It’s Not Bragging — Talk about Your Work with Joy

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Steve Jobs: Very, very good at talking about his work

“If you are too good at marketing your own work, you are probably a sociopath.”

Yeesh. I heard something like this on a podcast the other day, and it made me laugh. It also brought me back to the time an old college classmate who later became a client said to me: “You are really good at talking about yourself. When you are talking about your work and stuff, and it’s really impressive and cool, but you do it in a way that it’s not like you are boasting. At least that’s what it feels like to me.”

Think of it as truly authentic marketing.

I knew he was genuine and saying something nice to me, but the shame of self-promotion, even the perception that I was self-promoting, made my stomach turn and face turn red. Perhaps sensing my self-imposed humiliation, he kindly added, “It’s a compliment. I really enjoy your posts and learning about what you are up to.” But I’m used to getting this sick feeling in my stomach from time to time, and have at times regretted hitting a “send,” “update status” or “share” button on various social media platforms thinking, “Ugh, was that a Donald Trump move?” “Was that important enough to bother anyone with?” “Is this going to make someone feel badly or annoyed at me?” “Am I going to be a laughing stock in this circle and that?” I can almost see and feel the eyes rolling.

This is a battle I fight sometimes as an extrovert who wants to share what I love, what I do and what I think with the people in my life, but who also values humility and consideration for others’ feelings. As the great Manoush Zomorodi, of the thoughtful and fun podcast about technology and life, “Note To Self,” said: It’s a fine line between the pompous “Look who I am!” and the excited, child-like, “Look at this thing I made!” (Paraphrasing here.)

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Several friends and clients have asked me to write about the topic of authentic marketing, and I have always hesitated because I’m not a marketing expert and I don’t want anyone to think that I believe I am. But this is something I know many talented people who have a lot to offer the world struggle with, whether they are entrepreneurs, freelancers, career re-launchers or even high-powered executives. And at some point, we’ve all struggled with this during interviews. So today, I’m going to choose to be the extrovert me and share what I have found successful thus far in talking about my work publicly, whether it’s on panels or at the playground with other parents.

Do good work. And do it well.

Arianna Huffington: A great advocate for her work
Arianna Huffington: A great advocate for her work

The first requirement for talking about your work with authentic excitement is to do work that you are proud of. No matter how extroverted I might be, I personally would not feel proud producing and selling cigarettes, for example. So my hope is that I would never need to do that line of work. But it doesn’t even have to be that self-righteous. No matter what type of work you find yourself doing, if you can honestly stand behind the quality of your work, and the dedication you devote to the work you do, be proud and let folks know you are the person for that kind of work.

Get over yourself. It’s not always about you.

Could someone possibly benefit from learning about the work you are doing, even if it’s not complete or perfect? Could talking about your work with other smart, caring people inform your work or improve the quality of your work in any way? If there is a chance this can happen, talk about it. When I got over my embarrassment of telling people I was going to be a coach (I was dreading being asked things like “What is that? Is that a job?”) and started telling people, friends and neighbors started to recommend their friends who might benefit from speaking with me. Others recommended workshops and books that could help me become a better coach for my clients.

This is especially important for women and nonprofits.

Thinking less about your own embarrassment and thinking more about what impact your work could have on others is especially helpful for nonprofit professionals and women. They tend to be proud to talk about their organization’s good work and happy to advertise their friends’ accomplishments, but cringe at the thought of talking about their own good work and accomplishments. Listen to writer and former entrepreneur Derek Sivers’ interview on Tim Ferriss’ podcast to hear more about the idea of making your work more public because keeping it secret helps no one. (Plus, that interview includes many other simple insights I’ve found very helpful.)

Talk about what you want to do more of.

Don’t just talk about the stuff you are already good at. Talk about things you would like to do more of soon, or even someday. If you are only talking about the work you’ve done in the past, that’s the only type of work you will continue to get. Even if you are not so sure you want to explore new territory, talking about it can help you decide whether it’s a good idea or not. When I was thinking about becoming an executive coach, hearing the encouragement and excitement of supportive friends who listened to my ideas is partly what made my transition possible. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about doing more work with groups, in addition to my one-on-one coaching work, which I love. Talking about this idea with my friends, mentors and even my husband — who knows nothing about my field — helps me clarify the why and the what and the how of this potential new direction, and allows me to trust that I will land generally in the right area to start doing more of it.

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Be your considerate, helpful self.

You already know how to do this. I know some people who are always considerate, helpful and kind, but who, for some reason, do not act like themselves when they are trying to market their work. Don’t do this; just be yourself. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Don’t push products and services to people who don’t want them. If you are using social media, don’t flood their feed with the same old request over and over again. If someone doesn’t respond or says no, stop bothering them. If you are in a situation to help others market their work without compromising your own values, go ahead and help others! Don’t talk about just yourself. Hear out what others are interested in. You will learn so much from listening to anyone in any field, and one day you will realize that has made your own work so much richer.

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Wouldn’t you want your kids or your loved ones to share their work with pride and joy?

For me, all of the above ultimately led to this one last thought: What would I want my kids to do? I want my kids to work and play hard, discover new things and ideas, and be excited about what they are doing. I want them to share their ideas and work with their friends and teachers, and also with me. I would hope that others’ feedback might help them learn even more, and do even more interesting work. Maybe my kids will inspire others to do their best work also. If my kids have some skills that can help others, I want them to step up with pleasure and let people know that they can do that. I want them to be brave and do the things that are useful to people. I want to model this for my kids.

I wrote this piece so that you might benefit from what has worked for me. I hope some of you will want to share what has worked for you when it comes to getting more comfortable with “marketing yourself.” Maybe I will be excited to try those! And maybe there will be a part two.