Missing: Sense of Accomplishment

I want to be proud of the things I do well. I should be proud of my accomplishments. We all should, big and small. I have this bad habit discounting the positives. I dwell on the negatives and sweep my accomplishments under the rug, like they don’t count. I always regret it later, much later. Like my M.Sc. for instance. I graduated in 2010. My parents had to drag me to my graduation, I didn’t treat myself at all and I refused to let anyone throw me a party. Isn’t part of being happy savouring the good moments and being proud of yourself? Shouldn’t I at least be celebrating the positives as much as I beat myself up over the mistakes? I regret not celebrating my Master’s degree now. Looking back, it was a big mile stone, but at the time, I felt like I didn’t deserve the celebration.

Last week, I found out that I was awarded a research fellowship from the Quebec government. I was thinking I’m going to do better this time. I got an award, I’m going to be proud of myself and celebrate the accomplishment. At first, I felt relieved. Getting this fellowship meant getting a salary. Things have been difficult financially over the last year while I’ve been in school without an income. This fellowship will give us some breathing room. I thought maybe after the financial stress had lifted a bit, I’d feel proud of myself. I’ve been going through the motions, doing the things you are supposed to do when something good happens. I told all the important people in my life instead of waiting for them to drag it out of me. I’ve posted my good news on my blog and on Twitter. I’ve accepted congratulations from many people and flowers from my supervisor. My husband and I got a giant cupcake over the weekend to celebrate. I feel empty though. I’m missing that sense of accomplishment. I don’t understand why. I’m wondering if my sense of accomplishment is being overshadowed by negative emotions….like stress, anger and frustration.

I think an achievement causes me stress because it raises the bar. When expectations become too high, dissatisfaction sets in. There is more room for failure. It’s probably part of my perfectionist attitude too, nothing is ever good enough. Now that I have a fellowship, it is expected that my research will go forward without a hitch, that I will find something of note and obtain my Ph.D. What if that’s not what happens? What if all I do is prove my hypothesis wrong?

Also, I am angry and frustrated at myself for not getting this fellowship sooner. Since I’ve got it now, I know that I’m capable, why didn’t I work harder to get it sooner. I applied in 2012 and 2013 and did not get the award. This year was my last year to be eligible. If I had gotten it sooner, I would have been funded for longer.

So instead of feeling pride, I’m stressed and mad at myself. Does this make any sense? Does anyone else ever feel this way?

I thought for sure by telling people and taking the time to celebrate would make me feel good about it, but….nothing. It’s like I’m waiting for something in order to be happy, seeking approval or something. Reading this over, it’s starting to sound familiar. Isn’t seeking external approval for relief of that empty feeling a characteristic of low self-esteem?  Like self-esteem, I think pride or feeling accomplished has to come from within. Acknowledgment from others can reinforce the emotion, but if that feeling is not created by you in the first place, the acknowledgement seems empty. It’s looking like my low self-esteem is the root of a lot of my mental health problems.

Starting now, I’m going to make working on my self-esteem a priority.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. christy barongan
    May 07, 2014 @ 19:50:38

    I struggle with this, too. As much as I try to remind myself that my self-worth is a given, my demons are constantly telling me otherwise. It doesn’t take them long to swoop in and turn an accomplishment into a possible failure or something that doesn’t count because I should have accomplished more sooner. But that’s what they do. I can’t stop them from saying those things, but it helps when I remind myself that they will be there when I accomplish something, doing their thing. It helps me not to believe them…as much.


    • somberscribbler
      May 11, 2014 @ 13:18:03

      You’re right, I need to learn to ignore the voices. If I can’t make them disappear, I can at least try to make them meaningless. I’m hoping reminding myself of my good fortune will keep the accomplishment fresh in my mind longer than usual. Maybe I’ll come to appreciate it a bit more.


  2. pempispalace
    May 08, 2014 @ 01:44:17

    Dear Somber – obviously you are going to be worried and apprehensive about what the future holds now you have achieved the next step on the ladder – everyone is – but think of the alternative – stagnation, lethargy, the monotony of doing the same thing each day. You certainly don’t need to beat yourself up for not achieving this award earlier in your life – I am a great believer that everything happens for a reason – maybe if you had got this two years ago bad things would have happened in your life because of the increased pressures on you at that time so be happy and celebrate that you have it now. I work with children with low self-esteem and I think in some ways it just is a personality trait you are born with – I see the glass half full and you see it as half empty – but we need ying and yang in the world and sometimes I need bringing down a little and looking at the reality of the situation and you need boosting up – so as long as we help each other out and provide support for one another we should all accomplish great things on Planet Earth! http://pempispalace.blogspot.co.uk/
    P.S. congratulations on your big achievement!!


    • somberscribbler
      May 11, 2014 @ 13:22:27

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree with you, that looking at the glass half full can be a personality trait. People just tend to lean one way or the other and we need both to keep the world balanced. You’re right about the timing too. I NEED this award now, where as I didn’t NEED it earlier. Things do happen for a reason and I’m taking it as a sign to keep plugging away, I’m on the right track.


  3. RZT
    May 08, 2014 @ 06:31:44

    I ramble along through life in a slightly erratic but happy way and am not a perfectionist . I know it is easy to say but try not to push expectations of what you should achieve higher as you achieve things. No one can do everything and anything. You are clearly a good artist and a clever soul, that sounds cool to me. You do not also need to be an Astrophysicist, surgeon, high wire walker and an olympic javelin thrower as well. . . . . OK yes it would be nice to do all that too but. . . . . . . . .. . . PHEW .. . . .

    I can’t type either I have to correct all this before I hit post, but that is just part of me


  4. somberscribbler
    May 11, 2014 @ 13:27:32

    You are completely right. There is no rule that achieving something means the next step has to be even harder. For some reason I’ve always expected myself to be the surgeon and the artist and the javelin thrower. It’s a bit ridiculous, no one else expects this of me and I’m sure very few surgeons can draw, be athletes and understand astrophysics too. It’s time to put the expectations to rest and learn to be content with the skills I do have because they are enough for one person.


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