What to do when you feel undeserving of recognition

Why is it that some people seem to be able to gracefully accept compliments for a job well done, recognising the credit that they rightly deserve, while others try to divert the attention and want to run away from it instead? If you lean more towards the latter, then welcome to the club, because I do too, and I know we’re not the only ones.

I received an email back in early February to say that I had been selected as one of Cornwall’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2018, and my first response was to close the email, move my laptop away from me and ignore it. I felt more confused and ashamed than proud, “What have I done to deserve this?” I thought to myself. It felt more like something I wanted to keep as a dirty little secret rather than shout from the rooftops about! (Watch me sharing my feelings on this in the video at the end).

Intrigued by my own response to receiving such amazing news, I wondered what it was that causes our insides to knot up when others point out our achievements to us, or why for many of us we choose to quickly dismiss compliments and a pat on the back over a deserving smile and a thank you.

So what are some of the common things we may experience when receiving praise?

  • We feel uncomfortable with the attention
  • We see only the slips and stumbles
  • We believe it’s a joke, out of courtesy or they’ve got the wrong person
  • Our attention shifts to worrying that others will reject our achievements, won’t consider it a big deal or will think we’re ‘full of ourselves’ – so we reject them ourselves instead
  • We believe it was just luck, a fluke and we’ve fooled someone

We’re telling ourselves we’re not enough and we’re unworthy. So what can we do about it?

Reflect on Yourself

The next time someone offers you a compliment or recognition in some way, whether that’s personally, at college or work, take a moment after to reflect on how you actually responded; how did you feel? What thoughts ran through your head? How did you behave? Through observing ourselves we can start to question our reactions and see what we could do differently instead – then, step by step, begin to practise them.

So if you happen to turn your head away and look down when someone offers you a compliment, try pausing for a moment; acknowledge that it may feel a little uncomfortable right now, breathe, and lift your head, make gentle eye contact and smile. Or if you start to think about what others’ reactions might be, start questioning where that assumption is coming from? In many cases, these are projections of how we feel about ourselves, so what could we choose to believe instead?

Focus on Gratitude

I love this one, because it’s an easy one to start with! Practising gratitude shifts our focus slightly away from the achievement or praise that we may currently feel uncomfortable with, and instead redirects it towards the person(s) who offered the recognition. With this method, we focus on feeling grateful that another chose to spend their precious time to offer a compliment or acknowledge something that we had done or achieved, and to hold us in their thoughts. That is pretty treasurable. How you choose to practise gratitude is up to you; you may want to write it down or simply breathe into the moment for a few minutes.

Share it With Your Personal Champion

Your personal champion is someone you trust, who you can share the uncomfortable feelings with and who will encourage you to celebrate your victories no matter how big or small! Whilst your starting out on your ‘deserving recognition journey’ you may not feel instantly ready to wave a massive flashing sign above your head saying “look at me, I did something awesome!” and revel in the attention (nor is that something that needs to be a goal) – but it is important to recognise that credit was due and to start celebrating them, and this is equally as important whether it came from someone else or something you feel proud about yourself, and this is where your 1 or 2 personal champions come into play. A conversation with a champ may go something like this: “My boss told me I’ve been doing a really good job lately, I felt a little awkward and wondered what I had done to have deserved that, but I’m grateful he took he took the time to acknowledge that, and it’s important I recognise my achievements and celebrate, so here I go: I have been doing a great job at work! Yay me!” – Cue victory dance with personal champion.

View it Objectively

Sometimes our emotions and the things we believe about ourselves can cloud the way in which we view situations; in this case, believing that we don’t deserve the recognition or that we haven’t achieved anything at all, may mean that we experience a limited perspective – it would be like reading only one chapter of a book with no context for the rest of the story. Whilst we may only see all the slips and the stumbles, or remember feeling overwhelmed and as though nothing was under control, somebody else may be seeing the results of our hard work, the happy face of a customer, a tasty meal, or a well-thought out essay. Taking a step back and laying out the facts, almost in a checkbox kind of way can be a useful tool in recognising what may actually have happened. You could ask yourself, “Did I cook a meal? Yes.”, “Did that person eat it? Yes”; the meal existed, it was cooked by your hands, it was eaten, could it be so far fetched that it was successful and perhaps something to consider as an achievement?

Take Small Steps to Recognise Your Achievements, Strengths & Value

This is more than simply accepting recognition from others; this is about giving ourselves permission to compliment, praise and recognise ourselves; taking moments to feel grateful towards who we are and what we offer.

Allow yourself time to work with this one; recognising our achievements and strengths isn’t something we just magic out of thin air, we practise it. And the more we practise, the easier it feels to do it. But how exactly you might ask? That all depends on what you would prefer. Some people like to keep journals either through writing, tear-sheets, images or creating art to capture those achievements. Others write lists, or notes on post-it’s to pop into a box, whilst some may choose to reflect quietly at the end of the day through breathing or meditating. However you choose to do it, do it regularly, and again, give yourself permission to experience the joy that comes with it, celebrate all you have done, the qualities you possess and most importantly, who you are.

Self-compassion and self-worth go hand in hand; Download your free self-compassion gifts here

This has been an area of my life that I’ve recently been focusing a lot of attention towards; recognising my own value and what I have accomplished in my life so far was not something that felt comfortable or natural for me to do, often leading to self-doubt and avoiding things that I wanted to do. Even after just 6 months of working on this I can already notice massive differences with how I am seeing myself, and whilst the tendency to want to run away may still be around at the moment, I now can stop running, turn around and walk back towards it.

So the 30 Under 30 I mentioned earlier – Today, I will be accepting that award. Breathing deeply into gratitude and valuing myself; two months on, I am accepting it both physically and internally.

How will you celebrate your achievements and your value today?

Two weeks after receiving the news that Stacie had been selected for Cornwall’s 30 under 30, she shares how she felt undeserving and not enough, discusses how we don’t always see our own achievements, and asks you to spend some time recognising your own strengths today 💙


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  • Stacie Clark

    Hello! I'm Stacie... I was the girl who awkwardly blurted out half-formed sentences. Pretended to not know much - about a lot of things! Would go on a date to sit in silence. And nervously laughed to hide the fear of speaking. I support people like yourself, who feel anxious in social situations, because I’ve been there too and I know it sucks. I believe we all have amazing gifts and qualities within us, waiting to be expressed, and I love helping individuals like you, find your own quiet ways to let them shine.

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  1. This article kind of opened my eyes about many things, I also had a similar experience when I landed a job as a head of a department in a famous company in the country. I thought may be they made a mistake, or may be I just cheated my way in the interview so I didn’t even update my social media or LinkedIn. At the company I climbed up the ladder to become a VP and the company announced it for me in their social media account finally. After that I was invited to many expert columns, youtube talk shows, meetings and discussions I just sat in all those like I don’t belong there and acted like I know nothing when sometimes I hear senior people(I was 27, a cute girl at that time and all of them were older men) make mistakes in those. One time I spoke the clip went viral and I got lot of people reaching out to me. I thought I don’t deserve any of those things. And it went to a point where I don’t take any strategic initiatives because I believed that I am not competent to be doing so. This imposter feeling went on for a while I ended up leaving the company because I felt like I am stuck doing the same thing again and again. I am now successful in my own way but if I would have addressed my feelings back then, I believe the things could have been different. Thanks for the great article!