Getting comfortable with the necessary evil of self-promotion for every professional
Self-promotion is vital in today’s competitive, social-media driven world. Every single person wants to make an impact in the world and make their story heard. And self-promotion is an important tool for every professional at every level, not just for executives and entrepreneurs.
- The worthiest causes won’t sell themselves. If you don’t tell you own story, no one else will hear it.
- You will make new connections when other people hear your story. Self-promotion helps you grow professionally, get that raise, meet that new business partner and make a difference.
- Self- promotion is an important leadership skill. When you get outside of your comfort zone and talk about yourself, you learn how to inspire others to engage in your work. Real change happens when you bring other people along for the journey.
Executive coach, speaker, and Forbes contributor Bonnie Marcus beautifully said:
“Despite the fact that most women understand the importance of self-promotion for their advancement, they do not intentionally use it. We have been conditioned to take the back seat and wait to be recognized. As a consequence, we often have this inner argument about how to proceed with self-promotion. We know we should do more of it. We know we should be better at it. But at the same time, it’s much more comfortable to stay focused on doing our work.
Self-promotion, I have learned, has been a necessary evil. When you go for your goals and are recognized for your accomplishments, the result is the necessary evil to talk about yourself. Something I hate doing.
Here are some of my recent accomplishments: in the past year, I have been named the Young Professional Athena awardee by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, recognized as an Outstanding Woman in Business and the Emerging Leader of 2017 by the Phoenix Business Journal, named CEO of Javelina (which prompted several news stories), and have been regularly publishing and promoting blog posts in my own name.
What did those accomplishments make you think?
A. “Wow, Catherine has accomplished a lot – that’s great!”
B. “Wow, Catherine thinks she’s a big deal and always talks about herself.”
If you thought “B,” that’s ok. Because that’s how I feel when I share it. Yet, somehow, when I hear other people’s accolades and accomplishments I am impressed and inspired. When I list my own, I am embarrassed.
I have always had to force myself into sharing my achievements. If possible, I get others to do it for me. But even then, every time someone mentions my accomplishments in a complementary way, it makes my skin crawl. I feel so silly, like in any moment, someone is going to see straight through me and say: “I can’t believe you got that award. You don’t even know what you’re doing.”
Do you feel this way too when you talk about yourself?
What helped me is starting this blog. I had to force myself to do it. It wasn’t even my idea. “Who would want to learn about me?” I wondered. While I didn’t have an answer to that question, I wrote the CEO blog series anyway. Then, published it. And the most unexpected thing happened: MAGIC. People told me they loved it! They gave me feedback, asked me questions and, best of all, shared what it meant to them.
Suddenly, I realized: self-promotion isn’t about me at all. It’s about what I can inspire in others. When you tell your story, someone else can realize their dreams. My CEO series evolved into moments when other people around me could visualize their potential. They’re certainly not thinking about how self-conscious I am.
Understanding this concept helped, but I still get embarrassed. While I may look calm and composed, on the inside – it is pure panic. Hearing a compliment is the same as being a rabbit in the middle of the road, frozen in the headlights as cars hurtle towards me. I don’t know how to react.
Self-promotion takes practice. If you panic when someone congratulates you on “how awesome you are,” you are not alone. So, here are some tactics I have found helpful in the midst of these moments of self-induced paralysis:
Be sincere. When you don’t know what to say, just say what you feel. If you feel embarrassed, share that. I have now taken to telling people: “Thank you – that means a lot to me. I never really know what to say because I feel self-conscious, but I really appreciate your congratulations.” Authenticity does wonders.
Talk about the role other people played. You can be recognized and still be humble. To me, humility comes from knowing in my heart that my success has been hugely dependent on the role of others. Not that I don’t own my achievements – I do – but I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for a whole lot of other people. The people who work at Javelina, the first clients who took a risk on an emerging company with a funny name… any meaningful milestone is the result of other people who choose to be part of this journey. I tell stories about our passionate staff who break new ground every day. I share anecdotes about our clients who change lives on nominal budgets. I tell everyone about my mum, my husband, my best friends who come to every event – all to support this important work.
Ask people what it means for them. The very best part of being named the Athena Young Professional standing on stage and sharing a deeply personal story about what drives me. After giving my speech, numbers of people reached out to share how the speech resonated with them. Once again, I never knew what to say to those sorts of comments. So instead, I would launch into a diatribe about parts of the story that weren’t in the speech because of time limitation. But, that wasn’t the point. The speech I made sparked something in them and made it their story. It wasn’t about me at all. So instead, I decided to dig deeper and started asking: “What did the speech bring up for you?” And boy, did it allow people to open up! They shared their stories, their disappointments, their grief, their dreams. And the embarrassment over the award disappeared – because of what it may have meant for other people.
Don’t be dismissive. Put downs, minimizations and self-deprecating humor may be tempting tools in these situations, but I urge you to resist the temptation. It may help move the spotlight off you for a second, but think of what that reaction communicates to the person you’re talking to. When you dismiss a compliment, you’re dismissing the achievement. You may think you’re communicating your embarrassment, but what you’re actually saying is, “This isn’t important to me…and it shouldn’t be to you either.”
Self-promotion. You know it’s important, so why delay? Identify something you can do today to get your name out there. Here are a few ways:
- Reach out to someone you admire and get coffee. Ask them how they achieved their successes.
- Start writing your own blog content. You can start slow and post on Medium.
- Make sure everyone you’re social media friends with knows what you do for a job – and why you’re amazing at it.
- Identify an upcoming award you’re eligible for – and ask someone to nominate you.
In my experience, there are two vital ingredients to successful self-promotion. One is taking a deep breath and doing it. The other is knowing your own story, which means knowing your why.
More on that next blog post 😉