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.