Talking about your achievements can be difficult at times, but it is something we all have to do at some point. Whether you're trying to articulate why you deserve an internship, grad school spot, job, promotion etc, whatever it is, at some point you are going to have to talk about yourself and all the great things you've done!
Many of us have been there, or at least, I have definitely been there (and sometimes I feel as though I still am there). Where is that? In the headspace where the moment you think about talking about your achievements you cringe and want to “just be a normal person”. I struggle talking about my achievements, I feel that when I open my mouth to talk about something I did, I am bragging and showing off. Even the idea of it makes me feel uncomfortable. In contrast, I have been in the company of people who cannot do anything else but talk about themselves, how great they are, how everything they have done is so much better than what other people have done, how they managed to do all of what they did. They can make an “achievement” out of everything, even from throwing the trash. Being around such people and feeling appalled from their behavior probably had something to do with my dislike towards achievement sharing. But, IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT! There are ways to think and talk about our achievements without cringing inside. Before elaborating on those, I will briefly talk about why sharing our achievements is something that we should be doing, rather than avoiding.
Sharing is caring! Even in this case, when it seems like “oversharing information no one asked for”. Achievements are not only degrees awarded, prizes, and scholarships, they can be many different things, from buying a car (or a house), traveling alone for the first time, running a marathon, getting a promotion, getting over a bad breakup, completing a course, even passing a day without a bad thought. By sharing our achievements we are not necessarily seeking validation and celebrations, we might do so because we are genuinely proud of ourselves, for working had towards a specific goal and reaching it, for not giving up regardless of hurdles that appeared along our way. Why take that away from us by not sharing what we did?
Another reason for which sharing achievements is important, is that it is an excellent chance for us to reflect on all the skills we learnt during managing an achievement. For example, it did not just happen to get a degree, we sat through lectures, did coursework, probably sacrificed free time to study, possibly failed a couple of courses and had to retake them, and so on. This shows dedication, time and project management, seeing the bigger picture, and so on. Or, it did not just happened that we got a scientific article accepted for publication, we had to collect data, analyze it, write the manuscript, get bored of looking over it and editing it, choose a suitable journal, respond to reviewers’ comments, possibly go through this process one or two times before it was finally accepted. All this procedure shows again dedication, passion, attention to detail, research abilities, time and project management, ability to communicate with different audiences, and so on. The list of skills improved and developed towards each achievement is long, and it is a shame if we do not take the time to properly reflect on them. The way to do so can be through talking about our achievements with other people, answering questions on how we got there, explaining all the set-backs we might have gotten through.
Being able to tell a well-rounded story about our achievements can also help us out during job interviews. The way of answering interview questions (or writing cover letters) usually involves a method called STAR (situation, task, action, result), or other similar tools, which are ways to phrase our skills, experience and unique contribution towards a goal. Being able to comfortably talk about our achievements, showing what we set out to do, how we did it and what we achieved is an excellent way to simultaneously practice for interviews, and become more comfortable talking about our “results”.
A final – humble – reason for which talking about our achievements can be useful, especially if we lay down the journey, is that in this way we are showing that achieving “big things” can be managed by anyone who puts in the effort. By sharing our journey towards the “top”, people at the “bottom” can relate much better than if we simply brag about our achievements without providing any context.
So, having explained why sharing is better than keeping to ourselves, I will talk about how we can share our achievements, so the process does not feel like boasting. We certainly need to work on our mindset, think about what it is about other people who share achievements that we like or do not like, and what message we are trying to pass across. If we think about all the positive reasons for sharing our achievements as explained earlier, we can figure out the angle we want to use when talking about our star moments. I mentioned it earlier, but in my opinion, when sharing achievements we should talk about the journey towards this moment, rather than focus on the moment itself and put it on a super tall stand, separating ourselves from everyone else with similar experience or aspirations to acquire similar experience. Many people can show achievements similar to ours, why does the world need to know about ours? What is unique, what is different, what will people learn by us sharing our story, other than we were awarded our PhD, got married, wrote a book, or anything else? Bragging is thinking mostly about ourselves and how great we are. Talking about our achievements should have something for the audience to leave with.