Do Self-Esteem and Modesty Conflict with Each Other?

At work today, I showed a new co-worker my first probation report, just so she could get a sense of what management is looking for when she is being evaluated as an employee. I wanted to help her. As a Staff Services Analyst (SSA), one is on probation for their first year, and receives three probation reports: the first on month four, the second on month eight, and the final on year one. Then, one achieves permanent status as a state employee and has certain job protections afforded to them.

I decided to show her my first probation report, although my final one was way better — practically off the charts for an SSA. I told my co-worker that I was showing her my first probation report because I was embarrassed about the final report that I received. I was telling her the truth — I was embarrassed — but I did not tell her the reason.

Why would I hide my greatness from her? Why would I hold back?

I worked long and hard to develop my self-esteem. I know I am smart. I know I am a fantastic analyst. I know I am a good writer, although I am still developing my blogging skills. I know my own strengths and weaknesses, and I have a fairly balanced sense of self. It took me years to get to where I am with my self-esteem, but I am here. I still have a long way to go, however.

I think that part of my self-esteem is still wrapped up in how others see me. I want people to think I am a wonderful person, but not full of myself. Would showing my co-worker all of my “outstanding” ratings (the highest rating one can receive) in my final probation report give off the vibe that I am bragging about myself? That I am better than others? That was not the way I wanted to present myself, so I refrained from showing her.

I think the message that society sends to women (men, too, but especially women) is “Realize your self-worth, but don’t show it to others.” In other words, I need to keep my self-esteem to myself. But by squirreling away my heightened sense of self, I am doing a disservice to myself. I am not fully realizing my self-esteem.

Modesty can be good, but only up until a point. Of course, one should not put themselves up on a pedestal and profess to be the greatest person in the whole wide world. But if one is hiding their gifts from the world, then they are not doing society any favors by being modest.

I know I am good. I know I have a lot of gifts to offer to people. I would like to do a lot of good, but can I do that if I am hiding my true worth?

I don’t think so.

I know it is more effective to show people the many things I am capable of than to tell them. But I did not even have the courage to show my co-worker my “outstanding” probation report. If I keep this up, then how will I ever get ahead in life? I don’t want to remain stagnant. I want to grow even more as a person. But with growing comes growing pains. Growing is going to be uncomfortable. But staying comfortable and cozy keeps me in one place, not moving forward. I have places to go and people to help. So, what do I need to do to push past the discomfort and become the person I was meant to be?

I must put myself out there. I must be fine with showing people what I am capable of. I must help people develop themselves. I am a leader. I need to lead. If I want to be a champion for mental health, then I must know the way, go the way, and show the way.

Yes, I know this blog post is about me telling you how great I am. That makes me uncomfortable. But I am tired of being modest and not living up to my full potential. The greatest leaders are not modest. They show people that they are great leaders. They do not shrink when people compliment them. They accept the compliment with grace, and are fueled by that compliment to become even greater.

I am going to stop shrinking myself when someone mentions that I am intelligent and I do good work. There are people out there who will want to make me feel small. In fact, I have been faced with that my entire life. I’m tired of being beaten down by them. But it is my responsibility to rise above their insults and become the person I was meant to be.

I am going to say yes, that self-esteem and modesty do conflict with each other. I don’t need to tell everyone that I am the best (I’m really not), but I don’t need to dismiss people’s compliments either.

If you know your self-worth, then by all means, do something with it. Climb mountains. Write that book. Start that blog. Become a thoughtful leader. But you will only go so far by being modest.

4 thoughts on “Do Self-Esteem and Modesty Conflict with Each Other?”

  1. Huzzah, Nicole! Or better yet, bravo! One of the signs of your growth is your willingness to use the difficult experiences of your life in service to others. And the irony is, we always get as much benefit as the benefit we give. We are not a people understanding, let alone generous and kind, to people we consider different. And that’s exactly for the reason you were outlining in this blog – most people struggle to feel worthy. Unfortunately, they make themselves feel better by bullying or being condescending to more vulnerable people. I look forward to your courageous offerings of wisdom from your experiences.

    1. Thank you! Your words mean a lot to me. I want to help others through my blog, and I suspect that I will be helped through my own words along the way.

  2. I’m so proud of you for putting your thoughts and feelings out into the world, Nicole! I know how hard that is, and am over here jumping for joy and wagging my tail for you!

    A few thoughts that came up for me as I was reading:

    – Do the best leaders really lack modesty? I’m not sure. When I think of the leaders I respect the most, they’re still incredibly modest. Perhaps it’s a difference in who we’re considering? Or how we’re considering modesty?

    – How do you differentiate between humility and modesty?

    – Where’s the threshold between knowing your greatness, not hiding your greatness, and making sure everyone else KNOWS about your greatness?

    I think we can have quiet power, quiet confidence. I think some of the more well known, charismatic leaders exude confidence and competence, some of which is earned, some of which is not, and there’s a difference between those that are still modest and humble and those that are just straight full of themselves!

    You are an incredible analyst AND writer AND human and I can’t wait to follow along on your writing journey!!!

    1. It means a lot to me that you’re reading my blog! Thank you!

      Maybe good leaders do possess modesty. But they don’t shrink when it comes to a challenge. They show how great they are — they don’t necessarily tell it. Any great leader will talk about their accomplishments when prompted, whether it be during a speech to thousands or on a one-on-one chat. They don’t say “Nah, I’m not all that great.”

      I’m not sure what the difference between modesty and humility is. Perhaps being humble means knowing when you’re wrong and owning up to it, and modesty is always acting like you’re wrong, or you don’t have the answer. I know these aren’t standard dictionary definitions. They’re just my musings.

      Knowing you’re great means you’re more likely to show it, and other people are more likely to know as well. You can know you’re great and still hide it, but it’ll eat away at you. You won’t be rising to your potential if you don’t show it. I think letting others know you’re great is best done through good works. I like it when people know their own worth, show it, and even say it.

      When I think of great leaders, the first that comes to mind is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was not quiet by any means. He was a great orator, and he expressed many opinions and calls to action. Barack Obama also doesn’t stay quiet, and I think he is one of the greatest presidents we have ever had. He’s still a leader although he is not in national executive power.

      I agree that sometimes a leader needs to be quiet and let others have a voice, but I think they know when it is appropriate to do so.

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