Guys: Be Proud of Yourself

Have you ever done anything that has made you proud? Not just proud of the outcome, but proud of yourself for doing it? Can you admit this pride to yourself? And here’s the scary part: can you tell someone else how proud of yourself you are? An intimate friend or spouse? An acquaintance?

As a youngster growing up, I learned that that it was OK to point to an external result with modest, understated pride. Hit a home run. Score an 800 on the college boards. Get a great job. Write a widely read article. Achieve a financial result. All external results. All OK to acknowledge without being pompous, without bragging.

A tip of the hat while rounding the bases was an acceptable self-acknowledgement of the home run, expressing any pride was not. External results could be acknowledged with modesty, but humility was critical. Anything else would be self-aggrandizing, self-promotional, egotistical, not acceptable behavior. Bragging was bad, and showing pride was the same as bragging. Wrong.

Over the years, I’ve conducted my own unscientific survey. Every male with whom I’ve spoken about this feel the same way. White House officials. Government and corporate leaders. Friends and colleagues. And, all admit a sense of unfulfillment, of restraint. But worse, all feel a need to keep striving that comes from not being able to admit to oneself that you’ve done it, that you’ve made it, that you’ve achieved it. All feel a need to say to someone else, and to themselves, “Hey, look at my doing, not just at the outcome of what I’ve done. I did it, and I’m proud!” All want permission to say it softly, to say it gently, to say it quietly, but to say it, nonetheless.

How do women feel about this, I’ve been asked. Well, I’m not sure. In my conversations, the women seem much more focused on contentment and fulfillment. The men are inherently scorekeepers, and yet they’re not letting themselves acknowledge a personal victory, a personal score, a personal win. Surely, generalizations are imprecise, but so is the unscientific survey that I’ve conducted on this subject for decades. My conclusion: it’s a guy problem.

So, how do you be appropriately proud, without bragging, without going over the top? That’s easy. Trust your judgment. You didn’t get to where you are in life without knowing how to achieve balance, without knowing how to be appropriate. You’ll do fine. Just do it.

So, guys, what are you proud of yourself for doing lately? I’m proud of myself for finally writing this.

9/11, Oil & Civility

As I listen to the shouting, finger-pointing, blaming, and anger, my thoughts go back to the morning of 9/11/2001. I was one of a very small group attending meetings that were to have included 34 Senators. The meetings were being held at a hotel on Capitol Hill, about a block from the Senate Office Buildings.

Like everyone else, we watched in horror as events unfolded on television, and rumors of other attacks on the White House and elsewhere in Washington spread rapidly from unknown sources. Those Senators already present were quickly whisked away to safer places, and the rest never came. We only learned later that, as noted in today’s Washington Post, “if United Flight 93 hadn’t left late, giving its passengers time to hear about the other attacks and retake control of the aircraft, its hijackers might have succeeded in the hitting the Capitol.” I will always be grateful to the true heroes on that plane.

One of my dominant memories of the day was the overriding calm and civility that I saw everywhere. From the crowd in the hotel lobby to the people on the street, virtually all I heard was silence. Not just no sirens, but no sounds. Even as I drove home hours later, there was no sound and drivers were courteous. From Capitol Hill, through the streets of Washington, and across the bridges into Virginia (not near the Pentagon), usually impatient Washington drivers made no sound and guided each other as I progressed on my 5-hour trip that should have taken 20 minutes. I kept thinking all that time that it was like driving in a library.

What a difference the years have made. The problem is not merely one Congressman calling the President a liar on the House floor, or the sniping from members of both political parties. It is not merely the anger and hostility that surround all of our politics. It is not merely that everything, like the oil spill, has become political.

It is the lack of civility all around us. Reasoned public debate has given way to shouting and even gun-carrying. Everyone seems to be unhappy about something, some possibly for good reason, and certainly everyone now has the technical means to let everyone else know their opinion on anything.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we rallied as a nation and displayed our finest traits as a people: patriotism and the perseverance to proceed toward a better future. Yes, the world changed that day, and it is changing again. Now, I hope that we can regain some of that fortitude and civility again. We’re going to need it in the days ahead.