Congratulations, You're a Jerk

The best part about having a kid is watching her grow into an emotionally complex human.1 Pride is one of those traits that balances on a razor’s edge. It beams on her face when I hang one of her drawings on the wall and withers to a husk when she struggles to read a new word. But pride is important. Appropriate pride makes us want to be better, but I end up feeling like a jerk when I congratulate myself in public.

In the age of self-marketing, pride in ourselves is easily drown under murky waters of high fives and re-tweets. Twitter continues to be one of the greatest psychology labs in human history. I watch two very different personality traits play out daily. The first is the self-congratulatory marketing of amateurs. The second is the meek inward turning of embarrassed beginners. The noise of one hand high-fives of the first seems to drown out the slight back-pats of the second.

I’m terrible at self-marketing, both in my day job and in my hobbies.2 It never stops feeling gross, no matter how proud I feel about the results. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts me. I’ve become immune to the self promotion of others. Lately, “social media” feels more like “social marketing” and it’s hard to feel good about contributing to that cacophony. I have to imagine that mine isn’t a unique experience.

I’ve been really proud of a few of the things I’ve done but I’m also easily embarrassed by compliments. I dislike receiving them. The only time I don’t feel gross about a compliment, is when I dissociate myself from the result. It’s easy to forget that it feels good to give a compliment and have it warmly received. Compliments are as much about the giver as the receiver.

Here’s what I hope to teach my child. It’s right to be proud when you’ve done something you genuinely love, but take care in what you genuinely love. Do more of the things that make you feel proud.

I don’t think there’s a nice punchy conclusion sentence for this post. I’m not proud of that.

  1. The incidental benefit is that most everything I like, toys, cartoons, building forts, seems much less creepy to other people because I have a kid. ↩︎

  2. These words you are reading are a hobby. Anything that I do that doesn’t progress a career goal is a hobby. Some make a small amount of money and some consume a large amount of money. They will stop being a hobby when I’m afraid of losing them. ↩︎