Gold Stars: Praise as a Powerful Self-discovery Tool

We humans love praise. We don’t like to admit it, and we’re usually uncomfortable receiving it. We’d like to have some transcendental, detached attitude about how we do what we do because we love it, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Like “art for art’s sake.” But the truth is, at least in my opinion, everyone has a tinge–or maybe a giant blot–of insecurity. Praise helps us get over the insecurity and confirms our quiet suspicion that whatever we did was actually pretty good. We need it. Like dogs.

Notice the utter remorse in Becks' eyes when he got caught on the chair (where he's not supposed to be)

Like everyone, I appreciate praise. I have a store of personal triumphs in the back of my brain–instances from school, jobs or life in general when my work or effort impressed someone else enough that they made a point of telling me so.

Right under my Master's diploma--my Model UN Outstanding Delegate award for being on the Press Corps. From high school. In 1999.

I think back on those moments when I’m doubting my abilities. Reminders of past success give me confidence that I can be successful now, too.

But those moments of pride have an even greater value. The self-styled life is about putting together a lifestyle that reflects who I am–what motivates me, what I’m passionate about, what my interests are. Of course, discovering those details is almost as much of a challenge as finding a way to incorporate all of them into my lifestyle. I’ve realized that my secret stash of confidence boosters is an accurate indicator of that magic recipe for happiness. There is a discernible pattern in the collection of memories and mementos of past triumphs. The pattern tells me what has mattered to me, where I put my best efforts and what has contributed the most to my sense of self-worth. I have chosen these moments over the years to define me.

Permanently on my bookshelf: Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth". My 7th grade book report on it got a glowing review. Embarrassingly enough, I do still have the book report on its original looseleaf.

It’s a good (and oft-noted) self-discovery exercise for anyone who’s struggling to find her passion, and a career related to it. Reflect on those moments you hold onto when you know you were at your best and other people saw it too. Spot a pattern?

So you might wonder, what’s my pattern? Well, I’ve realized the moments I cling to are mostly related to things I’ve written…  

Do you keep a mental collection of past praise? Is there a pattern to it?

11 responses to “Gold Stars: Praise as a Powerful Self-discovery Tool

  1. Remembering moments of winning does help motivation.

    Self discovery is more complex that it seems.
    Mainly because the problems that we deal with are usually due to our inner conflicts.
    Our inner conflicts are due to our self fighting our self.
    Just discovering one side of the conflict does not help, both sides have to be found and a dialog has to happen for any meaningful changes to happen.
    This all takes time.
    There are many tools but the most innovative one I am seeing nowadays is
    Unlike reading a book or witting a journal the system asks questions and causes psychic junk to flow out allowing a clarity to remain.
    Each side is not clear when we write a journal.
    A system that is always pushing us in a way is necessary.

  2. When we were at our best can also be the most intense and painful parts of our journey.

    It may even be this very moment, reading this post.

    Is it just a decision to think that or do we need proof and everyone’s agreement?

  3. Pingback: Letting Go: Destroying Diaries? « the self-styled life·

  4. I love this, I will make a mental list, it is more of a rounding up of the stray bits that swim through on days when I least expect them, little bits of silver and gold, shards, shavings, slivers of hope, belief, the glint in that eye, that eye looking back at me. I will put them together in honor of your post.

    I agree…we need acknowledgement that what we have done exists.

    You are here in my office as I quickly type, knowing I have work I am avoiding, but knowing to that I like your style and want to call back from the beyond !!! Happy day, happy day, happy day.

    PS my dog looks just like yours, just smaller.

    • Haha thanks for letting me be your means of procrastination. I’m honored 🙂

      Go collect your bits–very helpful and enlightening! Thanks for your comments!

      PS: what kind of dog do you have? Becks is a black lab/maybe mix. Very handsome guy!

  5. I wrote a folder of poems for my freshman English class in high school. My English teacher submitted one poem to a National High School Anthology of High School Poetry. When we moved to FL, people were congratulating me left and right in the hallways at my new school and I didn’t know what it was about. When I got to English class later in the day, I found out that my current new high school got all the praise and all the recognition for my submission. Interestingly, it was my Alabama high school teacher who had submitted it, not me, not my new high school. Needless to say I wrote a thank you note to Mrs. G. who helped me in her own way get noticed at my new high school where I was a sophomore. I love that lime green folder with the poems that came out of the class of one of my favorite high school teachers. Again, great post!

  6. I totally do! I have a stash of papers from college and grad school that I pull out from time to time. One was written for my Disasters in American History class – my prof submitted it to the history department paper contest, and though I didn’t win, I got a a Loyola History Department mug for being submitted. I brought it to work at Fitness First once after graduation, and left it… and someone stole it! Then, I went back to Loyola to visit once and I asked if I could have another one – that one broke soon after! But, I glued it back together and still have it on display. It has a train on it and said “Caffeine drives the engine of history…” haha.

    • Um, I totally had one of those mugs (I did not win either)! My Dad “borrowed” mine and it broke as well! So funny. Yeah, every time I move I go through the old papers but I still hold on to them!

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