Why You Should Stop Downplaying Your Hard Work

Written by Sarah Von Bargen

I spent the better part of my 20s engaging in a biathlon of Effort Downplay and The Pursuit of Perfection. All those countries I visited? Oh, it’s no big deal, you just book a ticket and go. These jeans that still fit? I just got lucky and inherited a fast metabolism. This cutely decorated apartment? No, I've never cleaned the floorboards with a toothbrush. Why do you ask?

Have you ever done any of the following?

  • Hurriedly cleaned your house before friends come over and when they compliment your spotless space you pull a “Oh this mess? No!”
  • Applied "I’m-not-wearing-makeup" makeup — for the gym.
  • Attempted to win every potluck by bringing an overly involved and impressive dessert. And then acting like it’s something you just threw together with the ingredients in your fridge.
  • Removed carbs, cheese, and joy from your diet so you can look amazing in your swimsuit. And when someone says you look great, you wax modest.

Downplaying the effort that goes into our accomplishments serves absolutely no one. Not. One. Single. Person.


1. It's hard to connect or relate to perfection.

You know who we like? People we can relate to. People who share our struggles and flaws. People who can poke fun at their own neuroses. When you put up an insurmountable wall of shiny, flawless perfection, not many people will be brave enough to climb it. Inside, we're all a little bit weird and we'll all like you a little better if you'd own up to the fact that you do 60 crunches every morning to get those abs.

2. You're misrepresenting the amount of work necessary to achieve success.

Each time you good-naturedly rebuff a compliment with "It's nothing," or "I just got lucky" when, in fact, you worked incredibly hard, you're inadvertently telling people that training for a marathon, starting a business, or having a great marriage is easy. While I'm sure your spouse is amazing, those newlyweds should know that having a good partnership takes some practice.

3. You’re (accidentally!) creating totally unrealistic standards for others.

Most awesome things aren't particularly easy. If you tell me that training for a marathon was “no bigs” for you and it’s been incredibly hard for me? Well, now I have a complex. If you say that you "lucked out" with some business investments (when you've been studying stocks for years), I'm going to feel incredibly insecure about my tiny Roth IRA.

4. You deserve credit for all the hard work you’ve done.

Most importantly, you've worked hard to accomplish these fantastic things and you deserve some high-fives. When you tell a friend that it’s not a big deal that you just got into your first-choice graduate school, you’re removing her opportunity to praise you and make the fuss that you deserve. We want to be happy and excited for you — don't take that away from us.

Now, I’m not suggesting that every time someone compliments you, you announce “OMG, you won’t believe how much work went into this winged eyeliner!” But next time someone notices the beautifully decorated room/six pack abs/impressive resume that you’ve slaved over — why not say “Thanks so much! I’ve worked really hard on it.”

Are you ever guilty of downplaying your accomplishments? What do you say when people compliment you?

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