It’s a rainy Sydney Saturday and my beloved has just left the warmth of our bed to trudge off to TEDx. As I expressed dissatisfaction with this turn of events, he said to me “well, if you had done a better job on your entry form we’d be there together.”*

On the scale of one to douchebag, going on a date to TEDx has to rate pretty highly, but that aside, he was absolutely right. This seemed of significance because it struck the same chord as a conversation I’d had the previous day with my chief co-conspirator at work who pointed out that while I may be excellent (I said may be) at promoting goods, services, the work we do, bluntly, I suck at self-promotion.

While it’s clear to me that one must, at various times put one’s best foot forward and sell oneself, I can’t rid myself of a slight squeamishness. I’m frankly rotten at job interviews, first dates, public speaking, appearing on camera.

It’s not that I lack confidence in my talents.
I have an ego the size of the planet.  There’s just something about pimping oneself I find a tad gauche.

Amongst some of my friends, one of the most damning indictments of a person is to say of him, archly, “of course, he’s an excellent self-publicist.”  Layers of sneering elitism are contained within this, of course – centuries of entitlement and privilege. One need not be good at self-promotion because one is who one is. It’s essentially bullshit, and I acknowledge that, but I’m still struggling to get past it.  We live in a world where ‘maintaining a personal brand’ is a real consideration, and those who fall behind get left behind.

So how do you sell yourself gracefully?

The people whose self-selling skills I admire are all bound by a common thread. They  communicate their intense passion and love for what they do in a way that leaves ego at the door; creating a separation that suggests it’s almost incidental that it happens to be “me” that did this – the accomplishment itself transcends the personal. Of course, go too far down this path and you’re in all kinds of Messianic trouble; next thing you know god’s writing your next album and whispering secrets in your ear about who might most enjoy a lovely glass of Kool-Aid…

My family instilled in me the notion that boasting is vulgar, and I’ve largely chosen to hang on to this belief. Even the brashest of my friends retain the saving grace of self-doubt and criticism.  But there are situations where that’s simply not appropriate or relevant; your potential employer or new client doesn’t want to hear of your battles with the Muse; dark moments of soul-deep self-loathing; waking in the night wondering if it’s all worth it: successful navigation of these inner crises is what makes us good at what we do.

Silence those inner demons and your talent would suffer, become smug and lumpen, but amplify that turmoil and you begin to sound nuts.

There’s nothing inherently graceless about holding deep-seated self-belief. It’s not necessarily horribly vain to be proud of one’s achievements, but it’s certainly a hard act to balance.  I think it makes a huge difference what those achievements are – bragging about your recent discovery of a cure for cancer is excusable, gloating about your yacht is not.

What do you think? Where do you draw the line? Does it depend who you’re talking to? Is it ever good form to be triumphant about material wealth? Should your achievements speak for themselves?

postscript: I’m off to Cockatoo Island to see the Biennale with one of my dearest friends and her delightful daughter. Art and puddle jumping, gumboots and good times. And the sun’s coming out! I’m pretty pleased about it. Forgive my showing off.

*It amuses me to make him sound like a sod. He’s actually a complete darling.

6 thoughts on “my blog post brings all the boys to the yard: on self-promotion and vanity

  1. Everything that you say about passion & evolved self-belief as opposed to blind self-love is making me nod like one of those little car-doggies.

    Brilliant post. Now, is this an example of do as I say not as I do Ms Cat?

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention my blog post brings all the boys to the yard: on self-promotion and vanity « a cat in a tree -- Topsy.com

  3. You are right, self-promotion is one of the most challenging things to do – yet without it, we find ourselves overlooked for projects we’d love to work on or opportunities that would challenge us. In some cases we can miss out on the love affair of a lifetime 😉

    However, being held in esteem by people that you know and respect relies not on what you say about yourself, but what you do, how you behave (and how you respond under pressure). Like all things, it depends on who your audience is.

    Perhaps blogging is the perfect way to self-promote for those who are not great at self-promotion.

  4. Hi Cathie – very provocative insights. You are right, it’s a balancing act and not a “one size fits all” answer.

    I believe sharing passion in a 2-way conversation lends to credibility. It’s also fascinating. I can listen to someone talk about their passion all day. Bragging? That’s a different story. I tend to shy away from those conversations.

    I am more apt to get involved, recommend, & purchase from people who talk to me one-on-one – who are genuine, human and love what they do. I love hearing about people’s accomplishments – we all have them. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by them. I’m uncomfortable have them pushed on me during one-sided conversations.

    That’s the difference to me. It’s about intent, being authentic & treating other people well. And your achievements do speak for themselves – actually, your fans (of which I am one of) will speak for you, too.

    As for Tedx? I’m sorry you didn’t get to go. I don’t care for that model. Events where only certain people are invited make me sad. I hate for anyone to feel left out – as I’ve felt that way, too. I believe the more really is merrier.

    I agree with Gavin – a blog is a perfect platform to express expertise & passion. And you do this well. More from you, please. I like getting to know you more through this outlet as there is never enough time to chat with your lovely, intelligent & accomplished self.

    Hope you are having a wonderful jaunt. Look forward to seeing you soon.

    kristin rohan

  5. A delightful insight into the finer balance of humility and brand building that so many are currently grappling with. Hope you dont battle with the demons for too long, there is always another reason to roll out of bed in the morning… well almost always.

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