Last week, I was catching up with my friend Mikey* over passionfruit herbal tea (me) and coffee (him).
Mikey he had just been offered a promotion at a prestigious Ivy League university. As I congratulated him, he replied, "Well, you know how these things go... They just wanted to hire me because they didn't want to train another person."
Knowing that he works very long hours and weekends in the lab, I told him that he deserved it. Still he kept discounting his merits.
I dug a little deeper and he finally told me, "I just have a high standard for myself."
True, we don't have to hold the same standard to other people as we do ourselves. However when we hold an impossibly high standard against ourselves, we open the door to self-criticism, which prevents you from celebrating your hard-earned achievements. Interestingly, Mikey had no problem being supportive of my own life progress. He encourages me every step of the way and celebrates even the smallest of victories with me. I found it a bit sad that he could not celebrate in the same way for himself.
If you find it difficult to celebrate your own achievements, you may also have a tendency to be self-critical, lonely, and perhaps a little resentful. I cannot speak for Mikey, but I can say this because I've lived this myself. Here are some tips to embrace your own achievements fully without qualification:
1. Talk to yourself as you would to a friend.
Would you say to a friend, "Not good enough! Work harder! Do it!!" Just writing that made my stomach muscles tighten. When I first started changing how I mentally talked to myself, it felt weird because I was so used to criticism, and encouraging myself seemed so foreign. What I realized is that I am just as effective, if not more, when I talk to myself gently as I would to a friend, rather than slave-driving my way to success (which lead to undesirable workaholic tendencies). You can, too.
2. Celebrate progress and think in shades of gray.
We can get caught up making "to-do" or "to-don't" lists, but have you considered making a "Why I'm Awesome" list? Mikey felt that since he hadn't reached his ideal career, he hadn't achieved much. Thinking in terms of black and white, rather than in shades of gray, can feel frustrating because you never really feel like you've reached your grand goal (an event that doesn't happen every day, unless you're a robot). If you examine the evidence, Mikey is quite accomplished. He takes daily action and made personal sacrifices to get to where he is today. It was hard for him to appreciate how much he had achieved because he was so focused on getting to a certain milestone and discounting what he has accomplished so far. Celebrating your progress, including the disappointments, is crucial for self-recognition because we become aware of what we have done and what steps are needed to move forward. Make a list of all the things you've accomplished in the last six months and then marvel at how far you've come.
3. Acknowledge how awesome you are.
A beautiful poem from a book of Zen poems (which happened to be a birthday gift from Mikey, by the way):
"Without my journey
And without the spring,
I would have missed this dawn."
Achievements or major life events are made up of numerous steps, miraculous meetings, and serendipitous circumstances. Had one of these occurrences not happened, or if the timing was just a little off, life would have turned out differently. A friend of mine wouldn't have found her now-husband if she hadn't lived in the same college dorm as he. My career path would have been different if my parents hadn't immigrated to the United States. Every moment is a hidden miracle. It's important to acknowledge this. Doing so may help you see that your achievement and your life is, indeed, pretty amazing.
So whenever you feel like life is conspiring against your success and you're frustrated with how slow your career is progressing, encourage yourself as you would a friend, create your "Why I'm Awesome" list, and bask in appreciation and wonder at how far you've come. Because in the end, all rewards must come from within.
*Names have been changed
Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a Health Coach who believes that you are important, no matter what you achieve. She works with high-achievers to move past the guilt, frustration, and overwhelm that prevents you from living a life of passion and purpose. If you liked this article, sign up to get updates and tips to find your personal awesome at http://www.achievewitheasenow.com
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