One of the most confusing and complex emotions, and also one of the most important, is pride. What makes this feeling so difficult to manage is that unless you have just the right amount, it will have a negative impact on your life. If you have too little pride then you come across as having no self-respect and weak, and if you have too much you are an arrogant, pompous jerk. Even commonly used quips like “take pride in yourself” and “pride comes before the fall” show the duality of this aspect of human nature. Like so many things in life, the key to controlling this feeling is finding the proper balance. While this is no easy task, and it takes lots of practice, when you do finally find that perfect amount of pride the powerful feelings of success and happiness that come over you are well worth the effort.
As someone who makes a living talking about his life, I have had a lot of practice learning to find that perfect amount of pride. Despite the fact that I have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours working on maintaining an appropriate level of pride, I still feel awkward talking to people about my accomplishments at times. It is not that I feel like I do not have things to be proud of, I have achieved a lot and am quite satisfied with my success, but it is still difficult to recognize my accomplishments without thinking that I am coming across as a bit of a narcissist. When people come up to me and say things like “Wow, you went to Notre Dame and studied math! You must be so smart.,” “You got your master’s degree. That is so great!,” or “I think your success is so inspiring.” I never know how to react. If I respond with something like “Yup, I am a genius. Thanks for noticing.” then I may seem like an egotistical snob, and if I say “Oh golly…gee…thanks. It was nothing.” while staring at my shoes then I risk coming off as an insincere, overly humble fake. This common situation that we all have experienced in some form illustrates how hard it can be to manage this complicated emotion, and how failing to find the proper balance can negatively affect your life. Despite how hard it is to control and the detrimental effects it can have on your world though, the moments when you do find the perfect balance between hubris and humility make all of your efforts well worth it.
While I have lots to be proud of, and I could choose one of hundreds of examples from my life to show you the powerful, positive emotions that come from finding that perfect amount of pride, I am not going to, at least not in the way you think. Instead of sharing a story of my success and how great I am (in the span of two sentences I have been both overly humble and arrogant), I am going to share a different type of story with you. I am going to tell you about a time when I witnessed someone else experience the awesome feelings of happiness that pride can generate. This is not only the moment when I fully understood how powerful the effects of pride can be, but it also showed me an interesting aspect of this complex emotion that is often overlooked. Hopefully, you will find as much value in this story as I have, and you will be able to apply it to better understand and manage these complicated feelings in your own life.
As I have mentioned before in other posts, when I was in high school I was a huge geek. I was not picked on or anything, but I was definitely not one of the “cool kids” or considered popular by any means. That is why I was shocked when during my senior year I was voted to be one of the finalists for prom king. While I am sure this was meant to be an honor or tribute from my peers, due to my feelings on popularity contests this put me in a difficult position. I have always thought that popularity contests were one of the most demeaning, soul crushing things in our society. In my opinion, nothing good can come from holding a contest among adolescents that says these people are better than these people, based on no real criteria other than who is “liked” the most (whatever that means). Given my feelings on popularity contests, I did not feel comfortable being on the ballot as a prom king finalist; however, I also did not want to seem ungrateful towards the people who voted for me. In order to solve this problem, I decided to speak with the assistant principal to figure out a solution.
Without mentioning it to anyone, I got to school early the following morning and went to see the assistant principal in his office. Fortunately, he shared my thoughts on how damaging popularity contests can be on people’s self-esteem, especially for teenagers. He also understood why I did not want to publicly remove myself from the ballot out of respect for my classmates. After discussing some options to solve my predicament, we decided that the best course of action was to merely leave my name off the final ballot with the hopes that no one would realize it was missing or care enough to say anything. When the final votes for prom king and queen were cast a few days later with my name removed and no one seemed to notice, it looked as if our plan had worked. I did not have to worry about participating in a contest I did not believe in, and I did not insult my peers by rejecting their nomination. I was quite relieved and happy to be able to put this whole thing behind me, but it turned out that this event had one more life lesson to teach me.
As my dad, who was also a teacher at my high school, and I were on our way home from school that day, he brought up that he noticed my name was missing from the prom ballots. He also told me that the assistant principal had spoken to him about our meeting, and how I had asked to have my name removed. After he had explained what the assistant principal had said to him, he looked at me in a way I will never forget. Without saying a word, he expressed how much he respected my thoughts on popularity contests, how I was unwilling to participate in something I did not believe in, and the way I had removed my name without disrespecting my classmates. I could literally see how proud he was of me and the man I had become. While I had always known that he was proud of me, this was much more than that. In this moment of euphoria that was generated by his immense pride, our relationship changed forever (or at least my perspective of it). It was like in an instant he went from seeing me as a teenager to seeing me as a man. And not just a man, but a good man that he was proud to call his son.
In addition to showing the incredibly powerful feelings that pride can generate when managed correctly, this priceless moment from my life also illustrates another positive aspect of pride. As my father was glowing with feelings of satisfaction that day, I noticed that I too was experiencing an enormous amount of pride and happiness as well. Almost like a disease spreading from one host to another, the amazing feelings he was having were also occurring in me. Even though I had not seen my actions regarding the prom as anything special before then, merely knowing how much it meant to my dad brought about similar feelings of happiness in me. While it varies depending on the situation, this ability to spread from person to person is something that often occurs when someone feels proud. This makes managing your pride even more important, because in addition to being able to bring large amounts of happiness to your life, it can make others happy as well.
While it has been the undoing of many men, and despite the fact that it is extremely difficult to keep in check, pride can bring an enormous amount of happiness to your life. By making sure to maintain the proper balance of arrogance and humility, you gain access to entirely new levels of joy and satisfaction. Better yet, these incredible feelings of happiness will not only improve your life, but also the lives of those around you. Take the time to think about how prideful other people see you. Do you come across as a humble servant or a boastful blowhard? Try to be more aware of your feelings of pride and work on finding that perfect balance. It may take some time and practice, but I guarantee that when you finally experience that perfect amount of pride you will be glad you put in this effort.