Recognizing and Valuing Your Successes. Part II: Character and Moral Successes

In my last newsletter, I discussed the importance of not undervaluing your work successes.

Perfectionists tend to ignore or devalue all accomplishments other than “the big score,” which is a very demoralizing and demotivating mindset.)

But it’s also important to recognize your “character successes,” and I list some types of those below.

I decided to write this newsletter because I know so many people who work hard at meaningful endeavors, including art, activism, small business, or simply trying to live an ethical life; and who are extremely hard on themselves when they falter.

Some of this extreme self-blame is probably due to perfectionism. But some happen when people don’t fully recognize the nature of the barriers they’re up against, or the magnitude of their accomplishments in the face of those barriers.

Some barriers are personal or familial, and we shouldn’t underrate those; but society itself can be a huge barrier when it pays lip service to virtues like caring, compassion, courage, honesty, integrity, individuality, and generosity, but then undermines them at every turn. Notwithstanding the occasional feel-good media story, practically the only successes that get recognized and celebrated in a capitalist/consumerist oligarchy are those of wealth and power.

Society May Devalue Your Achievements, but You Shouldn’t

You need to know who you are, what’s important to you, and why it’s important.  You also need to be absolutely clear that you have a right to pursue your dream, even if doing so is unconventional, unpopular, and/or financially unremunerative; and that society as a whole becomes enriched as more and more citizens get to do so.

And you also need to be clear about: (a) the consequences of choosing your path, and (b) the roadblocks you’re likely to encounter. This isn’t a recipe for lowering your standards, by the way: you can still aim high. But there’s a difference between doing your utmost in the face of acknowledged barriers, and underestimating or ignoring those barriers. The former is a hallmark of ambitious people; the latter, a form of self-sabotage.

Too many good people get stuck between two values systems, which is about the worst place to get stuck. If you’re trying to live one value system (say, of individuality, compassion, fairness, etc.), but are judging yourself by another (conventional, consumerist, etc.), then you’re probably going to feel perpetually like a failure.

So, while evaluating your successes over the past year, don’t neglect these:

  • Successes of individuality / unconventionality. You did something you felt was right even though it was unpopular and/or others judged you for it. Or, you made a public stand for a cause you believed in.
  • Successes of caring and compassion. You took care of someone or something that needed care, especially if doing so entailed a lot of sacrifice (nearly all caretaking does) or could legitimately be considered someone else’s responsibility.
  • Successes of compromise and sacrifice. You gave up something you wanted after deciding there was something you wanted more. (A bigger success than it might seem: we often stall in achieving our goals out of a fear of the associated losses and/or sacrifices.)
  • Successes of courage. You took large or small steps in the face of fear.
  • Successes of empathy and compassion. You put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and felt for them–especially if it was difficult to do so.
  • Successes of judgement. You made a good decision in difficult circumstances.
  • Successes of fairness. I can still remember being told by an elementary school teacher that “life isn’t fair; get over it.” I resented it then, and still do. Life maybe not be fair, but justifying one’s actions based on that is ignoble. And pushing back on life’s unfairness, both in one’s personal life and politically, is one of the most worthwhile motives and purposes one can have.
  • Successes of action. You took an action when it would have been your preference (or more convenient) not to. Note that this action need not have “worked”–we’re not infallible, and some of even our good decisions are likely to fail. But if your action did succeed, then you also get to claim a Success of Effectiveness!
  • Successes of perseverance, tenacity, and endurance. You stuck with something important even when things got difficult.

I’m sure you can think of others! (If you do, please send them to me.)

If recognizing the above kinds of successes seems self-indulgent, you’re being perfectionist. Remember, I’m not asking you to invent or exaggerate anything; merely to acknowledge and celebrate what you actually achieved, often in the face of difficulty. Recognizing these types of nontraditional character successes is not only harmless (I promise you won’t devolve into an egomaniac!), but inspires you to build on or repeat the success.

And these kinds of successes inspire others as well. They are, in fact, exactly the kinds of successes that can be most transformational of ourselves and society.

I wish you well—and many character and professional successes—for 2014

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