How to remove self-importance from self-promotion and still be your badass self

I was working with a client, “Sally,” a very talented art director and designer with many credits, awards and years behind her name. Working through a career transition, I asked her to give me the unapologetic list of the things she’s really good at, and she demurred. She stuttered a little and said, “Really, I have to answer that? Isn’t it all in my résumé?”

Haha. No.

It’s always bowls me over that no matter how seasoned and accomplished we are, we all seem to share the same cultural DNA of doubt, and distaste for self-promotion. So I said, “Here, let me get you started. Say, ‘The best and highest use of my skill and expertise is to allow me to be the soul of your brand.’”

Sally twisted her mouth into a gobsmacked shape, and before she could deny I continued playing her role. “What I love doing most is being the guardian of your brand…making sure that from the first touch point to the last is a seamless experience for your market and for everyone who works for you.”

Sally then says, “Stop. I’ll never remember this. I have to write it down.”

When we are called upon to talk about ourselves, it’s as if we’re all Peter Pan before sewing on the shadow. We forget our three-dimensionality. It’s right next to us, but somehow just out of our sight line. What we fear is being perceived as a swaggering braggart, but what’s underneath that is the nagging belief that we’re frauds. We’re just not all that.

Let’s agree that those are all fabricated thoughts. Yes, they’re born out of the culture in part, but let’s just let them loose for a second and entertain something different.

What we are really after is removing self-importance from self-promotion. What we get when we do that is a narrative that frames who we are for others. In negotiation terms, it’s a story that frames your value as a benefit to your bargaining partner. And know this: that benefit usually translates to bottom line results.

Honestly, we know what we’re good at. We put our shadows on, full of dimension, capacity and feeling and walk through the world every single day. We may not have the skill to wordsmith our undeniable value, but if we take a look back at our careers, we can all make a bullet-point list of our major accomplishments, experiences, awards and recognitions. That’s your starting point.

Tell me about me

To help you unearth your undeniable value, I have a little exercise you might want to undertake with a few colleagues and friends. It’s called the “Tell Me About Me” exercise, and here’s how you do it:

  1. Send an email to five or seven current and former colleagues, plus a couple of friends who know you and your work well.

  2. Tell them you have a few questions you’d like them to answer that will help you get a sense of your contribution and value.

  3. Tell them to be forthright and direct.

  4. Tell them you will not reply, other than to say ‘thank you’; you will not deny, or argue for your limitations or criticize them for their responses. Your questions are forensic, not solicitous.

  5. Give them a deadline for responding.

Here are the questions:

  1. If you were to describe me to someone, what would you say?

  2. What do you think is unique about my me/my work?

  3. What part of the process of working with me was most valuable? Least valuable?

  4. Where do you think I can improve?

  5. Anything else?

I guarantee you will be humbled and amazed by the responses; you will discover common themes, even perfectly phrased copy you’ll want permission to use. As you read the responses you may also discover that your colleagues and friends value skills or behaviors that you’d like to retire. In other words, you’ll find some mismatched perceptions that will help you refine brand you.

Go. Do. Be your badass self.