Career satisfaction,  Leadership,  Personal Brand,  Self-leadership

Why Self-Promotion is Hard, And What To Do About It?

Recently, a friend and I talked about something she was anxious about. In the end, she felt much more relaxed and confident and said, “Thank you, Sharmin, you are so good.” I replied, “Yes, I am; I love helping people be their best, and thank you for noticing it.”

If it were ten years ago, I would have said, “I didn’t do anything,” or some other self-diminishing version of it. It took me a lot of self-work to discover my strengths and own them unapologetically. 

That’s why I get passionate when clients come to me with the challenge, “I am not good at self-promotion; it is against my upbringing, but I want to be better at it.” While culture and upbringing influence how we view self-promotion, there is more to it. Based on my experience, these three places may uncover the deeper issue behind such a challenge.

1. Core Values

The most significant barrier is the notion that it has to be outside our value system; It is like a bitter pill we need to swallow to get what we want, a job offer, job promotion, recognition, etc. When we see it that way, it becomes inauthentic and unsustainable.

Question 1: How to align the act of self-promotion with one of your core values?

Examine your core values. Some of those could be: Helping others, achieving excellence, and contributing to a bigger purpose. Which core value would you want to align to? For example, instead of “self-promotion,” think, “how can others benefit from knowing your strengths and your stories?”.

2. Limiting Belief

Let’s examine our inner belief system (operating system) about the need for self-promotion. Often we think we should self-promote because:

  • Management has the key to my career advancement. So if they see me as competent, they will give me my desired prize regarding job promotion and opportunities (hierarchical).
  • I work hard to produce the result my management want; I want to be recognized and rewarded for it. It validates my self-worth (transactional).

Question 2: How to shift our mindset towards more partnering and less hierarchical and transactional?

Imagine you already have a job promotion and recognition, and there is no power imbalance. How would you want to collaborate with others around you to create value for the team, the organization, and the customers?

Please write it down.

As you capture your thoughts, please note the emotions. If they are positive and satisfying, you are on the right path. But if you feel resistant and icky, keep expanding the parameters until you feel more joy. Now hold that emotion as if it is happening now. What is one thing you can do to share about your passion and contribution to help others work with you?

3. Self-awareness

The next layer is to examine how genuinely we enjoy our work. How would we see our contribution if we were to assess it? A good litmus test would be: Tell the story about a project you did to a friend highlighting what you are most proud of. Focus on what you did and how the results were, not on lack of recognition. Try it out and see how you feel.

Question 3: What were your emotions when you shared the story? 

If you are aware of your strengths and apply those in the story, you will feel happy and proud to tell the story. This would be a healthy way of self-promotion.

But often, we do not believe in our strengths and contribution. As a result, we carry on the job using our sense of responsibility and not for passion or enjoyment. We then focus on the barriers instead of what we can do. This needs deeper self-work and eventually finding work related to our strengths and passion.

I would love to hear what insights you got from these explorations.


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