Pride. Modesty. Confidence. Humility.
In our society, we're constantly exposed to so many mixed messages—particularly directed at girls and women, though also to boys and men to some extent—about how to feel, how to behave, what to say and what not to say. We're told "love yourself", yet we also get the (sometimes unspoken) message that expressing pride (AKA "bragging") is somehow inappropriate, or hurtful to others. So how can we strike the perfect balance? Does such a perfect balance even exist between healthy pride and humility?
Maybe, maybe not. But it's a question that is relevant to most of us at various points in our lives, so for today's blog post I thought I'd assemble some of my experiences, advice, and thoughts on the matter.
First and foremost, I like to think of reality. It's a fact that you're going to make mistakes sometimes and be disappointed. It's also a fact that you're going to be successful and be excited sometimes. Accomplishments are part of being human, no matter how "modest" you are about it.... so why not embrace your accomplishments? That's not to say you shouldn't acknowledge that sometimes you aren't so proud of yourself for things (that's just as much a part of being human!), but recognize that both are a part of life, and that there's nothing wrong with acknowledging the reality of both.
On a practical level, sometimes being able to do a little healthy "bragging" about your merits is necessary. I've been applying to colleges lately. This process is stressful in plenty of ways, but for me, from creating a resume to writing am essay about the assets I'd bring to a university community, painting myself in a positive light has been remarkably hard. I catch myself second-guessing every positive thing I write about myself. I'm not really better than anyone else applying to college, after all, am I? Do I seem like I'm showing off? So I sound like I'm giving a false, blown-up impression of my achievements? Am I, in fact, bragging?
Last month, I participated in a scholarship competition. Part of the competition involved an interview, and one of the questions I was asked was "Why do you think you deserve this award?" The question didn't come as a huge surprise, but even so, it was by far the hardest thing for me to answer that day, and it made me wonder why this was so hard for me. Part of my hesitancy to "brag" is perhaps due to worrying about inadvertantly harming someone else's self-esteem (I'll get to that later), but in the interview setting, the only people listening to me were people who were there, among other things, for the express purpose of finding out about my accomplishments! Yes I still found it a challenge even to try to "sell" myself on my strengths.
As it turned out, I didn't get that scholarship. Would I have gotten it if I had been more self-assertive and confident? Probably not—I doubt that one question would have made the difference. But that interview question was no exception to the norm. Whether applying for a scholarship, writing a personal statement or essay for a college application, or trying to get a job, sooner or later, this is something that's going to come up for all of us. And in these instances, not only is self-promotion not a bad thing, sometimes it can be all but essential. We might as well get practice in sooner rather than later!
But unfortunately, society often tells us differently. Ever been excited about something but tried to suppress it? Or noticed someone else doing this? Of course, there are times when doing so is kind or make sense—but when "sometimes" because "usually" or even "all the time", that's where problems can set in. Which, setting aside personal self-interest and necessity/practicality, brings me to my next point.
Being proud of something isn't rude or selfish. As one of five siblings who don't always get along without a little competiveness, I'm well acquainted with tension regarding what's "bragging" and what isn't. But being open about your accomplishments isn't the same as boasting. Plus, you're not the only one who benefits from that openness. When we see people around us undermining their achievements, it can send the message that we should do the same. The good news is that this phenomenon works both ways! When you share your good news, you're not just communicating your own happiness, you're also communicating to others that it's okay to feel happy about things you did, and to share it with others. For better or worse, when you're with other people, they're going to tend to notice what you do or say—or what you don't do or say. I can tell you right now that there is someone out there who is struggling with insecurity over their accomplishments. Maybe you can be the one to inspire them, to set an example, to reassure them that justified pride is absolutely okay.
But chances are, you know from experience that that's not always true. Maybe you've had a friend whose self-esteem took a hit when they found out you did better on a test. Maybe you've been that friend.
There's a time and a place for everything—but it's not always the right time or place. There's nothing wrong with celebrating getting an A+ on that essay—but if you're sitting next to your friend who you know has been upset about her grade, is now the best moment? Self-pride is vital, but so is empathy. There will always be people who will overreact or be jealous of your accomplishments without justification, but being aware of how others might feel as a result of what you say will pay huge dividends, for you and for your friends, coworkers (when you're older), family, etc.. There's no foolproof algorithm, but generally speaking, just trying to be sensitive and respectful can make all the difference. Imagine yourself in someone else's place, and think of the effect your words might have. Perhaps, consider rewording your statement. There's a subtle but significant difference between saying "I did really well on my Spanish quiz!" and saying "I did better than everyone else in the class on my Spanish quiz!" Make sure the focus is on what you did—not on what others didn't do.
But what about when you're not the one who's feeling proud? What about when it's your sibling, your friend, or your neighbor celebrating their accomplishments? When you want to be happy for them, but you can't help but feel inferior in comparison? Or when they really do seem like a "braggart", and that attitude is grating on you? If they really are being rude, you can try talking to them about it; open communication is such situations is important. However, sometimes we know that they're not really doing anything wrong—but we can't help but feel somehow diminished. Unfortunately, self-comparison is something that many of us (myself included) engage in, intentionally or otherwise. Sometimes this tendency reveals itself in friendly rivalry or competition—other times, it can rear its ugly head in insecurity when those around you seem to be successful.
I'm planning a blog post all about self-comparison, jealousy, and competition (stay tuned for that in a month or two!), so I won't go into this in too much detail now. The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that "success" is an incredibly relative term—and life isn't a competition. Maybe someone else got straight As this semester, whereas you have Bs and Cs—but maybe you're an incredibly talented musician, while they can't sing to save their life. Maybe you didn't make the basketball team, but you're a great cook. Or maybe your cousin excels in math, but has trouble writing a cohesive essay. The fact is, we're all different people, each with our own strengths and our own weaknesses, and I guarantee that every person out there is better than you at something... and not as good as you at something else. And you know what? Your skill, your knowledge, and your worth as a human being isn't impacted by how good someone else is at something. If you're a fantastic violinist, you're still a fantastic violinist no matter whether there's another fantastic violinist out there too.
In summary, it's awesome to celebrate your successes (and it's not always "bragging" to be realistic!), but bear in mind how others might feel. It's wonderful to celebrate other people's successes, and your achievements aren't made more or less by what someone else achieved. Success is subjective, and life isn't a competition.
This is an issue that most of us have probably experienced in one dimension or another, so please share your thoughts in the comments below! Have you ever felt pressured to undermine your achievements, or struggled with feeling diminished by another person's self-pride? What are your opinions regarding the mixed messages we get from our culture? When you're happy with yourself or someothing you did, how do you like to respectfully express it?
As always, please share your thoughts below—and your comment might be included in an upcoming issue of New Moon Girls magazine! (Speaking of which, it's definitely not bragging to nominate yourself—or any other girl—as a Beautiful Girl!)