Get over yourself! Why self-promotion isn’t all about you

Jun 22, 2021

5 mins

Get over yourself! Why self-promotion isn’t all about you
Andrea Schwam

Translator and writer

In the age of antisocial social media, openly expressing an aversion to self-promotion has never felt more natural. Combine this with the current epidemic of self-doubt and prevalence of impostor syndrome in the UK workplace and it’s no wonder many of us would prefer to stay quietly in the shadows where we think we belong.

At the same time, however, things are opening up again. What better time to get out of our own heads and rethink how we present ourselves to the world? Stefanie Sword-Williams, the founder and author of F#ck Being Humble has spent the past few years helping others to overcome any shyness and be proud of their achievements. We asked her to respond to some common excuses people use to avoid tooting their own horns.

1. “With everything going on in the world today, self-promotion is just narcissistic.”

When the medium is indeed the message and the medium is everywhere, it brings different people together.

There are many reasons why some steer clear of self-promotion, including cultural values and beliefs, socio-economic status, and gender. Heightened awareness of today’s most pressing issues can be a major deterrent. Publicising your achievements—even a good deed for a good cause—may offend your sense of social justice. But what if leaving yourself out of the picture is in effect more selfish than a bit of strategic boasting? How would opposing the whole idea of self-promotion help make your message more available to all?

According to Sword-Williams, what matters is what’s motivating you to show off. She knows what she’s talking about, having spent seven years in the advertising industry during which time she made a living from storytelling. F#ck Being Humble has garnered so much attention because she’s not only comfortable building a personal brand, but she also shares it in a surprisingly accessible way. She said, “For me, investing in self-promotion isn’t just about developing my own career. It’s about creating opportunities to help change people’s lives.” When the medium is indeed the message and the medium is everywhere, it brings different people together.

When it comes to a good cause, however, you don’t need to be a seasoned advertising executive to sell it to people. Sword-Williams said, “If you want to change the world and have a positive impact, absolutely focus your energy on that. But don’t forget to tell people that’s what you’re doing.” While the very notion might make you nauseous—from fear, embarrassment, or both—showing off might make a difference to others who feel the same as you do about your cause.

2.“I’ve just spent over a year working from home in my pajamas! How can I self-promote when I feel like a professional slug?”

Sword-Williams has heard this one before—even before the pandemic. However, the experience of working during a real lifetime warp may have pushed you further into the depths of self-doubt. Getting outside of your own head will now require you to rewire it. “Our memories trick us into believing that we haven’t done anything. Or when we lack self-confidence or have a lot of self-doubts, we immediately feel we’re rubbish at everything,” said Sword-Williams. For her, this internal obstacle has a pretty quick fix.

Sword-Williams recommends recording minor and major work achievements—at the end of the day, week or year—and then putting them out there. There are many ways to do this. Sword-Williams meets with a small group of women, on a weekly basis, to share three wins. Exchanging unfiltered boasts can help you to step outside the comfort zone of your own mind. What’s more, you’ll be able to spot the external factors that shaped your journey thus far. That’s the power of strength in numbers, otherwise known as networking. And to that end, letting down your guard in a safe space might be a good thing. “You can create really strong bonds when you have the courage to be vulnerable,” said Sword-Williams.

3. “I can’t even open Instagram any more. Having all the things I’m not doing shoved in my face makes me feel rubbish.”

“… I always compare strategically, not negatively.” - Stefanie Sword-Williams

After months of keeping in touch with the outside world via our screens, a large section of the population has had enough of social media. The heavy toll on mental health—especially among young people—is not surprising. At the same time, social media fatigue means that we see many platforms as old and tired.

That’s where good storytelling comes in. While many social media platforms, such as Instagram, have come under fire for their negative effects on self-esteem, building up some distance between you and your online image can be advantageous. It’s not all about you, after all. Sword-Williams said, “Social media channels have an existing audience that you can tap into and you can connect with people. It’s about reframing. It doesn’t have to be this place that is glossy and perfect.” If you are unhappy with its overriding narrative, then disrupt it. Just as others might filter their lives to present the best possible angle, you can filter your exposure levels. Unfollow the people and organizations that nourish self-doubt and insecurity. Reach out directly to the people who inspire you—but don’t expect to get anything in return. “Try to use social media as a form of inspiration. When people ask me how I handle comparison, I say I always compare strategically, not negatively,” said Sword-Williams.

4.“Bragging on social media is cringey. I’m not like those people.”

Sword-Williams’s background in advertising makes her particularly resistant to this excuse. It’s a common thread running through her work, from interviews and podcasts to her book and events. “Why is it okay for brands to advertise to us every single day, but the minute it comes to an individual, we have an issue with it?” she said.

Good question! If being cool is a concern, then you are more likely to turn your nose up at any whiff of self-promotion. But tread carefully. There’s clever and cute self-deprecation and then there’s the humblebrag phenomenon still haunting our feeds. Playing the self-promotion game doesn’t have to be synonymous with selling out. “Let’s park this belief that self-promotion isn’t cool. Set yourself a brief as if you were going to disrupt a social media channel or put your content out there. That isn’t arrogant. [Ask yourself] What is it? What is it to you?” said Sword-Williams.

Lift the lockdown on your ego

Why do people hold back from talking about themselves? Sword-Williams said, “‘Why would anyone care about my voice?’ is a big excuse.” Once again, there’s a relatively painless fix for this. “Go away and ask your friends, partners, or parents to give you an unfiltered list of how they would describe you,” she said. This is the first step in emerging from the mental cave you’ve likely been trapped inside. “When you feel low, it’s very easy to say, ‘There’s nothing good about me.’ I’m sure we’ve all been there. Asking people is one of the best ways of getting out of your own head.” Not only could you end up with some flattering material, but you’d also be giving the people in your life a chance to lift their own mental lockdown too. Isn’t that what we all need?

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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