Exciting news, folks — I’m done with my freshman year of college! And I’ve been indulging in the successes that’s brought, including awards and good grades and just time to rest up. That being said, I wanted to talk about something I’ve felt really odd about in the past few weeks.
Society raised me (and probably you, too) to be extremely productive. Why? To contribute to the world in a powerful way, or to leave a mark, or to be successful and live in an expensive house and wear expensive clothes. It wasn’t something I ever decided I wanted. I was just told to do more and be more. I never questioned it.
Today, productivity makes me feel good about myself. I knock out a few hefty assignments or freelance articles and feel a rush of pride for the work I did. I’m not saying that’s entirely unhealthy, and that’s not the focus of the blog post today.
I’ve been feeling weird because when I share my triumphs with other people, I usually get one of the following responses…
- “I’m so proud of you!”
- “That’s my [insert relation to me here]!”
- “We did it!”
- “I knew you could do it!”
These aren’t necessarily bad responses. Yes, I appreciate pride and celebration of my successes! But notice that in each of these statements, the person congratulating me is including themselves in the sentence. “I,” “my,” “we.” There is something wrong with this, and I’ll tell you why.
I was raised to be high-achieving. While I’m grateful that I’ve grown up to be a hard worker, I have always been the kid or friend or cousin or student who accomplished great things for the image of someone else. I am the good daughter who makes the parent look good. I am the smart friend who makes the friend group look smart. I am the well-rounded student who makes the class look well-rounded.
The people who pushed me to do well, although with good intentions, asked me to go above and beyond in a way that boosted their own image. “You’re such a good parent/friend/teacher, you have such a great child/friend/student.” This is unhealthy. I had a lot of weight on my shoulders to carry someone else’s image and very little time to examine what success meant for me. This is largely from a few sources, one of which was being placed in the “gifted” program as an elementary student.
I never felt that my achievements were satisfactory enough because I was surrounded by other “high-achievers.” I was sold the idea of high performance and being a childhood prodigy and competing for good grades. While there is definitely something to surrounding yourself with people above your skill level, there is something horribly wrong with telling a child they are better than other children and expecting them to excel at everything.
Being a “gifted kid” was something for my parents and friends and teachers to boast about. Everything I did, it wasn’t just for me to be proud of, but for society to applaud. This is why writing (although something I love) can feel less like my art and more like a chore of being. I constantly found ways to be “different” as a kid because I was tired of being placed in the “gifted” box.
People comment all the time about how humble I am. I think I come across as humble because I grew tired of expectations set on me as a child, not because I didn’t appreciate my own achievements.
Today, I have a problem with naming and claiming my own value and success because of this conditioning. People in my life have always wanted to claim my success first. I’m working on doing what I love for me, not for others, and choosing to own my success for myself and myself alone. A mantra I’ve chosen is, “Others do not own my accomplishments and never will. I choose my actions, and I claim the results.”
While it is a journey, it feels good to be empowered by my choices rather than to shy away from any praise. My skills and abilities are my own. I am proud of myself. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I’m awesome.