“I’m awesome, I’m awesome”
I have a hard time admitting how much embarrassment I feel when I see stories about heroic startup founders, or the stream of notifications about people I know getting new jobs with fancy titles. I feel like because of my upbringing, educational pedigree, and cohort of peers, I should be doing bigger things. More prestigious things. More lucrative things. When I’m scrolling through LinkedIn or Facebook, I feel like a draft bust who had a promising future but never made it in the big leagues.
As much as I try to think my way out of this attitude, my first reaction to these sorts of posts is a mix of jealousy and “I’m awesome too.” My first thought, honestly, after seeing a story about a mobility startup was that I co-founded a startup, with my wife in October 2017 when my son was born. I worked myself up and almost wrote an entire post about how “my startup is my family” to try to earn some perceived-lost-respect back.
But that’s pretty childish and only adds to our praise-driven culture instead of changing it. So I pushed myself to dig deeper than that reaction.
My next thought was, if we have a culture among millennials that pushes folks to signal, “I’m awesome, I’m awesome” in any way they can, let’s at least be honest about the days and weeks that aren’t awesome. Because it’s honestly not awesome all the time, at least for me.
Most days, I come home from work exhausted, overwhelmed, or both. There are days when I have cried in the car on my way in or cried in relief because I was so happy to be home with my family. Most days, I feel like I’m average or below average. I do take solace in the fact that being average at an extremely demanding and difficult job is not something to be ashamed of. I also know I’m giving it 100% and leaving my teams in better shape than when I started. But most days are not awesome. Most days, I’m not awesome and have no grounds to make a social media post about how awesome I am.
I bring this self-depreciating vignette up, not because I’m looking for praise (I’m really not), but to try my damndest to create some space for myself and others to be honest about what’s not awesome. Because when you feel like you’re the only person in your peer group that sucks at their job - or relationships, or parenting, or whatever it is - it’s lonely. And not, just lonely, it’s damn lonely.
Talking about being awesome, is great. But it is damaging to us collectively because it’s not the full story. I almost wrote a whole post about how we need to tell the full story, because I thought that I could counter the pervasive narrative of “I’m awesome, I’m awesome.”
But then I thought, is that what we really want? A constant tension between these two ideas? It’s not like replacing the narrative of “I’m awesome, I’m awesome” with one of “I’m not awesome, I’m not awesome” is a world we want either. Both ideas are a trap. Both ideas are pathways that perpetuate a culture of excessive praise*.
Our culture of excessive praise is destroying me, albeit slowly. And I think it’s destroying more than just me. Where I often get stuck is what’s the alternative? If not “I’m awesome” nor “I’m not awesome”, then what?
I realized today that want to create the space for more than vulnerability about struggles. I want to create the space for encouragement.
Instead of hitting the like button that signals “you’re awesome” it’s the message of, “I’m happy for you and am excited to help you grow even more.” When someone shares sad news it’s sharing a “I know you’re going through a hard time, but I know you can get through this problem and I’m here for you if you want to talk about how I’ve gotten through this before” instead of hitting the heart button to affirm the post’s vulnerability.
If you’re someone who shares a lot of positive stories about your career, your kids, or whatever, I’m not busting your chops for seeking praise. Hell, I do it too, even though I try not to. If you’re someone who talks candidly about your struggles, I’m not trying to shower you with affirmations of your vulnerability either.
What I am trying to say is no matter what you say - whether it’s sharing a proud moment or a story of struggle - I’m going to try to best to encourage you through it.
I think we’re damned if we perpetuate a praise-centric culture. I think we’re much better off exchanging in encouragement. That’s the culture that I want to live in, so that’s what I’m going to try to practice.