Why do I not celebrate my own successes?

“Do you know there are rumours about you at work?” Chills down my spine: what is this about? Then I spot the look in his eyes and understand he is kidding me. Well, he is and he isn’t.

“Rumour says you won a research award of the year in the county? What the f… were you thinking not telling us all about it? How bad can you get at promoting yourself?” He laughs and shakes his head in disbelief. “Seriously, this is big, isn’t it? Like, you make a huge fuss about someone in the group winning an award for best poster at a national conference, but you don’t think this is even worth mentioning?”

Well, to be truthful, I did mention it to the two PhD students who were still at work when I got the message about the award. A couple of others had seen the press release the day after and there was some talk about it during coffee, especially since my husband sent me flowers to work! He clearly knows more about celebrating success…

But then I never really thought to bring it up at the team meeting, maybe because the official prize ceremony will not take place until another month. And there were lots to do and all that. But maybe considering my PhD student’s question is worth the while. Just because he is American doesn’t mean he cannot have a point…

I often tell my PhD students how important it is to always celebrate small successes and it’s true, I am quick to celebrate theirs. So why don’t I follow my own advice?

The standard joke in my family of origin is that when someone gets an award – and my parents often do – the question asked is: Is it just the humiliation or is there some cash involved? This irony does not mean we are not proud, but it is kind of part of the expectation to excel. There is no fanfare and certainly no bragging about that prize or award. And to distance oneself and show humility is more important than anything else. But I am afraid we might be missing an important point here.


Only judging people on what they achieve is of course very dangerous and no child in the world should have to feel that not succeeding with something takes away their worth as a person. Nevertheless, an important driver for people is mastery and achieving something in the face of effort is truly rewarding per se.

Think of the child who finally succeeds going up the steps, finishing a puzzle, solving a maths problem or getting a 100 likes on Instagram for a photo they have worked on! Achieving results through effort is good for children’s self-esteem and builds resilience. So we should probably not shy away from expecting both effort and certain results from our children.

But even if there is an intrinsic reward of flow there, is it wrong to celebrate when an effort is successful? I think I could do more of that. Even if the phrase “promoting yourself” still makes me genuinely uncomfortable.

But there is change about to happen! Today I got an e-mail summarising the evaluation of a seminar I have participated in at the national meeting of our governing political party. We got 3.91 on a 4-point scale as presenters (with a high response rate) and the seminar as a whole got 3.85. Someone even wrote that my presentation was best. So I bought an ice cream and gave myself two extra minutes in the sunshine. And I will probably tell my colleagues about it at the next team meeting.

In fact, I will post those results right here, right now, as a later e-mail I just received put us as the top-ranked seminar of the 28 that whole day, in front of seminars with ministers and other high-profile politicians. The average score for the day was 3.34 so the general quality was pretty good, as well! I am not sure if this is bragging, self-promotion, or celebration, but here I go:


2 thoughts on “Why do I not celebrate my own successes?

  1. Congratulations to the award and being at the top of the list. As one of them regretting not to attend the seminar in Gothenburg I am happy of being a friend of yours and I heard good comments about the seminar later in the evening. Enjoy, celebrate and PROMOTE yourself. It’s at least good for the funding of your research 😉

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