Season 2 Episode 3
In this episode I attempt to find out where the thin line between self-promotion and vanity lies.
As I increasingly promote and market myself, I feel like this is a question I need to ask myself more and more. Am I alienating my friends? Coming off as self-obsessed? Exaggerating my achievements?
Naval Ravikant, founder of Angel List, talks about the rise of the ‘freelancer’ – what I call the individual human enterprise in this episode – and the shrinking of the optimal size of the firm. Here is a good article summarising the points he made on an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience:
A short BBC article on the ‘rise of narcissism’ amongst millennials. It also talks a bit about the rise of individualism, as mentioned in the podcast:
It’s official, I’m a sell out!
Those of you who have the misfortune to be connected with me on social media will be painfully aware that over the last few years I have been slowly but surely – immersing myself in the tepid waters of self-promotion and personal branding.
I know, I have joined the darkside!
After going years without even having an Instagram account, I am now enlisted in the marauding army of attention-seeking egotistical crusaders, who flood every nook and cranny of our phone screens, screaming at us for validation like a plague of petulant children.
As a result of joining this rat race, I’m worried that I too am coming off like some kind of sleezy, cheesy, snake-oil salesman, who talks more than he walks. I’m starting to wonder if rather than acting out of ambition, I am instead cultivating and nursing a poisoned ego infested with vanity.
But I don’t want to linger in the shadows, afraid to talk proudly of my endeavours. My Mum didn’t raise me to be ashamed of what I do.
And so not wanting to fade into obscurity, not wanting to diminish my own actions; and with a desire to actually stand behind my work, my skills, and my ambitions – I must go on. so must we all, if we want to attract new opportunities and build a positive reputation.
But can we achieve this without being vain? Can we share our accomplishments, without being obsessed with them? Can we be proud of what we have to offer, without overstating our abilities?
In this week’s episode, I’ll attempt to find out.
This is Season 2 – Episode – of Tim Quit His Job, the show that follows me – a regular guy in his mid-20s – on my adventures into the unknown as I quit my job, start a business, and try to figure out life along the way. Ultimately, it’s a show for people looking to find their place in the world, but do things a little differently along the way. If you enjoy the podcast, then come and find out more about it at timquithisjob.com. As always the show is produced and instrumentalised by the mighty Henri Victorious – you’ll find links to his work on the website. In the meantime, enjoy the show.
It’s hard to deny the growing trend towards individualism in our society. The notion of individual success – the hero’s journey – is a powerful force in our culture. We worship the bold individuals who dream big and overcome great odds, who rise above the others around them, whose ideas carry civilisation to new levels.
This sweeping obsession with the individual in Western culture permeates right through to the way we think about our careers and professional life.
We are no longer ‘company men’, pledging our whole working lives to a sole organisation. We are now more like individual human enterprises, who flick between opportunities and vocations – carrying with us a set of skills and services that we sell to employers. As workers, on average, we now spend less time working for a single employer, and change jobs far more often than we used to. As we bounce through this new world of work, we need to understand the importance of standing out, cultivating a reputation and yes – building a kind of personal brand.
But whilst many of us may reluctantly come to this conclusion, we understandably resist taking the first steps on this journey. It feels cringey, cheap, like you are commodifying yourself. You see endless people on social media boasting, bragging and sometimes, straight up lying about themselves and their abilities. Do you really want to be associated with them?
What’s more, you worry about what other people will think. Sharing your work opens you up to increased public scrutiny, people can and probably will at some point, say that they disagree with an element of what you are saying or doing. They may even call you out for being braggy, intrusive or vain.
So we stay hidden, in the back of the room, afraid to take the mic, judging others because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
But it needn’t be this way. We needn’t see it as a vain egotistical pursuit. I like to think of self-promotion as equal parts necessity and pride.
It’s necessary, because that’s the reality of the changing world of work.
It’s pride, because we shouldn’t be ashamed or who we are, nor what we have to offer the world.
I just think there’s a big problem with self-promotion and the truth. And I that this is something that really puts people off it. When promoting oneself, it’s very easy to slip into the habit of bending the truth and exaggerating. I think this habit then becomes an addiction, people become fixated with this fantasy about themselves, of appearing more successful than they actually are. Worse still, we may be put off by those who weaponize their false personas – using these exaggerated images of success to reel us in and sell us products and services.
A few years ago when I was living in Australia, I worked a pyramid scheme sales job for a few months. I did it because someone I knew boasted about how much money he made at this company, and how I could too if I joined and worked hard. The longer I worked there, the more I began to realise that no one there was earning anywhere near as much money as they claimed. They were all just barely scraping by. The team leader, the boss, and even the boss’ boss, were all completely lying about their success. The main thing they had learned to sell was their lifestyle, in a bid to try and trap people into positions lower in the pyramid than them. They were not the best months of my life, but I learnt a lot, and I saw how quickly people can slide into selling lies when it comes to self-promotion.
Just like the cigarette companies lied about the effects of smoking, so too does the individual human enterprise lie about his or her composition.
But we can avoid this dishonest and vain slide into false advertising. We just need to be honest when it comes to promoting ourselves. There’s absolutely no reason to fear the truth when it comes to our accomplishments and our ambitions. We don’t give people gold medals and Oscars because we want them to hide their victories. Although we are judgemental about ungraceful winners, we applaud the honest victor who smiles sweetly and waves to the audience. These are the heroes that inspire our own individual journeys.
So think of it as a form of self-love. Not selfishness. If you’ve done something cool, or got something to offer, it’s a kind gesture to yourself to share it if it’s going to bring you opportunity.
And it helps to remember that those who sit behind their screens, criticising the efforts and achievements of others, those who do the easy thing – jeer from the sidelines – rather than step into the arena, they lack the courage to take the risks themselves!
It’s not vain to recognise that in order to get what you want in life, you have to take risks and put yourself out there.
So go ahead and share the thing that you’re proud of, write an article about what you do, tell the world what you have to offer – and you will be amazed at the opportunities it brings you.
And what’s my experience? Is self-promotion working for me? Well, you listened to this podcast didn’t you? So I guess it is…