A friend asked me if I could spend a bit of time with a friend of his, who is a prominent journalist (you’ve probably read some of his articles in the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal), author, and energy and sustainability expert. He is thinking about getting into public speaking and seeking advice for how to go about it. Since I’ve done some and it’s a growing part of how I’m spending my time, I offered to share my experience.
After we spent a few minutes on the phone, I was reminded that the most important conversations we have as entrepreneurs (and I consider authors, speakers, artists all entrepreneurs) usually have a lot more to do with our own psychology and emotions than the actual tactical problem at hand.
When I asked this author how he was currently promoting his work, he paused. Then, before he told me about the feature articles he writes for some major publications or the conferences where he has already been invited to speak — both super impressive and useful pieces of information for our chat — he said:
“Yeah, this is the part I am really uncomfortable with, the whole promoting myself thing.”
Here was this brilliant mind, whose work is not only interesting and prominent, but incredibly relevant and important, who knows that it’s incredibly important, and who doesn’t feel comfortable promoting himself.
I come across this all the time. In fact, it took me a very long time to become more comfortable with being able to speak about my work and promote it, and even as I help others overcome this emotional barrier, I struggle with it often.
What is it that makes this difficult for so many people? I think one emotion at play here is fear of rejection. If I get out there and tell the world about my writing or speaking or the other work I do and the response is not hugely positive, it sucks.
But I think another emotion may be an even stronger obstacle: the feeling that it’s not humble to brag about your work.
There is a fine line between bragging and confidently promoting, just like there is a fine line between feeling humble because you’re in a situation where you realize you have a lot to learn and doing something to appear humble. And I think we get caught between these feelings a lot.
As I talked to this author, I was thinking about how to encourage him to do get out there more and overcome his hangup. I remembered a phrase I’ve used from time to time, which I think I made up but in the interest of full humility, I can’t vouch for that fact with absolute certainty:
If you invent a cure for cancer and no one knows about it, you didn’t really invent it.
We all have a gift to share with the world — some amazing humans have more than one. If you found yours and are doing something with it, to not share it with as many people as could benefit from it as possible isn’t modesty or humility. It’s stealing. You’re robbing them of a chance to learn something, experience something, have their lives be changed in some positive way — whether it’s huge or small.
Your book, painting, product, idea, song, blog post, photo…. they might be revolutionary for humanity, like a cure for cancer, or they might be revolutionary for one person. To express true humility is to accept your responsibility to share your unique gifts with others, not be quiet about them (and frustrated that no one knows).