I’m clever. There, I said it. Of course, I’m no rocket scientist or one of those miraculous teenage entrepreneurs with a billion dollar startup, but someone with my academic record deserves that qualifier. I, like many others, am cursed with over-the-top modesty. An urge to undermine one’s achievements, skills and ambitions at every opportunity, which can equate in annoyance to an inflated ego.
Cockiness is an undesirable quality for sure, and most of us withhold from befriending people who speak of nothing other than themselves and their greatness. And in fear of appearing cocky ourselves, we spiral into a trap of persistent self-deprecating humour and a reluctance to acknowledge the traits which distinguish us from the crowd. I did not see this as an issue – because labelling yourself ‘trash’ is the thing to do nowadays. Then one day, while speaking to a psychologist, I joked about my ‘stupidity’ and she told me to ‘stop right there’. She rightfully highlighted how an offhand self-deprecating statement, whether reflective of your true beliefs or not, can influence your actions and perception of yourself on a subconscious level. Most of the time, the idea of pretentiousness displeases me so much, I cannot compliment myself in my head, let alone out loud. Successful at a job interview? The other candidate must’ve not turned up. Great exam results? You were lucky. Skin looks great? It must be the lighting.
Yet, I think saying ‘wow, Maria, you’ve totally aced that exam – good on you for putting in the work and making use of that big brain!’ is very different to ‘I am smarter and better than anyone who fell short of my grade’. The latter, of course, is cockiness. The former is a positive affirmation I need to practice more often if I want to be one of those people who just radiates positivity. I mean, how can I expect to uplift others amid a constant outpour of negativity in my own direction?
Self-deprecating humour is okay. Complaining about flaws and failure is fun, I admit. But in excessive quantities, these can spiral out of control. We are not trash. We are all wonderful human beings and I think we should spend more time celebrating what makes us unique and amazing and worthy of love.
Discussing ambition is another struggle for many and may even be considered a taboo topic. Sure, some people are less ambitious than others, but few are willing to make statement such as ‘I want to be an investment banker’, ‘I want to publish a novel’, ‘I want to grow a YouTube channel’ because such goals can seem like a senseless pursuit of money and fame. But aren’t we all out here trying to turn passion into subsistence? We need money for survival. We like comfort and financial security. The prospect of sharing your core beliefs and connecting across a broader network is not an unreasonable thing to aim for. Honesty about ambition could not only allow us to coalesce and support one another, but incite interesting conversation about dreams, the future, the possibility of changing the world, which will in turn solidify these goals within our minds.
So, what else causes chronic modesty?
- While the issue isn’t exclusive to women, its a lot more commonplace to hear men openly discuss their achievements and career aspirations. Modesty is a quality girls are taught to practice. With a grandmother who was a political figure in Communist Russia and a mum with an entrepreneurial background, I am not one to succumb to patriarchal pressures yet many women I know are much more prone to diminishing themselves, their ambitions and strengths.
- A pursuit of affirmation from others. I’m not saying everyone is out there illegally overfishing the pond of compliments. But whether a product of genuine disbelief in your skills or a means to draw attention to them, it’s tempting. It’s tempting to sign off a blog with a ‘sorry this is so rushed and poorly written!’ and incite compliments based around my writing. I totally understand the temptation of adding a ‘sorry this is so poorly lit!’ into my Instagram captions to ensure my crawl around the house for the perfect spot of natural light doesn’t go unacknowledged.
- A fear of negative response, which is mostly unreasonable as friends and family want you to be confident and successful. Yet, you do get the occasional prick. Once I mustered the strength to tell a guy of my desire to get 44 points in the International Baccalaureate. He laughed dismissively, eyed me up and down and in a tone that defines patronising, said ‘oh, you do know, that is very difficult. It’s a combination of hard work and natural intelligence!’ In these instances, it’s easy to think ‘what if they’re right?’ and consequently feel embarrassed for the rare onset of confidence.
- Fear of failure. This very much links to the above. Once you’ve stated a certain ambition, or acknowledged a particular characteristic either to yourself or others, the pressure to live up to that escalates.
And how do we avoid this trap? How should we make a society ridden self-criticism and ridicule into something transparent, empowering, positive? Here are five tips from my not-so-expert opinion (and that isn’t me being modest – I’m still learning to practice what I preach!)
Use doubt and negativity as inspiration.
There will always be people who underestimate your capabilities and willingness to achieve your dreams. In response, be unapologetic and use doubt as a driving force. When the guy I mentioned above dismissed my ambitions, I shrugged in response but did an internal ‘watch me’ knuckle crack. And guess what I ended up getting in the IB.
Failure is normal. At times, we all try our hardest at something and still don’t succeed due to a variety of factors – many beyond your control. And as we all know, failure can bring valuable lessons, hence we should accept it as an integral part of ambition and embrace that sometimes we may not live up to expectations, and that’s okay. Life happens.
Learn to accept compliments!
Most of the time, compliments are coming from a genuine place. People don’t dish them out for no reason. Say ‘thank you’, maybe compliment them back, and move on. I promise it doesn’t make you cocky. Admittedly, I struggle with this one: if someone compliments my outfit, I’m tempted to go down the ‘oh it’s not really that great, I threw it together in five minutes!’ route, which with a bit of reflection, seems kinda impolite? Almost like you’re questioning their judgement.
Follow every self-deprecating joke you make with a positive affirmation!
As mentioned in my morning routine post, I like to practice gratitude and write a couple of positive affirmations. Be as frank as possible about it! As a rough guide, I mention one thing about a skill I’ve acquired, an aspect of my personality and a physical trait: ‘I’m proud of myself for becoming a much better writer over the last year’, ‘I value my honesty’, ‘all those leg workouts are paying off for sure!’
Use your confidence to inspire others.
I am always intrigued by people who have found that golden balance of confident, yet humble. By gaining confidence yourself (how many times can I say ‘confidence’ in one paragraph?!), you will radiate positivity towards those who need assurance – a reminder to embrace the mind and body they’ve been given. Share your knowledge, be a teacher, spread the message which sits true with your soul. Spending time with a confident person is an uplifting experience for all of us!
Discuss your dreams and ambitions with likeminded people.
Finding a circle in which your dreams can be unapologetically shared is tricky, yet rewarding. We’re all striving to better ourselves in one way or another, and forming a positive community composed of people with similar goals and mindsets is not only empowering, but also serves as a reminder of that as humans, we are in the same boat.
Okay, to finish up and to make sure my lessons doesn’t go unnoticed, I would like you to firstly comment two things you like about yourself. Follow that up with one of your current goals, whether a long term or commitment or something you wish to accomplish by the end of today! It will feel great, I promise.
Thank you for reading my little ramble. You’re all wonderful human beings and I will be back in a few days with a new recipe!
Lots of love, Maria ♡