Back-handed Compliments – How You Know You’re on the Right Track
HB and I attended a road race last weekend. But we weren’t running. We volunteered. The event was a benefit for a non-profit I support, and this was a way we could contribute to the cause.
During the post-race cleanup, one of the organizers gave me an assignment I could only take as a compliment… even if it wasn’t directly meant as one.
But it got me thinking. I’m pushing 60, and people regularly ask me to do stuff they’d never ask of someone they consider “old.” Or they don’t bat an eye when I offer to take on tasks they’d never let an old guy do.
Like this race’s organizer. HB and I arrived just after 5:30 AM to pitch in. She worked till about 8:30, when she had another engagement. I was free, so I stuck around to help clean up.
Most of the work was done, but there were a couple of unpopular jobs left to do. The organizer – probably 10 years my junior – asked if I’d pick up the traffic barriers. There were 15 of them spread out along the length of the course. They were sawhorse-type arrangements about 8’ long.
To me, that was a huge compliment. I’d already put in almost 4 hours, and this younger guy had enough confidence to ask me to handle a physically demanding task. You don’t do that with someone you see as old or weak.
I have the same experience when I’m helping out at the theater. Nobody thinks twice anymore about asking me to help haul furniture or break down a set.
So the old guy jumped in a pick-up and drove around breaking down barriers and loading them in the back of the truck. And it really was no big deal.
But a couple of years ago, when I was fat and out of shape, everyone handled me with kid gloves. “Don’t ask MS to do it. It’s too much for him.” Now nobody worries.
It’s these back-handed compliments that tell me I’m on the right track. Because they’re requests people don’t think about. They just assume I can do whatever the task is.
And that feels pretty good. I like not being treated as if I’m fragile. And I get a lot of satisfaction watching younger guys run out of steam before I do.
I guess this is a little like a 30-year-old woman getting carded at a bar. It’s someone telling me they think I look younger than I really am.
I think you’ll enjoy it, too.
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