In the field of music, I feel that there is a somewhat prominent complex about learning how to take a compliment. On one hand, if you accept it without question, you fear coming off as pompous and expecting of praise. On the other hand, if you doubt the compliment, you risk appearing insecure and possibly disrespectful to the person giving you the compliment. Personally, I often struggle with knowing exactly how to respond when given a compliment about my playing, my stage presence, or anything relating to music. Are they just saying this to be nice? Do they feel bad for me? These are questions and doubts that often play over and over in my mind in these situations. I feel that young musicians often have such low self esteem that it is nearly impossible for them to hear a good response to their playing because they are so used to everyone being so critical about it. I also believe that it is important to be humble, but you must uphold a certain degree of confidence to back that up so that you don't begin to self-sabotage your career because you feel that you aren't worthy. Every one of you reading this right now, no matter your age or career path, is good enough to succeed in your own field. One of my favorite quotes from my current professor at BGSU is "there is room for you out there", meaning that there will always be a place for you in the field of music. Believing it may be difficult sometimes, but it is crucial that you have confidence in your abilities. People are drawn to confidence, and people remember confident, poised people that they meet.
I personally have had to work a lot on building up my self confidence. My freshman year of college was very emotionally difficult. Like many high school superstars, I had to go through a rather drastic ego check. I came from being one of the top high school flutists in the state of Michigan to the bottom of my studio in college. It was hard for me to watch others get performance opportunities and win competitions when I would be sitting in the audience wishing I was up there performing, or watching them win as I lost. My self esteem plummeted and it took me nearly a year to build it up to where it is today. I still struggle with it a great deal. I am telling this because I know that many, many other students are either going through or went through the same thing I did. Music school can be absolutely soul crushing at times, especially when you invest so much emotionally in things like performing competitively and establishing a name for yourself and things don't always work in your favor. In high school, I would receive compliments as if they were a text message popping up on my phone (quite a frequent occurrence, if you know me). I took them for granted. I was never rude but I certainly could have been more humble. Now, whenever I receive a compliment, my automatic instinct is to overanalyze that person's motives and if it were genuine or not. This all relates back to how much you believe in yourself and your abilities. If you don't believe in yourself, why will anyone else? It seems like a harsh truth, but it is extremely true.
My advice for taking compliments is to always smile and say thank you. Sometimes, that is enough of a response. If you always return the compliment, or find yourself searching for something to compliment about the other person in response, it may come off not very genuine. If you say "thank you" and then precede to list off all of the things that went wrong in your performance or anything negative about what that person was complimenting you on, you may come off as rude and ungrateful. To you, it may seem like you are being humble, but to them, it sounds like you aren't accepting their compliment. The best way to handle a compliment if you aren't sure on what to say is always being genuinely appreciative and gracious. No matter how big of a name the person is (i.e. Jeanne Baxtresser or a middle school flutist you met at a clinic), compliments are extremely meaningful and you must treat each as such. After all, who doesn't love hearing positive feedback about themselves? It is an extra little reminder that you are loved. :)