Modesty, Validation, and Acknowledging Our Strengths

Talent. Strengths. Passion. Career. I know I’ve been waxing on and on about this stuff for a while, so depending on how you’ve felt about it in the past, I imagine you will be either delighted or disappointed to read the following. See, in my current quest to figure out not only WHAT I want to do (which, as you will probably be shocked to hear, is NOT to be stuck in a cubicle for the rest of my natural-born-life), but also HOW I’m supposed to do the things I want to do in a fiscally responsible, not-gonna-move-back-in-with-my-parents kinda way, I’ve done some thinking. Go figure. And while my recent revelations may cause some of you to be like, “Uh, duh?”, I’m going to talk about them anyway. Probably in a fairly nonsensical and stream-of-consciousness kind of way. Because I can. Thbbbt. 😉

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It actually all started when I attended the Kristin Chenoweth concert a couple weeks ago. In between beautifully-sung songs and anecdotes about how her mom accidentally (but continuously) calls Fuddrucker’s “Mudf*cker’s”, she also told us quite a few stories from her pre-celebrity days. She talked about what it was like to be little and to have her first solo in church, performing and getting her first role on Broadway and as she spoke, there was no false modesty. She didn’t fish for complements, or underplay her talent. She is, and apparently always was, an absolutely incredible singer. We know it. She knows it. And why wouldn’t she? I mean, how annoying would it be if she were to say something like, “Well, I can sing fairly well, I guess…”? I’d want to smack all 4’11” of her. Hearing her talk about herself that way didn’t make me think she was conceited or immodest, even though in everyday life, my first instinct would be to mark someone as such if they were doing the same thing.

So obviously the rules that apply to celebrities don’t necessarily apply to us regular folk, it’s true. I mean, hello? Lindsay Lohan is still getting work. Wtf. Regardless, the whole experience still sparked something that I thought deserved a little thought. Our society of polite interaction and political-correctness puts a premium on modesty. You might be extremely talented, but you’re not supposed to be the one saying “I’m a gifted artist!” or “I’m a great writer!” or “I’ve got a fantastic voice!” No, that would be bragging. Society tells us that validation is supposed to come from other people. And eventually, even if we start out believing in our own abilities, it is still discouraging not to be able to tout our own strengths. Having to rely on the validation of others’ opinions gives self-doubt a lot of wiggle room.

I feel like that doubt is what ultimately prevents us from pursuing the things that we really want. Take me, for example: I want to write. I think I know that I’m a good writer. With drive and perseverance, I might even be great someday. But I don’t feel like I can really say that. What I CAN say is, “I love to write,” or “I’m passionate about writing.” It feels conceited to even think, let alone say, otherwise. Even if my intentions are correct (though, let’s be honest, when are they ever really? Haha), it still feels like bragging. So I rely on other people instead. And when their comments don’t come, or when they’re not what I want to hear, or when I’m not constantly showered with reassurance, the doubt crawls back in. I start to think, “I’ll never make it as a writer, why bother trying?” And then the mental battle ensues once again.

This applies to more than just creative talent, of course. How many of us that are on the weight loss track didn’t really feel like you were making any progress until you started to get comments and compliments from others? I lost THIRTY pounds before I started getting regular comments from people I knew, and thus it wasn’t until I was thirty pounds into my weight loss that I felt that I had succeeded. But before I lost 30, I had lost 25. And before that, I had lost 20. And so on, and so forth. Shouldn’t I have felt proud about those accomplishments, too? That thought never even occurred to me. It was only “Well, I guess I need to keep going because nobody’s noticing.” I probably fall victim to this line of thinking more than the average person, I’m sure, because I have a long and sordid history with my self-esteem. Some of you might be reading this and want to roll your eyes, chalking up my feelings to my own self-worth issues. That’s a fair reaction, although I do honestly think it goes beyond that. I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way, after all.


I don’t have an answer for how to really fight against this way of thinking. I’d like to be able to say it’s as simple as coming up with a mantra that you repeat as you fall asleep, or sticking a Post-It to your computer screen, or writing on your mirror in lipstick, all to remind yourself that you’re awesome! You’re amazing! You’re a rockstar! But c’mon. That doesn’t exactly tackle the root of the problem, does it? I want to be able to get to a place where I don’t NEED a constant visual reminder to acknowledge that I’m good at something. That I’m possibly — GASP! — fantastic at something. And, perhaps most importantly, I don’t want to feel guilty about thinking that way when I do.


  1. Gabby @ Gabby's Gluten-Freesays:

    Fantastic post! I think the need for external validation is such a difficult thing to overcome. I too feel extremely conceited? wrong? weird? when I try to internally validate myself on my skills and talents. Even after I receive external validation, I still find myself thinking that I’m not really that great. I really want to make an effort to get out of this thought pattern! Thanks for talking about a topic most people don’t talk about!

  2. If I could a standing ovation to a blog post, it would be this one.

    “Society tells us that validation is supposed to come from other people.”

    Um, high. This is exactly why I still struggle with my eating disorder. I can look in the mirror and THINK I look good, but I don’t believe it or feel like I can feel like I do until it comes from someone else’s mouth. It’s like, my opinion of myself doesn’t matter. Or it’s not allowed to. Because hey, what do I know, right? So when I don’t get peppered with compliments of, “You look great! You lost weight!”, I assume it’s because everyone thinks I’m fat.

    I almost peed myself when I admitted in my blog that I want to be writer. I was terrified of being judged. I felt like people would leave my comments and say things like, “Yeah, right.” or “clean up your typos and overuse of the word ‘amazing’ and THEN we’ll talk about getting you a writing deal …”

    Doubt is the state in which I live my life.

    I’m going to be a writer. I am a good writer.

    ^^Wow, I want to delete that. But I won’t.

    You’re a good writer. You’re a great writer. You will do awesome things, Gretchen. Be true to your passions.

    • I can’t even tell you how many times I deleted and re-wrote sentences just in this post, because I thought I was being too braggy and big-headed about myself. Even though that’s the whole point of what I was writing! Arrrrrgh, it’s so hard. I think that squealing through the discomfort is part of what we need though. I’m proud of you for not deleting it!!

  3. See? See what I mean? I have a typo in the very first sentence of my comment.

    “If I could GIVE a standing ovation”. That’s what I mean to say. ha!

    And I meant “hi”. Not “high”.

    I got excited typing that above comment, apparently.

  4. Ha! My mom calls it Rudf*ckers! And half the time doesn’t even realize it

  5. I second MrsCourtneyP!! I’m giving you a standing ovation you just can’t tell.

    Unfortunately I think part of it is a gender thing…because if you look at it it is ok for a guy to validate himself for being great in his profession or great at a sport, etc. but for women I think we’ve been taught to let other people validate us. Now not to say that this is solid across the board because there are exceptions. I think women are more likely to have eating disorders, remain in an unsatisfactory job, and not strive for their goals because we wait for someone else to encourage us to do so.

    Not that you need validation from me but you are a very good writer!!

  6. Heathersays:

    What an amazing, insightful post. I love it.

    I am recently separated and in the process of a divorce and, while it is a very difficult thing to go through that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, it has taught me something about myself that would have never learned. I spent 14 years of my marriage judging my self-worth on whether or not my husband complimented me on my accomplishments – whether it be work, looks, weight-loss, etc. When we separated, I spent quite a lot of time wondering what was wrong with me – what I did to deserve to not be loved anymore. It was a very dark time for me but through a lot of self-reflection I realized something important. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me. I LOVE me! I am awesome, just the way I am. I don’t need a husband/friend/society to tell me that, I need to know it in my heart. And I did know it in my heart, I was just married to someone who was an idiot that didn’t recognize what he had. His loss, not mine.

    Gretchen – this goes against the moral of your post but you are an awesome writer and an amazing woman. You don’t need me to tell you that, but it’s true. I have no doubt that you can do whatever you set your mind to. Follow your passions, they’ll lead you in the right direction.

    • What an awesome outcome of what is, I’m sure, still a very difficult situation. I SO admire your way of thinking, and you’re so RIGHT. I can already tell that it’s absolutely, 100% his loss.

  7. It is so hard to not let the opinion of others cloud your opinion of yourself. I think a lot of people have already posted some great comments about it and I would be regurgitating upon what they’ve already posted.

    As you know, I’m in the same writing boat as you, Gretchen. I love writing and I would love to published some day, but I’m also incredibly secretive of my writing. In many ways, it’s because I’m afraid of getting that red writing on the page that I interpret as “You suck!” (but that’s not what it really is).
    But there are 2 things that keep me going no matter what:
    1) I love writing.
    2) I have to write. My sanity and creativity don’t give me a choice.

    I’ve also come to recognize that I may never be happy with my writing (a problem most artists suffer), but I can be proud about what I’ve done and know that it’s the best I can do. I think that’s something to be proud of. After all, I have made accomplishments in my writing both professionally and personally, and I am proud to say “I wrote a kick ass kids show!”. 😀

  8. Joannasays:

    GOSH I LOVED this post. Thank you for being brave enough to write it… to say what so many of us are thinking and thinking we are alone. I found myself saying ‘YES’ and nodding along as I was reading. I’d be very interested in discussing this more with you and any other ladies who feel similarly and are trying to break out of this way of thinking. I think there is power in numbers. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. BarbNHsays:

    Great post. Usually I’m happy to lurk while enjoying your thought process and cheering your accomplishments, but I had to respond to today’s post.
    Maybe it just takes some mind-readjustment(that’s not to say re-mapping your thought process is easy). For instance, like most women I self-deprecate my accomplishments. My own weight loss stands at 92lbs, and I’m trying to teach myself to say “thank-you” after an receiving a compliment instead of reciting how much more I need still need to lose. OK, to be honest, I’ll never be one to shout “I look great” there are just some things that are too deeply ingrained in our persona, but I sure do think it.
    If you think about it, when asked “what to you do?” an actor always replies “I’m an actor,” even if they’re currently waiting tables or parking cars. They are an actor first and foremost. In your case, while it might not be in the form of a traditional manuscript that gets shipped off to a publisher, you are already a thought provoking, amusing and insightful writer just by producing this blog. Who, by the by, just happens to spend part of every day in a cubicle.
    Think of the non-writing things you do as additions to your ever growing pile life experiences that will someday help you in writing the great American novel.

  10. Thank you so much for writing this, Gretchen. Lately, I’ve been beating myself up about work stuff and I think it comes down to the fact that I am always hoping other people will praise me. If they don’t, I feel like I’m doing a bad job. I wish I knew how to be a better cheerleader for myself, instead of always relying on other people’s opinions of how I am doing, but it’s definitely an easy habit to fall back into. Super challenging and definitely something I will be thinking about in the coming days.

    And, on another note, you don’t have to worry about being a great writer. You already are a great writer and you will get better with every single post you write. Keep up the good work and eventually everything else will fall into place. (I have to tell myself the same thing hahah)

  11. This is a fantastic post! I think you hit the nail right on the head when you mentioned that it’s a societal norm to be modest. If we aren’t, it’s seen as bragging and no one wants to be a bragger…I hate them myself (or at least society tells me I should). I do, however, think that there are more “tasteful” ways to “brag”. For example, if someone told me they have a very successful healthy living blog, I wouldn’t really see that as bragging.

    I actually have an inside joke with a friend where every time one of us brags about something awesome that we did, the other one will chime in about how modest they are too. Then it usually goes into us bragging about just HOW awesomely modest we are. Kind of poking fun at how society thinks we should be.

  12. This is a fantastic post. I think the fact of the matter is, you should never let other people stop you from your dreams and you should most definitely pursue your dreams, especially if you’ve got the skills to back it up (and you are indeed a great writer!). I think the reason society gets critical is because sometimes people don’t embrace the full consequences of their dreams—the good, the bad and the ugly. For instance: art majors will probably rarely get a 6-figure job at a government contracting firm, people without college degrees will probably never get hired as a manager, and lawyers will always make more than a school teacher. These are the facts of life but some people may be unable to face the reality of their dreams and want the best of all worlds. At the end of the day, I say go forth with full confidence about your talents, be unapologetic about your success, and be prepared to embrace all the facets of your end goal because its the obstacles that make it worth the achievement!

  13. You are a GREAT writer. And it’s perfectly okay for you to say that. It’s not bragging to acknowledge your strengths- especially since you also are well aware of your weaknesses. There’s a big difference between bragging and being conceited and being confident. It’s so important to celebrate your talents!
    I will say “I think I’m a really great exercise instructor” openly- because I truly believe it. But, I know that there are many, many things that I am need to improve upon- and I generally spend a lot more time and energy dwelling on those. Part of the reason that I love teaching exercise so much is that it reminds me of parts of ME that I think are great, and that I love. I think we all need reminders like that on a daily basis!

  14. DeniseVsays:

    hi gretchen! i stalk your blog every now and then 🙂 i’m glad i came to this entry…i’d never thought about it like that before but it makes so. much. sense. I struggle many times wondering if i really want to get into the professional photography arena (and have been for the past couple years) and i’m really good at making excuses for myself but i was just thinking last week that it’s time to change that mindset and believe in myself and my abilities. your blog reiterates and drives the point home for me (of course easier said than done but i’m working on it!). i love photography. i love taking photos and i sure do believe I can take a great photo! i also believe you are definitely a loquacious and elegant writer. and this was a beautifully enlightening entry <3


  15. Tangible signs of validation are so important. Even if you are not needing it from other people, you still are doing 10Ks, or halfs and checking your time – or whether you can finish. It’s not external validation I think so much as objective validation. When you lose 16 lbs and nobody can see it – or you don’t see real signs that things are improving … it can be hard to feel “improvement”.

    You can’t let people stop you from doing what you love – especially if there is the ability. Thing about writing is that frankly, you’re pursuing the best approach to breaking in – just write. You got noticed by the FC paper, no? That’s something. And obviously a lot of followers here.

    The unfortunate thing – and why relying on outside validation is dangerous – is that doing the right thing, and “things working out” are not always related. And there is the real key – if you can accept that you are doing everything to the best of your ability, but sometimes things don’t work out – then presto! Of course when you find out, tell me how, lol.

  16. This is something I have struggled with for a REALLY long time. When I was in high school, I was at a skating camp where one of the parents that was there overseeing all of us in the dorms took me aside one night when I was really struggling with some of these self-worth issues. She asked me to start a journal where each night I would write one thing that I liked about myself or that I thought I was good at. It couldn’t be something like “so and so said I had a good camel spin today,” it had to be “I can do a good camel spin.” It really helped then, and as I’ve struggled with these same issues lately in adulthood, I’ve thought about starting the journal again.

  17. Hi. Just came across your blog from Julie at, and if I could high-five a post, I totally would. You hit the nail on the head.

    I’m a recently published indie writer, but it’s hard to get readers when your own family won’t buy my book (yet they say they’re supportive. Whatevs). I try to tell people, but that modesty thing comes in fast and strong (I blame a couple friends from junior high who told me I bragged to much. Gotta love insecurities of childhood that stick around). I’m trying to be better about it, but like everything, it takes work.

    Good luck in your writing! I look forward to reading more from you. 🙂

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