Before scratch and sniff stickers, and long before letter grades hastily scribbled in red felt tip pens, came tiny foil stars.
Green, red, silver, blue, and gold. Adhered (with saliva! no self-stick back in those days!) to the top of papers, tests, worksheets. How I loved the dimensionality, the delicate embossing, the solidity of foil and paper, the tiny bit of sparkle.
Along with the aesthetic joy, I also relished what the stars represented: proof of success, value, worth.* Clearly I am not alone in this, as “earning a gold star” is both widely recognized as a way of marking achievement—as well as widely mocked. (I also want to acknowledge the solemn association of being a Gold Star Family here in the US.)
Though my school days are long past, I still like to earn gold stars. My personality is such that striving towards goals, whether professional or personal, drives me. I feel motivated by reaching benchmarks and earning proof.
But there’s a catch. I am notably stingy with self-bestowed gold stars.
Creating a hierarchy where stars are reluctantly given can cultivate a mode of constantly striving, where nothing is ever enough. Sure, you may cross one finish line but there’s always another. Or there is inevitably someone who has an even higher level of performance, or a more impressive achievement.
In this model, the gold star is ever out of reach.
But perhaps stars do not need to be so illiberally distributed—they are practically limitless! Check out the size of the box!
What if instead of making few things “gold star worthy” we were unrestrained with them, lavishly offering ourselves recognition? Would we succumb to a lower level of achievement? Cease striving?
I doubt it.
Similar to the way that Dr. Kristen Neff discusses self-compassion, generously affirming for ourselves our achievements and growth would likely foster a new perspective on validation and accomplishment. One that allows space for continued growth while still celebrating the growth that has occurred. One where we can self-affirm and live by our own benchmarks.
A world of gold stars aplenty.
*I am absolutely aware of the concerns regarding such early indoctrination; earning a star for performing a task on cue and to the standards set by the conformation-rewarding culture likely impeded the development of a healthier model of self-validation. That said, nature + nurture + child of the ’70s and 80s=I like gold stars.
Why So Stingy?
As mentioned above, part of the reason we may be reluctant to give ourselves credit where credit is due is because we keep moving the finish line. But that is not the only reason that we may not freely offer ourselves recognition. Here are some other potential impediments to be aware of as we try to move towards freely-given gold stars:
- Feeling that celebrating our successes is a waste of time
- Internalized beliefs that self-recognition is less valuable than recognition by others
- Constantly comparing our achievements to that of others rather than on their own merits
- Expressing pride in oneself is considered cocky or lacking in humility
- Assuming that we’ll rest on our laurels if we applaud ourselves
Do any these self limiting beliefs ring true for you, too? How would shifting just one of them potentially make a difference?
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