When I called to interview my ninety-six-year-old grandpa, he sounded rather chipper for someone who had just taken quite the fall the day before. Luckily, his physical condition was improving quickly and his mind has always been sharp. After a brief history lesson of his near-century on this planet, I asked him a question I already assumed the answer to: “Looking back on your entire life, what are you most proud of?”
Of course, his humility and dedication to family led him to the anticipated answer: his five children, nine grandchildren, and his first great-grandchild on the way ---- “all together as my proudest accomplishment in this world, to get those other lives started.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with his answer, but I found it interesting that there was no mention of his medical career, military career, or survival through multiple depressions. Perhaps the lesson we could interpret from this is that our lives might be better measured by the lives we touch, rather than milestones and socially-defined achievements.
On the opposite end of the age spectrum, one of my twenty-two-year-old best friends weighed in on the matter with post-graduation clarity.
“[I’m most proud of] my desire to grow and change through the things I’ve learned, and my ability to ask for help when I need it. But also my habit of trying to work at everything on my own first. I can honestly say that I am someone who does what I say I’m going to do, which hasn’t always been true.”
Her response to the next question brought me back to the time I had to watch her go through heartbreak. She had been a closed-off person the majority of the time I’d known her and was hurt the second she finally opened up. When I asked her what she was most proud of recently, she skipped her graduation, move, and new job and instead, dove deep:
“For opening my heart, and then wanting to keep it open after getting hurt. Then being kind to myself during winter, and continuing to through spring, and then working hard sans self-judgment so far this summer. And on the days that I’ve felt weak in that conviction: telling someone I’m not okay.”
I read those powerful words through teary eyes and with a hand instinctively on my heart. I was so proud for her! Working on yourself is difficult and something to be proud of on its own, but admitting that you’re struggling while doing so, and might need help, is a feat of another caliber.
As someone who I’ve turned to for advice before, and whom I always have thought-provoking conversations with, I knew what she had to say next would be worth sharing.
“Sometimes you have to choose pride because the way it feels changes as we get older. As kids, we’re always told when we should feel it. As a result, when we’re older and the pat on the back or the 'attaboy' is missing, we forget to take time and stick our chest out at what we’ve accomplished. If it took you time, effort, and heart. If you weren’t sure and then you did ---- choose pride.”
While congratulating my twenty-seven-year-old friend on his eight months of sobriety (woohoo!) and his impressive music career, I asked him the same questions.
“I am most proud of the work I put in to change my life. I am proud of learning about myself and growing, leaving negativity behind, and striving for positivity, love, and peace. It’s not easy to let pain and darkness go and it pulls me back in daily, but I am most proud that I continue to fight it and work to become a better person to those around me and to myself. I have felt proud recently trying to give back, working with the homeless community to offer services and supplies to support a better lifestyle for them.”
Do you have any advice for people on how to live a life that they’ll be proud of?
“Learn to love yourself. Learn to love others. Give back. Emanate honesty and kindness and love and it will be returned. Be patient. And be true to yourself always. Follow your morals to find a life worth living. Pride in yourself and in your life will come by being true to yourself. Work hard at what you love. Enjoy life. Don’t make life stressful when it need not be… Things will click into place.”
After reading the latest article from one of our fellow Blossom contributors, Dev Rheuby, I knew I had to pick her brain on self-pride. Consistent with all of her writing, she didn’t disappoint.
“I’m most proud of how self-aware I’ve become in the past couple of years. I had always taken everyone’s thoughts and opinions very seriously when it came to the decisions I made in my own life, but I no longer do that. My compulsive need to please people is not as strong as it used to be because I actively question my own wants and needs and work to meet them. Becoming self-aware has also benefited my personal relationships, especially when it comes to conflict. I think it’s easy to fall into a cycle of “well what about me?” and assume that every difficult thing in your life has happened to you. In reality, we always play a role in the tensions that develop in our relationships. Today I pay attention to how my words and actions impact the people in my life. I’m also able to reflect after (and sometimes during) arguments and own the part I played in the conflict and work to do better. I’m so incredibly thankful for that because it’s allowed me to build strong relationships and develop new, healthy dynamics in my longest-lasting relationships.”
Dev also mentioned something that made her feel proud recently was graduating college in May. Congrats Dev!
Dev rounded out her candid response with encouraging advice that anyone can apply to their life today.
“I think it’s important to remember that we’re all still figuring it out. There’s tons of life to live and an abundance of growth that can happen during every stage of life, so don’t feel discouraged if you’re not where you want to be right now. Instead, look for something, anything, to be proud of yourself for. I promise you’ve excelled in more ways than you realize, and you deserve to celebrate yourself for it.”
Speaking of “every stage of life,” I was lucky enough to have a Ukrainian couple share their inspiring story of bringing a new life into this country.
"One of the things that we are proud of in our lives is that we were able to succeed in a new country. We came to the US from Ukraine in our twenties, and we were about to have our son. We did not have money, and there was a language barrier. It was a hard time in our lives. My husband had to work at different jobs, sometimes two at a time, and I had a newborn to take care of. But we knew that the only way out of it is to get a career. Even though we already had a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Ukraine, we decided to take a different route and get into Information Technology as there was a lot of demand at the time, so we went back to school. We were juggling all of this at the same time, supporting and encouraging each other, trying to make a living while keeping the bigger goal in our sight. In a couple of years, we got our first jobs in our field. But we continued to persevere, taking more classes to raise our qualifications and keep up with technology. And here we are 25 years later: we made a career, raised a good son, and are living a happy fulfilled life. We can truly say that we achieved the American dream. We live in a great country that gives an opportunity to everyone. All you need is motivation, persistence, and hard work. It is all in your hands. Keep on dreaming, work towards your goals, stay positive, and do not forget to have fun along the way."
This year, my own mother began a new chapter in her life, prompting me to feel like an exceptionally proud daughter.
“Recently, I decided at age 60 to start a new career. It took guts and determination and I was definitely a little scared but I did it anyway. I had the support of my kids and a few great friends. They made me believe that I could study, pass my exam, and get my realtor license. The confidence from [my first listing] made me believe in myself. I keep moving forward knowing I have a lot to still learn but I’m up for the challenge. It's hard to try a new path this late in life. Scary. I’m proud of what I’m doing and accomplishing.”
I think my mom has a lot to be proud of in her life, but the theme of parenting and family came to her mind first.
“By far and away I am most proud of my children and how they are both kind and loving people. I am also proud that I was determined to be the best parent I could be for my kids, no matter how difficult it was at times to be a single parent. There are memories of times that I wasn’t sure I could be enough for you two, but I ALWAYS persevered and never gave up. It always worked out one way or another. We have a very special bond, the three of us (3 musketeers). We have been through some tough times but together we made it!! I’m so proud of the three of us!”
Since I’m all about reciprocity, I figured it’d only be fair to share my own thoughts on self-pride, as well. Looking back on my twenty-two years of life so far, I’m surprised at how many things I’m proud of myself for. My shock comes partially from how few years I’ve actually been alive, relatively, but mostly from how much my standards for self-pride have changed. I don’t have any internationally-recognized awards, I haven’t hiked any large mountains, nor have I invented anything that my middle-school self would have been entirely impressed by (although my notes app after a night out radiate genius). However, I’ve grown to learn that life can be beautiful but quite difficult and complicated and even the seemingly smallest feats are worthy of praise. In my mere two decades, I feel like I’ve already been able to squeeze out so much from the lemons of life.
I’ve never been great at boiling my ideas down, but if I had to, I’d say I’m most proud of my perseverance. Although I’ve had my fair share of breakdowns when life has thrown me some rather large and ominous curveballs, I’ve never let it change my soul. I am a kind, positive, and optimistic person at my core and as long as I’m living according to that, I can’t be disappointed in myself. If you are striving to change the world for the better and not letting it change you for the worse, I think you should be proud of yourself, as well.