Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.
Abe had the right idea, but someone always recognizes superior work. You will be better served in the long run by letting someone else acknowledge your contributions. In the working world and in relationships, pointing out your own value does more harm than good. If you consistently produce quality work, others will bestow the spotlight upon you so that all can appreciate your virtues.
I recently had a conversation with a football player friend of mine. He is among the greatest athletes I have ever been around. He is exceptionally committed to his training and always arrives at the locker room prepared. He brings exceptional energy and enthusiasm to the stadium daily.
He has deservedly reached the NFL, yet it took longer than it should (he toiled on the practice squad for some time), given his skillset. Why? It’s probably a complicated set of factors, but one is that he often points out his own virtues in our conversations. If I notice this, others do as well. In fact, he notes in particular the lack of respect he receives from an important decision maker in his organization.
Men and women who actively seek out approval through touting their accomplishments publicly or to co-workers rub folks wrong. Others perceive it as weakness. Our qualifications must be truly stunning to offset the unsavoriness of spotlight seeking.
This NFL athlete has partially managed that, but his status on his team could be more elevated than it is. He is a shiny gem and sparkles without effort. He needn’t seek recognition, yet he does. It suggests a lack of confidence or desperation. Attention seeking is childlike; it’s the expression of being needy. Neediness is generally unattractive to adults.
Proclaiming our own strengths is counterproductive. By crying out, “look at me!” folks tend to look away. Humility is endearing and carries even more impact when the individual is highly skilled, intelligent and well-equipped. We are disarmed and put at ease, compelled to lean in and listen. From Richie Norton:
There is power born of humility . . . Humility, in business and in life, is a powerful asset and does not denote lowliness, unimportance, or self-deprecation”
Terry Francona is among the most likeable and capable baseball men I’ve been around. He has multiple World Series rings and has received the endless adulation of the men and women who work in our sport. The fans have almost universally appreciated him, nearly unheard of for a manager.
He never seeks the spotlight. I can’t recall a single clubhouse moment in which he pointed out what he does well. He is quick to deflect praise for himself, preferring to shower his players and coaches with the applause. He publicly recognizes his quirks and laughs at himself with great ease.
Humility is not a false sense of modesty or a cover for shortcomings. Tito has a deep knowledge of and commitment to baseball. He’s seen the game from every angle. In Philadelphia, Francona’s Phillies teams from 1997-2000 never finished above third place, or with a record above .500. He never waffled. He passionately pursued his goals without passing blame. He never once spoke about what he did well that was washed away by his club’s poor performance. He recognized his shortcomings and took the fall gracefully when he was fired. From ESPN:
“It’s been a difficult year,” Francona said. “And when you have difficult years, the manager gets fired. I understand that.”
His focus on his work, not the approval of it, led to the opportunity to shine with the Boston Red Sox. Had he been more of an attention seeker, he likely would not have been presented such a unique and powerful platform.
Let me be clear. Every human being appreciates being recognized for his or her exceptional work. In fact, this recognition can be a strong motivator, encouraging us to put in extreme levels of effort. We should all harness our driving factors, not excise them. This post is about the public sharing of that desire. People appreciate it when others don’t seem outwardly narcissistic, even as we recognize those self-absorbed thoughts within our own head.
Seeking praise ultimately becomes an addictive habit. We trade our confidence for a quick self-esteem boost, and hand control of our internal state to others. Being successful becomes meaningless without a nod of acknowledgement from another. External motivators are only effective when they’re continuous; once withheld, some become depressed and resentful.
The most well-regarded individuals are those who strive for success, then let their triumphs speak for themselves. Putting this into practice may not always be easy, but it is straight-forward. Be introspective. Healthy, accurate self-evaluation creates a picture of balance. We should be familiar with our own shortcomings and quietly appreciative of our own virtues. An inner confidence does not need to be shouted to the world. Make it a point to recognize and acknowledge another’s strengths. Someone else’s successes do not diminish your own accomplishments. Surround yourself with likeminded people.
I will leave you with this thought. From 1996 Nobel Prize recipient, Wisława Szymborska:
The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the black panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.
The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.
The killer whale’s heart weighs one hundred kilos
but in other respects it is light.
There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.