The problem with bragging

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creative nonfiction, essay, self leadership, short story, wellbeing

I embarrassed myself in a meeting the other day having, once again, found the opportunity to brag about my sister who is a doctor in a high-level position at Mayo Clinic. (The Mayo Clinic.) I’m very proud of her. And I’m also clearly not above trying to piggyback on her accomplishment to boost my own credibility and status by association. In fact, not one day after recovering from the 24-hour cringe that followed that meeting, I turned around and bragged about her again to some co-workers! I couldn’t help myself; the topic we were discussing was just too much the perfect set-up for this disclosure.

But hearing my braggy words once again come out of my mouth while chatting with my (hopefully forgiving or at least tolerant) co-workers, I thought, That’s it; I have got to put a stop to this. I have got to get to the bottom of what’s going on here.

So, I did what I always do when attempting to get to the bottom of my behavior; I think and I think and I think about it. I thought about it all day. Here’s what I was able to determine: clearly there is a need to impress going on, along with a good dash of insecurity. And given that I was the lone wellness specialist in the company of an entire table of doctors at that meeting, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that I was really working hard to impress this group. It’s painful now just to admit it. But it’s true.

Despite having thought about it all day long, by the time I went to bed that night I still didn’t have the answer as to what to do with myself to prevent this from continuing to happen. However…in the middle of the night I did have a dream. And in that dream the chair of that committee I’m on with all the doctors said this to me:

Don’t be impressed with us or try to impress us. That’s not what we want. See us as people and reveal yourself to be a humble human being, as well.

That sounds pretty stiff and from-the-mountaintop — not how this guy actually talks at all — but delivering important dream messages does call for a certain gravitas. Perhaps plain little bits of truth need to be delivered in exceptional ways in order to break through.

But why this way? Was it because I needed to hear this message from the lead doctor? I think so, even though clearly there must have been a part of me that already knew this considering dreams spring from our own brains. Unless, of course, the committee chair possesses spooky powers to plant epiphanies in people’s brains, which is just the kind of unfair expectations of super human performance that gets laid on people all the time.

The bottom line, though, is this: will it make a difference? Will this from-the-mountain dream message cure me?

That’s a longterm question seeing as how here I am writing a story about my high achieving sister, squeezing in one last opportunity to crow about her under the protective immunity conferred upon me as the designated messenger of the committee chair’s wisdom, which obviously needs to be shared for the greater good.

And it truly is important isn’t it? On the deepest level, wouldn’t we want to get to see people as they really are? And in return, let them see the real us, not the sham us? It would seem like a very good thing.

That was where this story ended when I originally published it in Random Wellness, a subscription option in the employee wellness program I run. But, as it turns out, the story does not end there. Based on what happened next, I was compelled to add a second part.

The after story

So, funny thing. Yesterday’s story about the shameful way I bragged in a committee meeting about my superstar sister (who is a doctor in a high-level position at Mayo Clinic in case you didn’t remember that part) in an entirely embarrassing and transparent attempt to elevate myself by association so as to bring my status up a little since I was the only non-doctor at the table in this committee meeting, as if the fact that my sister and I shared a single double bed all the way through college meant I was not all that far away from being a high level Mayo leader myself?

Well, this very sister is on the Random Wellness subscription list and so she saw this story. I hadn’t told her about this story I’d written about her – I don’t even know that I have ever confessed that I brag about her or how much I brag about her – and so she was quite surprised when she clicked on “The Problem With Bragging” and found herself to be at the center of it. And then the most delightful thing happened. She shot me back this email (which I have permission to share, in case you’re wondering how far my treachery can go):

Oh my goodness – how I can identify. And strangely crazy since I also happen to be the [brag-worthy]* character in this vignette!

*the bracketed commentary is mine to clarify what my humble sister was sidestepping.

(….and by the way – I’m still honored to be the person you might want to touch upon [a nice way to say brag about] in whatever setting).

It’s so true what you said: if our real objective was to simply exchange and share important/relevant information to build, create, inspire, learn – without the need to “size ourselves up” – wouldn’t it be a great thing? There’s humbleness in there, but there’s also a gentle confidence about being OK with yourself too…

It’s also funny because what you are talking about feeling is exactly the thing I’m trying to bolster myself up for this weekend at this annual meeting I go to. It’s typically a time where one can feel insecure (watching a group of laughing people gather in the hotel lobby, while you are walking through by yourself, or listening to someone carry on about the latest discovery that you didn’t even know how to pronounce). I came to the meeting trying to prepare myself to be grateful for the growth that I’ve had by virtue of being part of this society – and not belittle myself because I feel insecure about someone else’s achievements…

And so there you have it. Even the really high achievers worry about fitting in, having someone to hang with in the lobby and how to pronounce sophisticated words. It makes you think we’re all pretty much in the same boat. So, we might as well go ahead and take the committee chair’s recommendation:

“Don’t be impressed with us or try to impress us. That’s not what we want. See us as people and reveal yourself to be a humble human being, as well.”

jumping 1

Photo captions

Top photo: Amy trying to teach me how to jump so it looks like I’m higher than the 2 inches off the ground I can actually jump.

Bottom photo: After more determined coaching than most people would be in for* (that’s just the kind of leader Amy is) it finally clicked and I’m soaring! All of 2 inches off the ground! For real; the secret is in the knees. You just have to really bend them up there.

*Seriously. There’s a series of about 73 photos of Amy explaining the mechanics to me over and over only to be immediately followed by another failed jump.

Notes
Random Wellness is a column I write for an employee wellness program I run.

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