A friend of mine was once editing a site featuring various women in the creative arts community and had to get approval from all of them for their bios. She mentioned that when she received their notes for the changes they wanted addressed, none of them had anything to do with something being factually incorrect. The only edits they requested were to remove complimentary language in relation to their accomplishments.
What is it that makes us feel that we should shy away from definitively owning our successes? As much as I was flabbergasted hearing the story, it made me stop and think of all the times in my life that I have felt uncomfortable publicly laying claim to something good I had done. Is it the oft repeated “pride cometh before a fall” that resonates in the back of our minds? (Although I’m told the actual proverb is “pride goeth before destruction,” which is just as unpleasant to hear.) But why does pride automatically equate with arrogance to so many of us, or fear that others will see it that way, and why do we allow others to dictate the definition of our personal success? And why, when we try to take ownership of how we feel, do people feel the need to silence us?
I used to post statuses on Facebook anytime I hopped a flight anywhere. I would ask for people to send good juju when I was boarding, and when I landed I’d update everyone that I had arrived safely at my destination. My fear of flying can be utterly debilitating at times and the act of getting on a plane and not having a panic attack en route made me feel enormously successful. And I felt justified in acknowledging it, because regardless of the fact that some people fly anywhere at any time without a second thought, I do not and probably never will. The act of finding ways to quell my fear can be incredibly difficult and every time I manage to do it, I feel accomplished. I have every right to feel that way.
But this should extend to anything that makes us feel good, whether it be our abilities that get displayed out in the world or our personal triumphs. Getting on an elevator and not having a meltdown is a huge success for anyone battling claustrophobia. Being given a promotion at work should be celebrated, but so can finally honing in on the perfect lipstick! Recently I was excited about getting published by a media outlet I had long admired, and giddily talked about it with a few friends. Later, one of my friends told me that it was better to wait for people to notice that I had been picked up by that notable publication — to sit back and wait to be congratulated or noticed rather than to draw attention to what I had accomplished. “You have to play it cool,” he reprimanded me. “You look like a novice when you shout it from the rooftops. And it’s too self congratulatory.”
I felt deflated and defensive, like a small child being scolded for eating all the cookies. But then I felt angry. Who was he to tell me how I should feel about something I worked hard for? Why can’t any of us be self congratulatory when we’ve set a goal, spent our time focusing on it, done our due diligence, and achieved the outcome we desired? Why should I have to pretend to feel “chill” about something that made me ecstatically happy? To pretend otherwise would be false and disingenuous, and that’s not the kind of person I want to be. I don’t think anyone should have to. If you are excited about something good that has happened to you, I am saying that you don’t look like a novice when you shout it from the rooftops. You look genuine and happy, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, nor should someone try to halt you from feeling that way. Or make you think you’re coming across as arrogant. Did anyone tell Emily Nussbaum and Lin-Manuel Miranda to play it cool when they won Pulitzers this week? I doubt it. And not that we’re all going to be winning Pulitzers obviously, but we are going to achieve milestones that are meaningful, and stoic is not usually how we’re going to feel about it, nor should we.
For a long time I did believe that an accomplishment didn’t count until someone else noticed it. Or I dabbled in impostor syndrome believing that even when I reached a goal, perhaps I didn’t quite deserve it and someone would realize that I didn’t. But I’m done with that way of thinking. I know I work hard. So many of us do. And we deserve to be proud of that. To openly take pride in all of our successes large and small, whatever they may be. Whether they are personal or professional and everything in between. However we wish to celebrate, it is our business and I don’t think anyone should try to silence that pride we have in ourselves, it should be encouraged.