Permission to Shine: From Bragging to Being Proud

Women and girls who lack confidence need to grant themselves permission to shine. But for the smart and caring, who shun bragging, this is not so easy to do.

Photo by Andres F. Uran

One of my daughters was preparing a speech to other members of a club at her school, hoping to be elected as their leader. To prove that she wasn’t just running to build her resume, she planned to vow to not list it on her college applications.

“Why would you make a promise like that?” I asked.

“The others are running to beef up their extracurriculars. I want to prove I’m not,” she said.

“That’s a sacrifice that doesn’t help anyone. Let’s think of something else to say.”

I suggested she focus on what her other club members might want from their leader. We also talked about how her previous experience could serve them.

It’s easy to see when others you care about are shooting themselves in the foot. But, it’s harder to see when we limit ourselves because we don’t want to brag or come off as being arrogant.

We Know Not to Brag, but…

Many smart and caring women are reluctant—as the moms in this broadcast were—to celebrate their triumphs openly for fear of making others feel bad. But, it’s not as if women are post-touchdown-victory dancing in the end zone either!

I can spot out when my clients are not promoting themselves. Often, they fear they will come off as bragging. Sometimes, however, they don’t even see their own strengths and accomplishments. They, unfortunately, focus only on their weaknesses, even exaggerating them to a point at which they lose their sense of worthiness.

It has occurred to me that we often dichotomize humility and pride. We couple pride with arrogance on one end. And, on the other, we associate humility with weakness, passivity, lack of self-esteem, and lack of confidence. Maybe it’s because humility is too similar to humiliation.

But, humility requires strength of character. Indeed, Matthieu Ricard, a scientist-turned-Buddhist monk delineates humility and arrogance this way:

“The arrogant and the narcissistic fuel themselves on illusions that come into continuous conflict with reality. The inevitable disillusionment that follows can generate self hatred … and a feeling of inner emptiness. Humility avoids such unnecessary distress. …

“… The humble person makes decisions on the basis of what he believes to be right and sticks by them without concern for his own image or the opinions of others.”

Matthieu Ricard, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Of course, everyone knows that the humblebrag is still a brag.

But, taking Ricard’s idea a step further, I believe that you can stand strong in what you’ve accomplished–to be proud of what you’ve done with what you’ve got and what is within your control. And at the same time, you can recognize there are circumstances where you are powerless, and you can still persevere, feeling both gratitude and humility at once.

In other words, you can celebrate and share your wins, thank those that helped you (because no one does anything alone), and be humble that the stars aligned on your behalf.

This isn’t bragging. This requires character.

Sharing wins is not automatically bragging, just as being proud doesn’t make you arrogant.

Moreover, being humble doesn’t require you to put yourself down, just as recognizing the contribution of others doesn’t minimize yours.

Giving Yourself Permission to Shine

I have several suggestions:

  • Practice stating your talents, abilities, strengths, and accomplishments truthfully and confidently. Write this out, then repeat them in front of a mirror.
  • If you can’t say something good, don’t say something bad. If you’re not ready or feel it isn’t apporpriate to share your wins, that’s fine. But do not downplay what you’ve achieved or what you’ve contributed.
  • Remember the people who support you. Take time to thank them regularly.
  • Shine the light on specific strengths of other women and celebrate their accomplishments.. Not only does it make them feel good, but you’ll feel good knowing you’re setting a good example.
  • Recognizing you still have more to learn and room to grow, expand on your strengths to grow stronger. How things turn out are often out of our control, so learn to enjoy the process and celebrate progress–things that are within your control.
  • When you need a boost, sing or hum an anthem. If you can’t think of one, try one that is both simple and has stood the test of time (and against opposition), “This Little Light of Mine.”

Next week, I’ll share another reason why we don’t let ourselves shine. (Please subscribe to my newsletter so that you don’t miss it.)

In the meantime, let me know what you think and/or how these suggestions work for you.

This is a revised and updated version of an older article first published in April 2015.

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