I’ve spent a lot of my life being quite self-deprecating. “I haven’t done much” or “this isn’t really that big a deal” or “I have no idea why anyone would care.” To be utterly honest, it’s always been borne of two feelings: one, that it’s true, and two, that there are so many people out there tooting their own horn that I’ve always felt that the world needed someone to just kind of do their thing quietly and try not to crow too much when they do it. A lot of experiences in a row have really helped me come to see that you and I both have to stop with language that minimizes our intent and our capabilities. It’s time to be worthy.
Our Inner Critic Shouldn’t Ever Be Given the Mic
Look at this old blog post from 2004 about hiring an inner coach. I’ve been on to this for a long time. Essentially, your Inner Critic is real and serves a real purpose, but it’s also a voice that should be minimized. I feel that when we are self-deprecating in our actions, if we talk ourselves down to less-than-what-we-are, or seek forgiveness from others for our efforts, then we’re serving no one.
I was listening to a bunch of Marc Maron’s interviews with commedians on his famous WTF Podcast. In there, I was especially aware of Chris Elliott and how often he apologized or put himself down. Unlike any of the other comics I’d been listening to over the last handful of days, Elliott really put himself down a lot. Sometimes, you could tell he was joking. Other times, you couldn’t.
But the net effect of hearing it was that I left the interview thinking, “Well, maybe he isn’t all that interesting.” Because when I listened to the people who were even a hair more confident and who sounded like they were happy that they were doing the work, I felt happy and interested and excited.
Meaning: putting yourself down isn’t a victimless crime. It affects those people who hear you doing it.
It’s 90% Language, 10% Physical Posture, 100% Confidence
Oddly, a moment before I started writing this post, someone sent me a mopey tweet. My thought wasn’t that I wanted to comfort the person. I thought instead, “Who cares? Go do what matters. Stop wallowing.”
Most of what we do to put ourselves down comes in the form of our choice of language. We are quick to add “it’s nothing special” as a tag to our work. We’re fast to say, “Oh, anyone can do this.” I do it all the time. I could read you another 100 phrases. We also offer comparisons, “Oh, I’m no Chris Brogan or anything,” I’ve heard a ton, and wince every time.
We also do this in our posture. Walking with our eyes on the ground, or slumping away from people at parties, or pacing when we’re thinking of meeting someone we admire. There are a hundred (thousand?) “tells” that say to the other person, “I don’t find myself worthy.” Hint: if you push that feeling out there through your body language, people WILL pick it up.
Do NOT Swing the Pendulum
I’m not recommending that you become unnecessarily arrogant. I’m not saying that you must thump your chest and brag. Instead, I’m saying that it’s your duty to create and be and present yourself simply as you are, no better, no worse. I’m not advocating pride, but rather, I’m suggesting you can the put-downs and verbal deflation of your own work.
Be brave in who you are and what you’ve created. Let its value speak for itself. Worry, instead, about making sure those who can make use of what you create are aware that you’ve made it. (And be very aware that I said to help “those who can make use of what you create” and not just anyone who wanders along. Do you know why bad marketing looks like arrogance? Because it’s arrogant to tell everyone when only a select amount need to know.)
Set Your Measures Internally
Measure against yourself. Don’t share your results with others, because they haven’t asked, nor do they care. If you think something you’ve done isn’t good enough, either make the effort to improve it, or just do better next time. Don’t waste other people’s time telling them this detail. It’s your issue, not theirs.
From here on out, your bravery requires you to stop talking down about that which you produce. Instead, just focus on improving the quality of your work. Measure yourself (and only yourself) against the value of the work you create, and then against the achievement of goals you’ve set for yourself (never the intentions of others). Let no external system drive you as much as your internal measures. No gold medals, no ranks, nothing that comes from the perceptions of others.
You are worth your time. You are worth it. Your efforts are yours to judge, and yours alone. Nothing a boss or coworkers or anyone says will ever matter as much as your own perception of your work, and what it will indication needs improving.
Let’s agree on this together.