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Modesty and Self-Promotion

Estimated Lesson Time: 7 minutes

Since the day we were born and all throughout our youth, the chances are we have been overly praised for our accomplishments. When we uttered our first word, we were given a big hug and a “hurrraaayy!.” When we made our first drawing of a house, which looked more like a house after a tornado had struck it, the drawing was hung on the refrigerator for all to see and admire. Then one day, we are taught that when we bring our accomplishments to the attention of others, it is called “bragging,” and what used to get praise now gets scorn. For many people, without the praise, the desire for achievement is lost, and others feel that boasting and bragging are necessary for all great achievements. This confusion about humility and modesty continues throughout our adult lives. Fortunately, there are some general guidelines that can keep you modest while making your achievements well known.

There is no question that humility and modesty are admirable qualities. However, these very admirable qualities also can be stumbling blocks on the road to success. There are so many talented people whose talents, achievements, and potential contributions to this world go undiscovered due to their desire to remain modest. Through the proper use of self-promotion and understanding of modesty, one can remain both humble and modest while being recognized for their achievements and talents that lead to success.

To brag or to boast is to glorify oneself in speech or talk in a self-admiring way. Self-promotion is to make one’s own accomplishments, talents, and potential contributions known to others. The difference is not in what you say, but how, why, and to whom you say it.

HOW: Consider the following statement: “I was just promoted to the new VP of Marketing, which comes with a 20% pay increase and a company car.” Imagine a really snotty person saying this statement while bragging. The accent would be on the word “I,” the chin would be up in the air with the eyelids half closed, and there would be a little nod at the end of the statement as if to say, “good for me and bad for you.” Now imagine a humble person saying the same words, but with excitement and the accent on “the new VP.” Modesty is not always what we say, but how we say it.

WHY and TO WHOM: What is the purpose of making the statement? To whom is it being said? The “why” can be sharing, self-promotion, or bragging, depending on to whom it is being said (I said these were general guidelines, I did not say they were simple).

  • To make oneself feel good. When we are proud of our accomplishments and filled with excitement, we have this inner desire to share the news with others. Perhaps the sharing of this news makes the situation more real to us, or perhaps we are just looking for some mild praise. In either case, we must carefully choose the people with whom we share the news. Close family and good friends are there for us as much as we are there for them. They are the ideal candidates for sharing the “good news.”
  • To make others feel inferior or show one’s superiority. When one speaks of his or her own accomplishments or talents simply to make others feel inferior or in an attempt to prove superiority, he or she will most certainly be seen as boasting or bragging. For example, imagine the earlier statement about the promotion being said to co-workers who were in line for the same promotion.
  • To get others to like or respect you. This is a common form of bragging most often used by young adults especially in the area of courting. It is a form of self-promotion, but for the wrong reasons. For example, if someone is trying to get to know you better, and you happen to be the state golf champion, tell that person that you enjoy golf and play frequently. If the other person persists with a line of questioning as to your ability, then answer the questions honestly and with modesty, but don’t volunteer information as to your above average ability in a social situation.
  • To get others to trust you. Some people trust others unless given a reason not to, and others trust no one unless given a reason. When dealing with people in the latter category, it may be necessary to state your credentials confidently to earn their trust. For example, if your boss is asking for a volunteer to be the team leader on a new project, it would be wise to respond confidently telling her about the similar project you have successfully completed in the past. Again, speak with confidence and not with conceit.
  • To prove yourself in a business situation. In just about all business situations, bragging, minus the self-admiring attitude, is considered good self-promotion. Do not be the quiet, shy type in business who remains just another face in the crowd. Have confidence in your future contributions and let those who can help you achieve success know what you are capable of.

Here are two “laws” relating to self-promotion that you can use to your advantage in your pursuit of success.

  • The law of connection. The law of connection states that the stronger the connection to you, the weaker the influence of the information. For example, everyone looks their best on a resume. Employers know this, which is why they require referrals or recommendations from previous employers. When information on your accomplishments, talents, and/or abilities are delivered by a third party, especially one with nothing to gain by your success, it makes a more powerful impact. The most powerful impact comes as a result of someone discovering your talents on their own.
  • The law of status. The law of status states that the higher the status of the person, organization, or institution promoting you, the more powerful the impact. The perfect example of this is testimonials. Authors, companies, and others that use testimonials, will list testimonials starting with the most well known or respected people giving the testimonial. In this case, who said it is more important than what is said.

There is no doubt that the line between modesty and good self-promotion is a fine one. It is important to be proud of your accomplishments and promote yourself but at the same time remain humble and earn, not seek, the respect of others. It is not necessarily what you say, but how, why, and to whom you say it that makes the difference. Master this concept, and you will have taken a significant step in your journey of success.


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    From the Course:
    Personal Development
    Year To Success
    Bo Bennett, PhD

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    Personal Development : Personal Transformation
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