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Stop Minimizing Your Accomplishments

You may be your worst critic.

Key points

  • Comparing your achievements to others can leave you feeling less than.
  • Reach out to potential mentors and sponsors to help your career advancement.
  • Fully accept when others give you praise.

As humans are social beings, you likely crave validation. At work, you may seek validation from coworkers and supervisors, or through evaluations, awards, and promotions. Being in high-pressure and high-achievement-focused professions may result in you constantly chasing such external validation.

What happens if you do not allow yourself to fully feel the accomplishment even when you receive this validation?

You may be invalidating your achievements due to:

  • feeling like an impostor
  • negatively comparing yourself to others
  • systemic bias
  • inconsistent reinforcement
Rina Miele / Unsplash
Rina Miele / Unsplash

You Are Not an Impostor

Feeling like an impostor can come from feeling undeserving of your position or feeling as though you need to be perfect. Notice the stories that you tell yourself related to the effort you put into your work and what you do and don’t “deserve.” If your boss tells you that you did a great job on a presentation, don’t tear yourself down because the presentation wasn’t perfect. Catch and reframe the negative thoughts that start to chip away at that praise.


Boss: “Great job on that presentation today!”

Your negative thought: “But I jumbled my talking points on the one slide and I fumbled over my answer to one of the questions I got.”

Reframe your thought: “I did do a great job! And I’ve also learned from this experience so I can continue improving. In the future, I'm going to...”

Use Comparison to Practice Gratitude

The systems in which you function can often prioritize tasks that leave you feeling like you haven't done enough. There is always more work to be done and ways to continually improve. This can be motivating, but often it can lead you to negatively compare yourself to your peers.

You may have gotten a grant, but your colleague got a bigger one. Or you may have submitted a paper, but your colleague just had an article published. There will always be someone who has achieved something you haven’t. If you spend your time focused on comparing yourself negatively to others, it may leave you feeling like you do not deserve your accomplishments or that your accomplishments aren’t good enough.

Consider what it would feel like to instead compare yourself to a past version of yourself that didn’t have the knowledge and experience that you do now. Try to beat your own personal record, rather than comparing yourself to, often idealized versions of, colleagues.

Systemic Bias

In your work environment it’s likely that your achievements need to be in certain categories to count toward promotion. Moreover, your ability to obtain those achievements may depend on the mentors and sponsors you have access to. You may not be afforded the same opportunities as a colleague because of the perceptions others have about your abilities and interests, which are often based on assumptions surrounding your gender identity, race, age, physical appearance, and physical ability.

It may be helpful to reach out to supervisors, mentors, and sponsors in your profession to express your interest in being considered for opportunities and share that you will engage in regular follow-up to keep them abreast of the types of work you are doing.

The World is Often Random

You may discount your contributions or the effort you put in because of the inconsistent feedback you receive. Many professions fuel this self-discounting tendency by having inconsistent, invalidating, and seemingly random acceptances for grant submissions, project bids, journal submissions, and presentation proposals.

Have you ever worked really hard on a submission only for it to be rejected, while a submission you put together in an hour got accepted?

When unsuccessful, it can be helpful to reflect on how to improve in the future, though it is also important to recognize that sometimes decisions are made that have very little to do with your effort or qualifications. For example, there may have been too many submissions, or the committee was looking for someone with specific experience that was not shared in the call for applications.


  • Spend time reflecting on and recognizing the good effort you have put into your achievements.
  • Notice when you discount your efforts or compare yourself negatively to others.
  • Overcome the reflex to diminish your contributions or accomplishments.
  • When someone gives you praise, embrace it.
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