When you admire someone’s success, and tell them that their work has great meaning to you, the reaction of most people is to downplay your compliment.
There’s the standard response:
“Anybody could have done it”
There’s the awkward line:
“It was nothing, really”
And then, there’s the insincerity of:
“I’m so humbled that you liked my work”
The same thing happens when people show their work. It’s always with caveats, disclaimers, and phrases meant to distract you from the simple fact that they’re proud of themselves.
But we don’t need to play that game. When something we have worked on is good, and we know it’s good, and others say it’s good, there’s no reason to try and look humble, or to attempt to sidestep the praise. Because at the end of the day:
“If you aren’t proud of your work, you can’t stand by it. And if you can’t stand by it, why should anyone else?”
I think there’s two reasons that creatives and entrepreneurs dance the humble shuffle and hide their pride.
1. We want to protect our egos
The first reason is that we’re conditioned to avoid and reject praise. This happens from a young age. Everyone is told that they shouldn’t seem arrogant or full of themselves. Bringing others down a peg or two is considered to be a good thing. How shitty is that?
We have tall poppy syndrome where we hate to see other people succeed, and when people do we feel angered if they own it.
We’re all like that. Me, you, everybody. If you think you’re not, you need to work on being honest with yourself.
The effect of it is that when we finish work, no matter how good it is, even if it’s the single greatest accomplishment of our lives, we’re scared that others will want to cut us down or criticize us if we seem to happy with ourselves. We want to protect our egos by pre-empting negative reactions and distancing ourselves from what we’ve finished even as we try to entice others to experience what we’ve made.
So we send out our work and we say:
“Hey, I made this little thing…it’s not great…it’s only a first version…I’m sure you have a lot of criticisms…for what it’s worth, here it is. Don’t feel you have to look at it.”
You know what we should be saying?
“Here is my work. I worked fucking hard. I’m proud of it, and I think you’ll like it. Read it, use it and enjoy it.”
2. We don’t want to blow our own trumpets
Here’s the second reason: We just don’t think that we should be the ones talking about what we’ve done. That’s for others to do.
We feel too awkward to talk about how well we think we did.
That’s why we pretend to be no big deal, and when we stand up to accept our Oscar/MTV/Startup awards we claim that we are humbled to be there, and all the credit really goes to our managers or boyfriends or that guy who makes our bagels in the morning.
If you want to wait for others to talk about your work and sing the praises of what you’ve put out there into the black hole of the internet, you can go right ahead. But you’re missing out on your chance to share your journey.
Oh, and you’ll be waiting a long time.
It’s time we started being proud
It really is time we let go of both sincere and insincere modesty. I know that over the last few months I have worked harder than ever before to become a writer and to hone my craft. That hard work hasn’t happened at a desk, 9–5. It’s happened on the train home at the end of the day. I write half of my posts on my phone when I’m heading to the gym at 6 in the morning.
So when I finish a piece, when I finally drag it kicking and screaming over the word count, I don’t distance myself from it. I tell my closest friends, look at this thing that I managed to pull out of myself when it was late at night and I could have been doing a dozen other things.
I’m proud of my writing. I really am. And you should be proud too. Proud of your work, your company, your app, your brand new song, that 5 page film script with the three flashbacks and the dream sequences. You should be proud of the lines of code you slaved over and the UI that nobody is going to notice because it’s so bloody perfect.
You should be proud of it because you did it.
You should say you’re proud of it because you know how hard it was to do.
Jon Westenberg is a Sydney based writer focusing on creativity, culture and business. He holds a Masters in Journalism and has worked in several tech companies. Most of his work can be found at: www.jonwestenberg.com