Copyright 2008 by John T. Reed

You ought to be guided by your principles and your own likes and dislikes, not by what others say.

But there are some exceptions to that.

One is that compliments from those who are not prone to exaggerated praise or cheap compliments are a useful measure that you should consider in measuring your success in many areas of life.


For example, my wife and I have owned about 15 cars in my life. I only got unsolicited compliments on two of them: the first and the last. My first car was a gold ’68 Camaro which I bought in the spring of 1968, my senior year at West Point. Back then, the entire West Point senior class all bought their cars the same day. We got discounts as a result.

The car was no great shakes: three-speed, 6-cylinder engine with a floor stick shift, a gold interior, and an 8-track stereo system. But it was a big deal to us at the time so I spent far more time and thought making the selection that any car purchase since. The result was a car that strangers, relatives, and acquaintances felt compelled to comment was a very attractive car.

I hardly spent any time on my current car, a 2006 Lexus SC 430. That’s a two-seater, hard-top convertible. It is a very attractive car and both strangers and people I know tell me so. It’s also fun to drive because of various sports car features like special tires that grip the road better. I find myself taking the long way frequently because I like to drive it. I put about 50% more miles on it per year than I did previous cars because I drive more, take the long way often, and because it has become the car of choice for my wife and I when we go somewhere together. Previously, her Lexus 430 LS was our car of choice for joint drives.

My wife paid $700 extra to get her car shipped to California from Tennessee because she wanted a color—platinum blue metallic—that the head Lexus dealer in California had decreed would not be sold in California. (I have no idea why that Southern California dealer has the power to do such a thing or why he would, but he did.) I initially thought it was a silly extravagance, but again, we have received a number of unsolicited compliments from strangers and others on the color of the car.

My point here is that these compliments come from strangers, who do not normally compliment other strangers. They also come from people I know who I know are not cheap praise folks. Cheap praisers will compliment you on anything and everything. Some of them read your face and body language and dole out compliments based on how much they think you want one.

Cheap compliments are worth the price. They indicate nothing about your choice or talents. Ignore them.

I regret driving so many cars that did not elicit compliments from those who had out thoughtful compliments. Life is short. Cars are important. You spend a lot of your life in them and, whether you like it or not, they make a statement about you to everyone who sees them.

‘Nice shirt’

My youngest son was home from the University of Arizona for Thanksgiving in 2008 and commented to me one day “Nice shirt.” Mike is the kind of guy who throws compliments around as if they were manhole covers, that is, about once a decade.

The shirt in question was a “Sea blue ombre” Pendleton Zephyr cloth wool plaid one. It’s listed at $114 in their on-line catalog. The one currently in their catalog has button-through pockets. I don’t like those. Mine has flap pockets. They had no buttons so I had my alterations lady add velcro to each pocket flap so my wallet and cell phone don’t fall out when I bend over.

Impressed that my son was impressed, I have since bought another blue plaid Pendleton shirt. Of course, I would not have purchased either if I also did not like it. It was nice to have the external confirmation. Sometimes I think I look good in something, but no one else shares that opinion. If the purpose is to look good to others, you probably should give more weight to the opinions of the others who are not prone to cheap compliments. But I do still wear clothes where I like the way they look in spite of no compliments from others.


My wife and I spent more time looking for, designing, and rehabbing our current house than any other we owned. We had it built. No one else ever lived in it. It’s no award winner, but it is a compliment generator. We frequently get compliments from first-time visitors including deliverymen, subcontractors, acquaintances and relatives. They compliment the neighborhood sometimes and the house on other occasions.

You can see photographs of both and do a virtual tour of the neighborhood on line. Just type in my home address—342 Bryan Drive, Alamo, CA 94507—into Google Maps then select the “street view” link next to the photo of my house. To “drive” around the neighborhood, click on the white and blue arrows on the screen.

That gives you an incomplete impression. The neighborhood is extremely quiet because it is an all cul-de-sac neighborhood so all traffic is local residents. It is also hilly, which is probably not evident in the photos. Mount Diablo State Park is at the east end of my street. You can see that sort of stuff from the Google satellite view. The visual aspect of California weather is evident in the photos which appear to have been taken in the summer of 2007 or 2008. You also cannot see our slate roof, which is very unusual in our neighborhood, because of the sun reflecting off it. You cannot tellfrom the photos that our shutters are real and can be closed. But the Google photos give you the basic idea.

Before this house, the longest I ever lived anywhere was the four years I spent in college. We have lived here since 1983. The most important thing is that we love the house. But the unsolicited compliments confirm the value of the extraordinary amount of time we spent selecting its location and designing its appearance.

The interior also gets compliments on the big home office and the extraordinary amount of closet and other storage space. The builder said they never built a house with so many cable and phone outlets. The backyard also gets compliments. It is grass, which may not seem unusual. But as you can see from the satellite photos, our house is almost the only one in our neighborhood that has grass. The others all have pools and elaborate decks and gazebos. Our son and his wife held their wedding reception in our backyard. They probably could not have done that if we had filled the yard as our neighbors all have. The yard also facilitated playing catch and zillions of other childhood activities like slip-and-slides. We wanted it to be multi-purpose and we believe our neighbors made a mistake limiting theirs to one or two uses.

There have been other things in our lives that have solicited compliments. Friends and relatives who visited me at West Point and us at Harvard complimented the places above and beyond their public images of which they were aware before they arrived. The design of my newsletter has gotten compliments. Etc., Etc.

The point is that the decisions I have made that I enjoy the most are typically complimented on by others as well. That is a legitimate test. In almost every case, these situations are the product of:

• extraordinarily long preparation time before deciding
• extraordinary persistence in finding what you want
• extraordinary efforts to became informed about the subject in question before making the choice
• experience with the subject in question

We all tend to make too many half-assed decisions and not enough well-thought-out ones—especially with regard to career and spouse choice. But this is a problem that permeates our lives in clothing choices, school choices, car choice, and so on. It is one of the main points of focus in my Succeeding book.

It’s sort of the sentiment of the phrase “Jack of all trades; master of none.” It is also what is being said by football coaches when they say they want to run a relatively small number of plays, but execute them well rather than try to run a zillion different plays, but not be able to execute any of them well. It’s also what you read in books on how to dress when they tell you that you must first do an excellent job of acquiring the basics like a navy blazer, navy suit, and so on.

You should make fewer, better decisions about the various aspects of your life.