tell you how beautiful it is or how comment on how complicated it must be or how they could never do something like that? And what is our default response? Certainly not ‘thank you’.
Oh it’s not hard!
Of course you could!
Oh I’ve just got more time for it!
It’s just x! (X being string, paint, swords, metal, ink, wood, whatever your art form is.)
I know when I do it I’m trying to be encouraging. Or I just don’t see it as hard because that’s how my brain works. For example, I show my husband weaving drafts where I can clearly see what the cloth will look like. It’s a graph after all, with the pattern of the cloth in the center. He looks at me like I’ve got six heads, even though he can look at the blue print and see a completed house where I see a bunch of lines and measurements. He can show me a plumbing diagram, and while I kinda get it I couldn’t follow it. Same for me showing him clothing patterns. Neither of us are dumb, we’re both visual people, it’s a matter of what we’re used to seeing.
That being said, dismissing what we do as a matter of ‘just learning’ does a disservice to people for whom it just doesn’t click. I can not paint. Full stop. I can draft a complicated clothing pattern on the fabric itself, without paper, cut it out, and have it fit. But my painting skills are blobs. I just can not use a brush. Painting is magic. When people offer to teach me (again) or tell me how I could do it if I’d just had the time, it’s frustrating. Trying makes me want to cry. I understand color theory, I know the mechanics of how it should work, there is no logical reason why I can’t. But there you have it.
There will always be people to whom what you do without apparently effort is the epitome of Magic that they will never master. No matter how much they may want to or how many times they’ve tried to pick it up. And brushing off their praise as ‘it’s just x’ isn’t helpful to anyone.
One of the hardest things for me to learn is that it is not conceited to say “thank you, this was a lot of time and effort.”
Acknowledging your skill is not bad, wrong, or rude. Even if it is something that comes naturally to you, acknowledging that it may be difficult for other people isn’t being a discouraging bad person. With that in mind may I present some alternatives?
“Wow, I could never do something like that!”
Instead of “Of course you could!” try “Have you tried before? What discouraged you that time?”
“That must have taken forever to do!”
Instead of “No, it’s super fast.” try “I can see where it looks like it, if you’re interested I can show you how it works.”
“That looks so hard.”
Instead of “It’s easy, it’s just x.” try “Thank you, it took a while for it to click.”
Here’s the super hard part. If someone says they tried to do something, and they just can’t do it? Even if its something that is easy as breathing for you? Take their word for it and gracefully accept their praise in the manner in which it is intended. If they want to try again, great! Teach them! If not? Don’t rub in that something they find impossible is something you can do without thinking.
One thought on “On Difficulty”
Good points, all. Thankfully I learned a long time ago to accept praise – I’d read an article by a gentleman who was most frustrated with especially women’s seemingly innate need to reject praise. I’ve never got a response like «you’re just so full of it» when I accept praise (thank you! It’s so wonderful to meet people who can appreciate what I’ve done), rather I’ve got the resonse that they’re delighted to meet someone who doesn’t brush it off.