Don’t Let This One Habit Undermine Your Career and Mental Health

Raise your hand if you’ve complained to a friend the night before an interview, “I can’t stand talking about myself!”

Or felt your face turn Elmo-red when your boss singled out your contributions to the last product launch in front of everyone.

Or hastily said, “Everyone had their part,” when your manager remarked on the calm and decisiveness with which you led your team to meet the last deadline. 

You believe it’s important not to be full of yourself. I get it. As a kid you were told not to toot your own horn. Perhaps you were even told that being proud of yourself was a sin.

So you deflect praise instinctively. You brush it off, saying “It’s nothing” or “It’s wasn’t a big deal” even when you applied yourself, put in several hours of overtime and worked your butt off.

But here’s the thing: downplaying your achievements hinders not just your career health, but your mental health.

Humility Is Not What You Think It Is

Contrary to what many of us believe, humility is not having a low view of yourself. Humility is having an accurate view of yourself.

Terry Real (2018) defines a healthy self-esteem as being able to hold yourself in warm regard while acknowledging your flaws. 

A misconception about mental health is it’s your ability how to cope with uncomfortable feelings, like those that come with anxiety or depression. But an essential component of your mental health is your ability to take in what is good and going well, known as your receptive affective capacity (Fosha, 2000). 

If you can’t trust any of the good that comes your way, that gives the negative more holding power.

What happens when you can’t take in your achievements? You zero in on your mistakes, criticism is more likely to crush your self-worth, and you stick to what you know you’re good at instead of taking on new projects that you might not master.

Let’s Turn the Lens on You

It’s more risky to be proud of yourself than it is to think lowly of yourself. No one can cut you down if you don’t stand up tall. When you’re proud of your work, you risk judgment and criticism.

But here’s why it’s worth that risk: when you let yourself be proud of what you have done well (and I guarantee you there are things you have done well) you become bold at taking on challenges, resilient in the face of setbacks, and better at lifting other people up because you don’t feel threatened by their success. 

Instead of downplaying your achievements, here are three things you can do today to claim your strengths:

1) If you’re squirming at the thought of marketing yourself in an interview or performance review, think about how your closest friend(s) would describe you and write it down. 

We are often more compassionate to other people than we are to ourselves. The same is true in reverse — other people give us more credit than we readily give ourselves. Take a moment to consider what they see and appreciate in you.

2) When someone compliments or praises you today, simply say, “Thank you.” 

It’s going to be weird to give yourself a moment to accept affirmation instead of jumping to the obligatory, “Oh no, I gotta think of something nice to say back.” But I promise that accepting affirmation will allow you to give affirmation from a more genuine place.

3) When someone thanks you for your hard work, first accept their gratitude by saying, “You’re welcome.” Then acknowledge everyone who made the result possible

Sharing the spotlight doesn’t mean moving it off you. It means widening it to incorporate everyone involved in the effort, especially those who tend to be overlooked or underestimated. Accepting your value will set the foundation from which you give others the opportunity to excel from a whole-hearted place. 

If you have a hard time owning your achievements and accepting affirmation, it may be due to underlying doubts you have about your worth. A therapist can be a supportive resource in restoring your right to be proud of who you are.


Fosha, D. (2000). The transforming power of affect: A model for accelerated change. New York: Basic Books.

Real, T. (2018, May 25). Narcissism and Grandiosity. Retrieved from

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