Taking Soothing as a Compliment

Megan Eckman's portrait of Minna and her nephew
Portrait of Minna and her nephew by Megan Eckman

In college, when the boy next door told me he had a crush on me, I thought he was joking, and I told him so. And then, poor guy, when he shook his head and indicated that he was serious, I retorted, “And how long have you been having this problem?”

Since then I like to think that I’ve come a long way in the direction of being more skilled at accepting positive feedback to my existence in the world. But there is one thing that until recently still made me cringe internally: people telling me that they found my voice to be soothing.

I would smile and say, “Thank you,” (see how much better I’ve gotten) but on the inside my response was more like this:

“Yuck! You clearly don’t understand what my voice is all about. I’m about waking people up. I’m about raising a ruckus. I’m about getting people empowered and enraged and ready to rumble. I’m about making people ponder their innermost assumptions. My songs are clever and intellectually stimulating and sophisticated and if you think they are ‘soothing’ then clearly you just don’t get it. I mean, soothing? Soothing is numbing, escapist, milquetoast. It’s deadening and suppressing and definitely neither intellectual nor stimulating. You think my voice is ‘soothing?!?’ Well, frankly, that makes me think less of you.”

And then, when I was finishing up my last studio album and amped up on creative juices and curious about what might be next for me and my music, I kept having people suggest that my next album should be an album of lullabies, because, y’know the whole soothing thing.

And I decided that maybe it was time to take this input as a genuine compliment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you should trust others’ judgments of you and your specific talents, strengths, or weaknesses more than your own assessments. But if people keep giving you the same feedback over the course of years and years, it might be time to at least explore the possibility that there is something to it. And this is even more true when what the people are telling you is that they want MORE of this quality they experience in you.

I think some of my openness to this idea of my voice as soothing might also have something to do with the fact that I was starting to think more about good sources of soothing in my own life. And I began to realize that the things that truly soothe me — walking in nature, hugs from my hubby, swimming, knitting, and yes, singing to myself — are not escapist or numbing or any of the other negative things I assumed were contained in the very idea of soothing.

True soothing allows me to be more, not less, awake to the present moment — more willing to be in the world as it is.

Once I opened up to the idea that soothing could in fact be something that I had to offer the world, I felt that I had found a deep and untapped well of vitality in my singing and songwriting.

It feels like such a blessing that so many people over so many years saw (and heard) in me what I was not yet ready to accept in myself — as if they kept this wonderful potential alive until I was ready to embrace it.

And now the soothing songs just keep pouring out.

2 thoughts on “Taking Soothing as a Compliment

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I had a similar experience in my life. I was always called “sweetie” or cute. It used to bother me too, especially when I wanted to be taken seriously. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love being called sweet (it’s even in my website’s tagline!). It makes me feel approachable and kind.

  2. This is really interesting!

    I don’t really experience this sort of thing except when people say how young I look (I’m 25 and people commonly assume I’m 15/16). This isn’t a compliment – particularly when I’m really hungry to be taken seriously and to have a much stronger presence. But everyone I keep meeting – especially women – assume that being called young (when I’m already young) should make me happy because 20 years from now I’ll be “happy” to be thought of as young. Which is irrational – there aren’t any tangible perks or inherent useful qualities to youthfulness).

    So I think it’s really cool that people think your voice is so soothing. I’ve never received a compliment about my voice before! (I rarely get compliments anyway).

    I enjoyed this post!

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