Reframing Our Resistance to Self-Promotion

The messages of shame and inadequacy I had fought to silence were threatening to silence me.

In Nashville, you don’t have to look far to find someone who is promoting his or her latest endeavor. In a city filled with artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and humanitarians, it sometimes feels like everyone is launching a Kickstarter campaign, planning a benefit or releasing a new project. I have a strong passion and respect for the community here and have always been drawn to these risk-taking talented people, but when it came to my own work, I could never quite bring myself to engage in this type of self-promotion. As I worked with and watched those around me build platforms and broaden their impact, I found myself sitting uncomfortably on the sidelines, afraid to speak up.

My journey with self-promotion began last summer when I had the opportunity to co-host The Daily Helpline. The show’s producers insisted that I build up a public platform to promote the show, so I met with a branding company to help me navigate my discomfort with the issue. They asked me what my goals were, and I passionately told them that the mission of Onsite — and my personal mission — was to break down the stigma around people asking for help. I explained how I wanted to raise emotional awareness and create a deeper level of consciousness about where we are as human beings in our world; offer freedom from limiting beliefs and create a place where people had permission to speak their truth.

It was clear to them that I truly believed in this message and wanted to share it with others, but I wasn’t creating any avenue for it to be heard. This team of branding experts challenged me on why I wasn’t posting on social media, blogging or speaking more: “How come you’re not out talking about your passion? How do you expect people to connect with it if you don’t stand behind it?”

It was a good question, one that caused me to immediately push back — probably because it spoke to something deeper inside me than just whether or not I liked to tweet. I told them those tactics made sense for people who have audiences, but not for me. I was just starting, and it felt, in a way, embarrassing. The opposite anonymous approach of attraction rather that promotion has worked for me in business until now so why change?

While I would like to tell you that it’s because I’m humble or don’t want to draw attention to myself, the real reason I don’t like self-promotion is because it’s incredibly vulnerable. I never struggled with writing or speaking as part of the Onsite brand, but it was a different story to promote who I was versus something I could stand behind. When life put me in a position where I had to share my ideas with the curtain pulled back and my name attached to them, I felt intimidated and unworthy.

The implication of promoting yourself as someone who has something to offer is facing the possibility that maybe you DON’T. What if my message wasn’t received well? What if people didn’t see it as valuable? And unlike representing Onsite, when attaching my name, it meant that if people didn’t like it, they didn’t like ME. The messages of shame and inadequacy I had fought to silence were threatening to silence me.

I’m not attempting to debate whether or not self-promotion is good or bad, but I do want to start a conversation about the deeper reasons why many of us are so uncomfortable with it, while some of us may overdo it. I recently had a conversation with a friend who gave me a lot of resistance and food for thought around this idea, and I have to admit it’s something on which I’m not fully resolved. But I do believe there is a deep connection between being able to healthily promote oneself and a sense of self-worth. Something that I used to see as self-centered was actually a measure of how centered oneself was. As I explored my own resistance to self-promotion, I discovered three ways my ‘self’ was still getting in the way:

•Self-Consciousness: In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown talks about shame in context with the fear of disconnection, and my fear around self-promotion is certainly rooted in exactly that. If I put myself out there and people didn’t like what I had to say, they would think I was boring, silly, irrelevant – and I was afraid — unlikable. On the flip side, if people did like what I had to say and I started to get more attention, that would make me even more vulnerable to scrutiny and inflated ego. Both options were scary, and it felt easy and safe to stay in my comfort zone where I could blend in and make everyone happy.

•Self-Censoring: I am a recovering perfectionist, and before putting myself out there, I will obsess about making sure I have the perfect message and perfect way of saying it even though it doesn’t exist. This is probably rooted in ego and shame; the feeling if I don’t get it right, people aren’t going to like me. I am guilty of obsessive self-editing at times on even the simplest of messages, which can hijack our ability to take risk and speak from the heart.

•Self-Identification: In his new book, Scary Close, Donald Millerexplains how everybody has an internal performer that comes online at an early age, where we determine the traits we want to be identified with and wear them like a mask: “Some of us learn we only matter if we are attractive, powerful, or skilled in some way, [and] each of us has an ace card we believe will make us loveable…[but] sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us,” he writes. Often, this is a way of overcompensating for the areas where we don’t feel enough. We figure out what we can hang our hats on – being funny, smart, good-looking etc. – and compete and struggle to maintain our reputation in that area. That’s why putting your real self out there for all to see is so scary; you can no longer hide behind the image that you’ve worked so hard to define you. For me, I think one of the traits I unconsciously tried to be known for was humility. I was afraid to self-promote because I was afraid it would take away my worth and value as someone people saw as being humble. There was part of me screaming to come out, but I felt that would conflict with the role I had created for myself.

Sometimes when we avoid being self-focused, we selfishly hold back a piece of ourselves that could be used to help others because of fear of what they would think of us.

Of course, self-promotion is not without its dangers. It can easily become something it’s not intended, as external validation and affirmation has the ability to meet unmet needs and/or fuel the ego of even the humblest people. The dopamine released when someone tells us we’re amazing or we’re “somebody” can create a temporary high that only more attention can give us. It’s critical to keep it in check, but overall, I have become much less afraid of it as I’ve learned to see it with a new definition: “Self-promotion is the art of being excited and passionate about what you’re doing.”

There is a difference between promoting yourself because you need recognition and advocating for your passion, message, art or work, with your name firmly attached. The first is an ego trap, usually driven by the need for external validation. The second takes extreme courage, to vulnerably stand up for what you believe in and what you’re creating, whether people like it or don’t like it. Engaging in self-promotion requires daily walking up to the edge, checking your motivation and evaluating your ego, but I’ve noticed that people who are unfiltered, unedited and ok with putting their message out there and standing behind it are often the most emotionally healthy people I know and the ones who have the greatest impact. I believe we see the counter opposite of that more, which turns us off, as the media loves to cover the shadow-side and inflated egos of celebrities. We should all be thankful that our every move is not being critiqued and watched at all times as I believe we might have more empathy and less judgment to those with public platforms if that were the case.

Not everyone is called to the spotlight, and many lead quietly, making an enormous impact through their actions. But self-promotion is not just about creating a public platform; it’s promoting yourself from within to reach your full potential. I believe many of the same things that were keeping me from self-promotion also hold others back from fully putting themselves out there professionally and personally. It’s the voice that says you’re not smart enough, experienced enough, attractive enough or likeable enough that keeps you from having the greatest impact you can have in work, relationships and your God-given calling. It’s being afraid of what others will think and therefore avoiding behind truly seen.

If you have a dream or passion, lean into your own emotional healing process to better prepare yourself to take the risk from an emotionally healthy place. Look inside at the deeper things holding you back. What are you ashamed or afraid of? Where are you trying to be perfect or meet the expectations of others instead of standing up for what you believe in?

I believe shame is something that can hold us back in most areas of our lives. Learning to be ok with who you are, telling your story and living vulnerably will do way more for you than just promoting a brand or spreading a message. It can bring you core emotional freedom that will unlock your potential and allow you to show up more present in relationships and with everything you do.  Emotional risks are worth taking in our personal and professional lives. They become more calculated and less risky when we are emotionally fit and in touch with our core values. If you have a story to tell, start somewhere. Everyone may tune in or no one. When I began to value my own worth over potential rejection from others, my guard went down and my spirits went up. Don’t get me wrong- I’m hopeful my message will have influence, but I am keenly aware that it’s taken me out of my comfort zone and therefore it already has.

“And to those who believe adventure is dangerous, I say, try routine; that kills you far more quickly.”-Paulo Coelho