Last week, I set a huge personal record (PR) for a 5k, dropping my freshman time by over two minutes and my high-school time by over three minutes. Breaking 18 minutes in a 5k was something I’ve dreamed about doing as long as I’ve been racing.
Yet right along with my joy came the self-condescending refrain that I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing as an athlete: things like “I used to be so slow in high school,” or “man, I did not know anything about running last year.”
These self-deprecating comments pervade academics as well. I hear remarks like “wow, my writing from freshmen year was so stupid,” or “I had no idea what I was doing as a freshman,” all the time, often from my own mouth.
These comments may be true to the extent that you did not apply yourself to your sport or studies. But most of the time, we are subtly tearing down our past selves, and not giving the credit that we truly owe to ourselves.
In reality, this self-deprecation comes from a deep-rooted pride that refuses to recognize the shortcomings that one has conquered. Underlying our comments, we shirk the reality of our weakness and place ourselves in a position of false superiority over things with which we legitimately struggled.
Not only is this mindset perilous merely in terms of inhabiting a false construct of ourselves but by deprecating our former accomplishments, we limit our future growth. If I condescend my freshman self with the great wisdom I have assumed by being a sophomore, it is very unlikely that I will be open to the growth that is possible by my senior year.
This is, furthermore, simply a matter of justice to ourselves. When I call my high school cross-country times slow or my old essays meaningless, I belittle my effort and accomplishment. If I were to say this to my 16-year-old self, huffing and puffing after she had just finished a race, I doubt that she would agree.
Although it seems like a paradox, it takes humility to take responsibility for our accomplishments. Perhaps it even takes as much humility to put ourselves in the shoes of others as it does to put ourselves in our own shoes, one or five or fifteen years ago.
Let’s strive for constant self-improvement. But let’s have enough humility to give ourselves credit for getting there.