Giving and TAKING credit where credit’s due

A few years back, a colleague and I were asked by our director to write material for a potential teacher-training course. It was going to take a lot of our time and energy, but we were excited about what we could come up with. At one point I mentioned we should credit it, “created and developed by Josette and (insert colleague’s name).” He winced and said something along the lines that he wasn’t in it for the recognition.

I get it. The ego is a strange beast. But at what point are you standing up for your voice, — for your good work — and at what point are you stroking your ego’s pride? What I heard my colleague say is that there is a link between putting our names on our work and being egotistical; I heard that playing big and celebrating my voice is something to wince at; I also heard that it’s more acceptable to make myself small, or better yet, invisible.

Two questions came out of this: don’t we risk giving away our confidence, power, and self-trust by making ourselves small? And, why is recognition a bad thing anyway?

Making myself small

This has always been a challenging topic for me because there are so many mixed messages about what’s considered positive behavior around putting ourselves out there. It’s more acceptable for me to be modest, but if I’m too modest how am I going to stand out? It’s less egotistical to let someone else praise my work because if I talk about myself then I’m full of myself. So what if no one ever talks about my work? Am I just going to wait in the shade until that happens?

When I gave the first draft of my chapter to our editor (and prolific writer in her field), she sent it back saying I was giving too much credit to one of my references. She told me to rewrite a whole section by owning the work I had done with his work and by taking him out of that part of the equation. He wasn’t the one in my classroom experimenting with his ideas: I was. At that point, his work had become mine.

I was confused about how much credit I could take because I believed it wasn’t acceptable to shine. I thought it wasn’t my work to celebrate. The line between his work and mine was so blurred I couldn’t even see myself. It took longer than it probably should have because my confidence was put to the test, but I finally balanced out that equation.

Recognition vs. celebration

I understand why people cringe at the idea of recognition. I think it has to do with the intention behind it. Do I want to be recognized because I want to take a step up the ladder, not caring about what others think? Or would I like recognition (acknowledgment, appreciation) because I value connection and learning with others, especially in relation to my soul’s work?

One way I make sense of this idea of giving and taking credit is by putting myself in the position of the person who created the technique/activity/research I’m using. I imagine the hours they experimented, observed, and assessed their area of interest. I ask myself, “how would they feel if they read my work, saw themselves in it, but didn’t see any reference to themselves?” I imagine they would feel hurt and disappointed.

Maybe I’m influenced by Byongchan‘s work. When I see him labouring emotionally, creatively, and physically over his art so he can come up with a signature piece, I imagine the joy he might feel when it’s seen and celebrated for its beauty. I can’t speak for him, but I know I feel quite happy when others acknowledge his work.

You can substitute his work as an artist with any other creative endeavor, which I clearly connect to teaching. The joy of my craft comes from the process of creating what I feel called to and then sharing that creation. And while my sharing doesn’t guarantee it will be acknowledged — and I don’t do only to be acknowledged — there is a sense of encouragement that comes when my work is celebrated. It gives me the courage and energy to keep doing the work. Looking at it this way, it’s helpful to substitute recognition with celebration.

I understood my colleague’s intentions on that day. And maybe my ego was more in control than my gentle inner artist/teacher. Maybe that’s what he sensed. But as I look back on this moment, I now understand I’m not interested in lowering my voice or the voice of others for fear of being seen as egotistical. I want to celebrate the good work I do, as well as the good work I see around me. This is part of the way the world keeps evolving in a positive forward motion. As long as I’m in the business of creating and collaborating, I plan to give credit to the voices of my community. I’ll gladly take that credit as well.

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You’re so full of yourself!

“You’re so full of yourself!”

Could you imagine yourself saying “thank you” to this comment?

I’d like to offer up the idea that it’s okay to be full of yourself.

It’s definitely not an easy idea to accept. Most would cringe knowing others see them this way. I know I would. Although I try to put myself out there professionally, as a woman I’ve learned it’s safer to play small. I sometimes worry that I said or did something that came off as conceited: “Was it really necessary to write that comment about myself in my presentation bio?”,”Maybe I should have kept that Facebook post to myself?”

As a long term expat in Korea, I’ve observed how modesty and humility are highly valued. There is a general discomfort that seems to spread across a group of friends when someone talks about their success. It’s much safer to downplay your achievements.

In both these cultures, you won’t make it easy on yourself by acting superior. But what if it isn’t about superiority? What if it’s simply about honoring your gifts in way that you aren’t wasting your energy worrying about what others think? Imagine the ease you would feel if you could just fully be yourself. (click to tweet)

Imagine the space that would clear up if all you had to focus on was expressing your skills and knowledge without fear of judgment. My mind goes to exciting places when I consider this freedom. I imagine myself creating projects and sharing them with people in ways, well, Oprah might.

In Brené Brown’s first interview of her *Living Brave video series, she speaks to Oprah who shares how she used to be worried about being told she was full of herself. But Oprah, being Oprah, found a way to repurpose that judgment:

“Now I work at being full. I want to be so full that I’m overflowing. So when you see me coming, it ought to make you proud, to borrow a line from Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. When you see me coming it ought to make you proud, and what you see is a woman so full I’m overflowing with enough to share with everybody else. I’m going to own the fullness without ego, without arrogance, but with an amazing sense of gratitude that I’ve been born at a time where I am female on the planet, and I have the great pleasure and freedom to fill myself up.” (see poem below)

*Note: Brené and Oprah’s conversation on fullness starts at 12:05.

This. Overflowing. I imagine myself with a perpetually full tank of gas. Think of the places I could go and the people I could see! It’s impossible to get to these places with half a tank. But this is what happens when I try to make myself smaller in order to fit in. This is what happens when I try not to offend anyone.

This fullness isn’t about flaunting my gifts. It’s not about bragging about what I’ve done just to make myself look bigger and you smaller. To honour my gifts without ego or arrogance requires me to be appreciative of the experience I’ve gained, and the skills and knowledge that come along with it. When I’m grateful, I honour everyone and everything that helped me succeed. I fill myself up with this greatness, and in return, I take myself places I could never have imagined. (click to tweet)

What does your fullness look like?

________________________

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.