There was a recent thread on Facebook about how to better say something to someone by whom you are impressed than saying "Why aren't you a Laurel?" (Note, this could apply to any Peerage but for an example here I will discuss this from an artisan's point of view.) I think I lost track of how many people said that to me, or who introduced me to others as a Laurel about a decade ago. I will note that I always found it to be a very high form of flattery. It did not, however, make me self-doubt in any way, because it should not, and let me explain why below.
First, it is important to understand how Peers are recognized in the SCA. This requires any number of things and the variables are beyond endless. Typically, many letters are written in on behalf of someone. People speak to the Order and the Crown about this candidate's feats. The Order will spend time discussing the merits of the candidate and also, their PLQs (Peer Like Qualities). Do they have the skills? Do they have the research/knowledge? Do they have some reach beyond their local group (remember, this is an award given by the Kingdom)? Do they share their work and teach in some manner? Do they inspire in others a desire to do more or strive for better? Regarding the PLQs, do they show courtesy, even under stress? Are they a model of the Chivalric values that the SCA holds high? Will they represent the Kingdom and Order well?
The Order is typically, at some point, polled to see who they think should be welcomed in their ranks and that information is passed on to the Royals. In the end, it is a call made by TRM as to whether someone will be given a writ or not. Someone also might be granted the honor with no polling. It is crucial to keep that factor in mind. This is, after all, a monarchy and that is part of the game we all play when we attend events.
Awards and recognition are indeed part of this game, but they are not, and never should be, the entire sum of someone's worth as an artisan.
So yes, there is a great deal of consideration that goes into the recognition of a Peer. It takes time and the factors that are involved are pretty much endless. Know that often, there is much that also goes on that you never see. Perhaps the person who inspired you does not often teach or share their work very much. Perhaps they need further work on their research, which you, as someone new to that particular craft, might not understand. Perhaps there are simply other candidates that are much stronger, more well-rounded, or more "ready" (for lack of a better term). Ideally, the Order itself will be working with an individual to help them improve on all of these. After all, the real purpose of the Order of the Laurel is not, to me, to sit around and poll people, but rather to improve the arts and assist growing artisans to the benefit of the Kingdom and the Society as a whole.
So, knowing all of that, there are so many reasons why someone might not yet belong to an Order. Many of these are out of their control. Being asked "Why aren't you a Laurel?" can be very, very awkward and it honestly is an impossible question for someone to answer. When we ask this question though, what we really are meaning to do is to compliment him or her. So that, perhaps is the best thing we can do when we are inspired. Share with them what you think of their art or research or teaching. Tell them the did something that helped you learn, grow or want to try something new. And then, at the end of the day, please go an write to that candidate's Order and to TRM. Share the word of how they inspired you with those who might not have seen the wonderful art or acts that you witnessed.
To sum this all up:
Please don't ask why someone is not yet a Peer. It can sometimes make people feel as if they missed a mark, when all you intended is to share with them how inspired you are. It is also a question that they cannot actually answer.
Please don't feel lessened in any way if this question is directed at you and you do not have an answer. It means only that the asker thinks quite highly of your skill or service.
Please do tell them they made a difference to you.
Please do tell them they inspired you.
Please do let them know they taught you something of value.
And, just as importantly, please do write in a letter of recommendation for them.