Be proud of yourself for a job well done!

I love it when I hit a nerve. I continue to get emails and calls regarding my comments several weeks ago about ‘poseurs,’ false pride, and mistaken ‘short cuts’ to self-esteem. Many of your responses centered on whether it was ‘arrogant’ to be genuinely proud of yourself.

Healthy pride is the sense of satisfaction and contentment that comes from knowing that you did a job well. The “job” can be pretty much anything: mowing the lawn or completing a work project, building a successful business, or something more abstract and long-range such as standing by your convictions or persisting toward a goal under difficult circumstances. This rational, healthy feeling arises when you see reality for what it is, and then let yourself feel good about what you have accomplished, knowing that feeling is deserved.

False pride, on the other hand, isn’t pride at all. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. People who have problems with self-esteem are unable to feel pride. Sometimes they can’t grasp the reality of their accomplishments (in other words, they aren’t able to ‘stand outside of themselves’ and view their actions objectively, the way others see them). Or, they’re able to assess reality, but they won’t allow themselves to feel satisfaction for it. It’s as if they have a double standard: They can applaud and praise others, but they can’t applaud themselves. It’s kind of a mental block created by the idea that, for whatever reason, “It’s wrong to feel good about myself.” What a sad way to go through life! Exactly why would it ever be wrong to feel good about yourself? Either you really earned your success (whatever it may be), or you didn’t.

Some people think that it’s ‘arrogant’ to feel pride. This is a tremendous mistake and stems from confusion. If you actually did accomplish something positive, you have every right to feel good about it. Just as it makes sense to feel badly and make amends when you do something wrong, it’s equally valid to say ‘thank you’ and feel good when someone compliments you on a job you know is well done. Why should you be expected to ‘own’ your mistakes, but not your successes?

Healthy pride is not ‘arrogant.’ Arrogant people haven’t really developed their talents or accomplished much on their own. They know this deep down, and feel the need to ‘fake it.’ This ‘fakery’ comes out as arrogance. Of course it’s an undesirable trait, but the reason it’s undesirable is that it comes from phoniness. Indeed, it’s the opposite of pride, because true pride stems from a job well done.

“False pride” arises out of a pseudo-confidence in one’s abilities. For example, an individual with low self-esteem might feel threatened by someone else’s accomplishments. This person fears, on some level, that he can’t do as well (or maybe he’s simply not willing to try). This fear manifests itself as a false sense of accomplishment and control. “Well, you got your doctoral degree. That’s fine. But I’ve read more books than you, and I know a lot. So there.” Of course, this insecurity might not speak so bluntly, but it will show itself as a competitive, often degrading attitude toward those who genuinely earned, and deserve, their success.

Insecure people tend to view everyone as a rival. They need to ‘one up’ everybody, even though nobody ever said it was a competition. They’re always making comparisons, and cannot grasp the simple fact that the most important thing in life is to be happy. If you’re secure with yourself, and if you allow yourself to feel pride, then you’re really only competing against your own best standards. Sure, you might want to come out #1. But the goal isn’t to do it so that ‘now I can finally say I’m somebody.’ The goal is just to excel and do well. The satisfaction of #1 status is a happy side benefit.

People who allow themselves to feel healthy pride are certainly content with whatever recognition they might earn, but it’s in the context of, ‘I know I did well; it’s nice that others see it too.’ That’s quite a bit different from the more neurotic, ‘Wow—look at all this applause and recognition. All these people can’t be wrong! I must be good!’ The first attitude reflects a healthy pride that existed in the person all along. The latter can trigger false pride and can lead to arrogance.

Healthy pride refers not just to what you do, but also to who you are. Presumably, you know yourself best—after all, you’re with yourself every minute of the day. You know better than anyone else when you’ve missed an opportunity to ‘step up to the plate’ to develop your abilities. And only you know when you’re trying your best with persistence and integrity. Maybe others know, or maybe not—but you know for sure.

Whether or not others recognize it, you are entitled to feel pride for something you did well. Neither false pride—nor false humility—can be part of happy, productive life.