The Humble Brag

I absolutely love when memories pop up in my Facebook feed–a picture of my now 16-year old son from a decade ago, front teeth missing, ice cream dripping down his chin; a video of my beloved husky that passed away four years ago rollicking in the snow; an image of the last Christmas my grandpa Selmer was with us.  The trip down Facebook memory lane is often nostalgic and occasionally funny, but a few weeks back a memory popped up that just made me cringe.

The post started out with, “home with a sick kiddo today, but I’ve still managed…” and then it launched into a laundry list of things I had apparently completed–all by 9:30 a.m.! Beds made!  Four loads of laundry done! Two vacations planned! Meals planned and prepped for the week!  Hand slap to the forehead, what was I thinking?

We all want to feel valued and important; we want people to tell us that they’re impressed and praise our accomplishments.  But somehow just asking for that seems like too much, so we try to mitigate the brag with manufactured modesty.

We all hate this person…

“Ugh, spilled my coffee on the interior of my brand new Mercedes! #MondayMesses”

We don’t necessarily hate that they’re bragging about having a brand new Mercedes (maybe you do, but that’s your problem and we’ll talk about that later), we hate that they’re attempting to disguise the brag as a plea for us to commiserate with them over the Starbucks seeping into their perforated leather. Who? Me? I’m not bragging.  I’m totally complaining about something that happens to all of us.  Did I mention it happened in my brand new Mercedes?

Humble bragging is disingenuous.  It is a thinly veiled attempt to neutralize the potential for seeming egotistical or narcissistic.  And, what’s so bad about the occasional I-deserve-a-pat-on-the-back-I’m-a-rock-star brag?  Isn’t asking for well-deserved praise for our accomplishments better than asking for sympathy for them?  I mean, is that what you really want–sympathy for your success?  I’m not judging, clearly I’m just as guilty of this horrible habit.

Let’s break down my *awesome* humble brag…

“Home with a sick kiddo”.  We’ve all been there; taking care of a sick family member can suck.  I can’t remember exactly what the aforementioned sick child had, but clearly it wasn’t anything that landed us in the hospital.  I could have left the post at that and my friends would have honestly empathized with me and that would have been fine.  It should have been enough.

“Beds made”. Presuming that the sick child was laying in his bed that would leave me with exactly two other beds to make.  It’s not like we own a bed and breakfast or are the Duggers.  Did I really need praise for this?  If you know me at all daily bed-making is a given.  If you’re the person that never makes the beds, this might be worthy of praise.

“Four loads of laundry done”.  Granted, the washer and dryer that I had when I made this post weren’t nearly as cool and techie as the ones I own now.  If the appliances in my house ever stage a mutiny, the current washing machine will be the mastermind behind it. Nevertheless, I wasn’t exactly dragging my clothes to the river bank to scrub them against a washboard.  Besides, with two boys, two dogs and a husband training for a triathlon four loads of stuff on any given day wasn’t a big deal.  Getting praise for this is the equivalent of my kid getting a participation trophy.  Just, no.

“Two vacations planned”. I can’t even remember a year when we went on two vacations.  Maybe there was one vacation that got planned and I was counting something like driving to Chicago to visit my sister as a “vacation”.  regardless, I wasn’t exactly overseeing the logistics for the European leg of Pink’s world tour.  Embellishing the truth to get praise is never okay!

“Meals planned and prepped for the week.”  I probably should have just posted a picture of my counter crammed with pots, pans and measuring spoons; veggies chopped and muffins cooling–and left it at that.  I really do meal plan and prep every week of my life.  It means wholesome food for my family, less wasted groceries  and we rarely end up picking up carry-out crap.  That’ll be another blog, but I’m owning this, I’m a rock star!

Exaggerating my accomplishments with random, daily tasks presented as if they were a feat of epic proportions, all while caring for a nine year-old who probably just had a cold isn’t exactly praise-worthy.  Before all the stay-at-home-moms come after me with pitchforks and torches, I’m not saying that the work isn’t meaningful and appreciated.  When you look at the entire scope of what you do, what you’ve sacrificed to be at home, that is what deserves our praise.

This isn’t just limited to social media, the phenomenon happens while we are standing in the school pick up line, gathered around the conference table, sitting at the soccer field and while sipping rosé with our girlfriends.

Announcing our triumphs is a little like crying wolf, a well placed shout-out will get you the attention you want.  Do it too often, and no one comes running when you really want them to.  Spend your time yelling that werewolves are coming, and now people know you’re lying.

So, why do we do it–the humble brag?  Why don’t we just put our blessings and achievements out there for the world to congratulate us?  In part, we want to be liked.  Asking for the spotlight feels selfish–and it is–but that’s okay.  Sympathy is also selfish, we ask for people’s focus to turn to us during some uncomfortable situation.  It is easier to ask for sympathy because its not about us, its about the moment.  Or at least, that’s how it feels.  We tell ourselves it’s the situation that demands the attention, not me.

“I’ve worked so hard towards this day, I got the promotion!” That’s awesome, congrats!

“Being in the highest tax bracket is *such* a bummer.” Yeah, must suck being in the top one percent.

Not only is the humble brag disingenuous, but the response is feigned sympathy.  Is that what you really want?

So, if you feel like telling people that you got your dream house, or moved into your first apartment, then do it–no downplaying, no self-deprecating humor required.   Please don’t be faux-humble for someone else’s benefit. If your “look-at-me” moment makes someone else feel bad, that’s on them. And, if you’re the person that feels bad when you hear about your friend’s good fortune, you don’t need to rain on their parade.  That would be a good time to sit down with your own thoughts and figure out why Sally’s new car/boyfriend/job/puppy has you green with envy.

Maybe, just maybe if we do better owning our feelings, the humble brag will face extinction.  I’d rather have my conversations and social media feeds filled with, “So excited to be named EVP of Global Relations!” Than, “So exhausting always being the one chosen to lead the most important projects!  Why me?!”  Own your awesome and banish the humble brag!


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