Owning It

Do You Apologize for Your Accomplishments?

At a young age, I learned to hide my gifts. I learned to be ashamed of my straight-A’s. Well, that’s a little lie. I didn’t get straight-A’s. I got straight C’s in handwriting, and once–in Fifth Grade–I got a B in Religion, a grade which sent me into my first suicidal ideation episode. Right there, in the McDonald’s parking lot, sitting in the station wagon, I wanted to die because of that unjust B.

Or maybe it wasn’t just the B. Possibly it had something to do with my father having been killed just a few months before and how difficult it was to go to school with all those kids with their living fathers to help them with their science fair projects.

Maybe.

I never got another B after that one. I was pretty good at that school gig, and though busting the curve didn’t win me any friends, it did give me something to count on. Quietly. Always quietly. I didn’t raise my hand in class. I didn’t offer the answer, even when nobody else knew it, unless I felt cornered when a teacher turned her beseeching eyes to me to see if I would offer up some accuracy.

Instead, I absorbed the teasing about my hair, my glasses, my know-it-all-ness and let it shape who I thought I was. Ugly. Annoying. Undeserving. Unlikeable.

Unloveable.

And considering that’s how I felt, my adult-self is pretty amazed that my child-self had the strength to keep doing the things that felt good, felt right: reading, studying, doing all my homework, thinking, thinking, thinking. My popularity was a lost cause, so I kept doing what I could do to stay sane: get straight A’s.

It was an internal source of self-esteem that I could rely upon when my environment didn’t provide any positive reinforcement, except in the form of the letter A and the number 100 written on my papers. The thing that hurt me was also the thing that saved me. I didn’t have any boyfriends, but I did get a number of amazing college scholarships.

And in college I learned to trust my voice again. I learned to start speaking in class, to engage, to reveal my inner life. It helped to be surrounded by people who’d had similar experiences. People who were filled with the drive to learn and converse and wonder and experiment.

Yet even now, I’m reluctant to share my successes with the world. Partly, I think it’s part of what we learn as girls growing into women: to keep things level, to not rock the boat, to not make others feel bad. As if the success of one person takes away from the zero-sum total of gold stars to go around. I know, logically, that my gains do not equal somebody else’s losses. But I also know I would have gained a lot more in my 41 years if I hadn’t sabotaged myself so much, hidden myself so much, been so ashamed of my gifts.

So, when I share a small success that I’m proud of–like having a post featured on BlogHer today–know that I’m not bragging. Please understand that it takes a conscious effort to be happy publicly about a small accomplishment. Know that I’m happy, so happy, when I see that my friends succeed, and that I wouldn’t ever want you to feel small and ashamed like I often do. Please don’t resent me. Please know that my life hasn’t been a stairway of successes. It’s mostly felt like wading too deep into the ocean while the tide’s coming in and I can’t swim.

In this era of social media, self-promotion, and blogging, do you have mixed feelings about marketing yourself and talking about your successes?

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Part of the solution since 1973.

17 thoughts on “Owning It

  1. Yeah, I get that. Plus it’s difficult as well in a place where I’m one of the youngest and up-and-coming, and everyone else has been everywhere and done everything and in some cases, think they know it all. So it’s actually, at times, better to just keep my head down and my mouth shut, because some of the older (and grumpier) sisters will take against me even being seen, never mind heard.

  2. Yes. And even yesterday…a friend wrote to me and told me about her sadness and asked me to cheer her up with some news. I wrote about how happy and grateful I am with my life and how it is…and then deleted it, because why would she want to hear how happy I am when she’s sad. Sigh.

    1. It’s really hard isn’t it? I think social media makes it worse. We just see the highlights and feel worse by comparison. But if your friend wants you to cheer her up with news, maybe give her a call and listen to her instead? Advice from me, the tele-phobe.

  3. Oh yes. I was exactly like that when I was younger. I am learning to speak up now, but it’s haaaaard. Don’t look at me, guys! Agh!
    But seriously, congratulations on being featured on BlogHer! That is exciting!

  4. Congrats on the article. I’m glad you let us know! It’s a great piece. I have two sons so I haven’t had to navigate the pink, glittery, commercial world mothers of daughters have to battle on a daily basis. I do, however, talk about the issue with my sons, so hopefully they can convey the larger picture to their daughters some day.

    1. You are my parenting hero.
      It’s hard parenting boys too–the weaponry aisle is even worse in many ways. I just want my kids to have a range of options available to them, not to feel pushed into playing fashion/dating on the one hand and racing/killing on the other. Of course it’s not as black and white as that and plenty of other options are available, and I’m heartened to see how the market has responded to the Change Tree dolls and hope the manufacturers take note.

  5. Beautiful beautiful words and reflections. I’ve loved you all along, then and now, always. And I love to celebrate your successes with you! oxox.

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