I observe myself in the mirror, critical as ever.
I sometimes wonder whether I have a distorted perception of myself. Do others see me the way I see myself? We sometimes read stories about people with pathologically skewed self-perception, don‘t we? And I wonder: am I one of those people? Am I, in fact, a totally different person?
Maybe I‘d be proud of myself if I‘d be able to see myself from outside my bubble of self-perception? My mother is proud of my, my boyfriend is too, and so are my friends. Sometimes I‘m even proud of myself. But usually I find that very difficult, indeed.
Pride is not a dominant emotion in my life. To be honest, most of the time my attention is on all the things that I could do better, or that could be better. There always seems to be so much room for improvement.
“Pride is the feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired”
Instead of feeling satisfied after a full week of intense work, proud that I pulled through, I am annoyed about all the things I didn‘t manage to squeeze in.
Instead of being proud of myself after a 10 km run, that I forced myself to go on on a Sunday, instead of acknowledging that I overcame my inertia and braved the rainy, cold Berlin weather, I am left feeling dissatisfied that I didn‘t manage a brisker pace.
Instead of being proud of my well-trained body, and the shapely muscles that I worked so hard for, I am annoyed about the fat I still see in some regions, and that I don‘t seem to be able to rid myself of, no matter what.
Instead of being proud of the fact that I have done really well professionally, constantly and for a good few years by now, I tend to focus on the missed opportunities and the potential that I‘m still not realizing.
This inability to be proud of my achievements is in equal measures blessing and curse. It pushes me, spurs me on, but also leaves me dissatisfied with every new peak I reach. What good is all the striving if there is never a sense of accomplishment? What good is the pursuit of happiness, if this happiness remains out of reach forever. Am I pursuing a dream that is unattainable like the proverbial carrot on a stick?
Can you relate to this feeling at all?
Why is it sometimes so damn hard for us to be proud of ourselves?
In my case, this disposition is probably rooted in my childhood, at least to a degree. Praise, especially praise of oneself, was frowned upon. Pride and confidence was automatically interpreted as arrogance. Pride was not seen as a virtue. And in my rare moments of pride about a particular achievement, my head was quickly pulled „out of the clouds“, and my achievements often enough belittled. „It wasn‘t that much of a big deal“, after all, was it? And these were not words by strangers, this was the culture in my family and circle of friends.
My friends deemed it important to make sure I „didn‘t lose touch“, that I „didn‘t act like more than I was“, maybe out of a latent fear of being left behind. And my parents were ambitious to a point where a 2 in maths (the second highest grade in Germany) was not met with praise or appreciation, but rather frowns and the question: „Why not a 1?“ And if I brought home a 1-, I would be sure to hear: „Why the minus?“
It didn‘t help that pretty much the only subjects in which I brought home top marks were art and PE, in other words subjects that were not really taken seriously and thus didn‘t really count. In this light, my entire educational career was imbued with a sense of constant shortcoming and disappointment. And that made me a disappointment.
I assume that most parents mean well, but such projected ambitions don‘t foster success, they foster maladjusted youth, who grow into maladjusted adults, unable to appreciate achievements, because there always seems to be „more“. There is always this latent hope that with just a little extra push we‘ll be more lovable, more successful, and somehow „better“. Spoiler alert: It doesn‘t work out that way. A sense of healthy pride is only possible on the basis of self-love.
I read a really great book recently, based on a true story, which is quite relevant in this respect (I‘ll spoiler it in the following few lines!): The story follows a young Italian man, who helped many jews to flee into Switzerland, saving their lives in the process. He then went on to risk his own life as a spy, and helped the Italian partisans to eventual victory. But there was one person he was unable to save: the love of his life. To this day, this extraordinary man is not able to feel proud of himself for his courage and humanitarianism. Everything he achieved is overshadowed by the loss of his love. Today, this man feels not like a hero, but like a coward.
To be sure, this is an extreme example of someone who has all the reason in the world to be proud of himself, and is unable to feel that way. I, for my part, have not save anyone‘s life, and my contribution to society is incomparably, infinitely smaller. Nevertheless, it is important for me as well to feel proud of what I am and what I do. I need to feel proud of my achievements, my contributions, and sometimes of myself, just because I am who I am, without conditions, no questions asked.
In order to feel that we are enough, we need to let go of a whole lot of negative conditioning. Sometimes, a small shift of perspective can be enough for us to be able to acknowledge what we achieved on the road already covered in life. Looking back, appreciating how far we come, is sometimes necessary to give us a balanced view of the road that still lies ahead of us. Why not be proud of what we already achieved in life, every once in a while? Our path through life is long and winding, full of surprises, twists, turns and opportunities in disguise, most of which we can only make sense of if we approach our journey with open hearts and minds instead of following too narrow a goal.
Looking back on the road already behind us, we should open our eyes wide enough to see the crucial elements of life that we take for granted, most of the time. We have every reason to be proud of the working, constructive relationships in our lives, our fulfilling friendships, and of the way we make our lives work, day in day out. We have reason to be proud of how we rause our kids, how we form part of our family circle, how we interact with the people in our lives and with our environment. These aspects need to be acknowledged as much as the drive to self-optimization, our disciplined pursuit of education or our daily exercise routines. We have every reason to be proud of the difficult decisions we take in life, because we have to, and also of the decisions that come easy to us. Sometimes we should be proud of ourselves simply for confronting life, with all its facets and challenges, head-on.
And telling yourself that your‘e proud of yourself really helps. There are plenty of reasons. Allow yourself a look in the mirror with the openness to see not who you think you should be, but who you have already become. It‘s easy, a little shift of perspective, nothing more.
As an exercise in self-love and healthy pride, it may be helpful for you to list 10 things you feel you should be proud of about yourself:
I‘m proud to be a good mum to my cat. I‘m proud because I‘m able to do 15 killer burpees. I‘m proud to have such an amazing man at my side. I‘m proud to measure success not by the number of my followers, but by the quality of work I publish. I‘m proud to be conscious about my natural environment, and that I do my best to preserve it. I‘m proud to say I almost always choose the vegan option these days. I‘m proud that I didn‘t buy anything the last time I went out shopping. I‘m proud that I considerably reduced my chocolate intake again. I‘m proud of my Instagram feed, which breaks the mold. I may not always get as many likes as I would with a more streamlined feed, but I just like it better this way. And last but not least I am proud of this post.