Beware: what follows is a hardcore defense of self promotion.
You may be wondering who in their right mind would defend self-promotion, twice (I wrote on this topic in 2012)? But this morning, I decided to throw caution to the wind. Why? Because once again a well meaning friend has pulled me to the side and suggested, “Have you considered that it might be better if someone else shares the work you have been doing? When you share your own work it seems like self-promotion.”
I smiled. But inside I wanted to scream, “No, it is idea promotion and these ideas are important. Have you looked closely at this work? It has the potential to rock your world.” But of course to do something like that would seem arrogant and be cataloged as shameless self-promotion.
My question is why? Why is it shameless self-promotion? Why is it when you promote your own ideas, those you authored, trust, and believe, it borders on being seen as self serving?
Disclaimer: Now let me state upfront, when I talk about self-promotion in this post I am not talking about people who are all talk. I am not talking about the folks who only talk about themselves and their opinions, most of which are not related to any call to action or hard work on behalf of others.
It is part of our DNA
I was talking about this issue with a friend and suggested maybe we have this mindset because our parents drilled it into us. “Don’t toot your own horn; if it is good you will get noticed.” My friend told me, “I’m from Canada, and for us it’s not a parenting issue, it’s a national issue.” In Australia they call it the “tallest poppy syndrome”, and in Norway I was told that Americans are perceived as loud, rude, and arrogant, mostly because of our willingness to self-promote. In working with Catholic and Jewish schools, I have been told that arrogance is associated with pride and that we should err on the side of humility. But is marketing our own ideas and work prideful if we really believe what we have to offer is useful, transformational, or helpful?
Women and Self-Promotion
Self-promotion is especially tough for women. In a culture where women are penalized or bombarded with guilt for self-promotion, often because of being connected to the stereotype of being powerful or pushy (i.e., not ladylike), it’s easy to opt to pursue other methods for success in an effort to be liked. But if you don’t rally for yourself, nobody else will. And what if others have reinforced that your ideas are worth promoting – what then? Interestingly, for women there’s also the concern about potentially hurting other people’s feelings. Women are hesitant to self-promote or talk about their achievements because they don’t want to dismiss or alienate less successful people.
If you think about it, no one is more passionate about your work than you are. No one else knows the depth of your experience, expertise and ideas. And no one can elaborate on your work as convincingly as you can. By delegating promotion just to others, you’re taking away your best opportunity to demonstrate the value of your ideas. You are muting your best spokesman.
Isn’t it logical that if we believe in our message, not promoting it would be selfish, as it would deny people the opportunity to learn from what we have to say or do? Humility is an important part of success and character growth — but humility should not mean that we refuse to open doors for others and help them reach their goals, dreams and aspirations by modeling our work and ideas. It’s about sharing, not coercion.
I am not suggesting we have to play the role of a pushy salesperson or a self-consumed and annoying person to get ahead. But sharing what we have to offer to the world does require taking small steps outside your comfort zone and being willing to put yourself out there on behalf of your dream or vision. It really boils down to passion and believing in what you do.
Promote the Ideas, the Vision, and the Dream
Anyone who knows me knows that I talk about Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) a lot. I believe in PLP. I believe in the work we do. I believe that the big ideas embedded in PLP’s model are the best hope we have for reculturing education systemically. This isn’t just about my livelihood. It’s my passion, my legacy, my way of leaving education better than I found it.
Here is the thing: when I talk about PLP, I am not talking about me. I am talking about “we”. I am talking about all the amazing educators who are taking the concepts back to their schools/districts and doing amazing things — things I might never think of — that no one has thought of before.
And I do not just talk about the “we” on our PLP website. I talk about the collective intelligence building I have been part of and I promote the work we created together. I was once turned down for a keynote for a large ISTE affiliate that had sought me out to present but had second thoughts when the committee discussion revealed the fear that all I would talk about was PLP. Which to be fair isn’t true — I keynote around the world and rarely even mention PLP. But in thinking about this topic maybe I should. Not mentioning PLP for fear of being seen as a self-promoter may be doing those in attendance a disservice.
If PLP is about enabling educators to become empowered and manage change in their schools shouldn’t I be sharing the ideas, the vision, and the steps folks need to take to be successful? And what about the other projects I work on? Is it selfish promotion to share about Connected Educator Month and all the wonderful things that happen there? How about my role with the ISTE Board of Directors– should I not share out the ideas that are built in that space? And most recently, the work around #futureready Leaders – am I just bragging when I talk about all we learned through the research and the superintendent’s stories we captured?
It’s sharing that drives change for children
To not self-promote the work we do is counterintuitive to promoting the shift we feel is needed for children to thrive now and in the future. If we truly believe that what we are doing, collectively, is changing education (and it is) then why wouldn’t we self-promote at every turn? Why would I let my fear of being judged for too much self-promotion get in the way of helping make schools better places for children?
I am just going to say it: SHARING IS NOT SELF-PROMOTION! That’s right — all caps… I yelled it. I told you I get passionate about this topic. Whether I am talking about PLP, my book, a blog post, a presentation or any other work I am giving myself over to on behalf of changing the world and making it better for children, then I am not self-promoting! Rather, I am spreading ideas I believe will help you because I care.
And guess what: I am hoping you will reciprocate. I am hoping you will make me aware of your work, your ideas, your skills, so that if there is a way we can collaborate to make the world better, we can find each other to do so. Because if you are willing to take the backlash that comes from the myths of being “self-promotional,” I will be able to find you, know you, and possibly work with you. In this modern era it is so important to know what those you know know. And how will I know what you know if you do not tell me? Brag a little, will ya? Make it easier for me to connect the dots. We are all busy and time’s a’wasting. I need to find you fast.
Dance When You Make a Touchdown!
I had someone famous who lives in Canada tell me once that my problem was that I dance when I make a touchdown. He said, “Like American football players, Sheryl, you tend to dance when you make a touchdown. Rather you should score and just act like it is business as usual.” I will say to you what I said to him: I will not only dance when I make a touchdown, I will dance more wildly when you do.
I have to know about your good work to celebrate with you. I can’t depend on someone else telling me about it. It will take too long, it is too risky, and I’d rather hear it with your passion and knowledge than a watered down version from someone who might leave out the pieces that are most important to my learning.
Let’s make a pact to get over ourselves. If you are doing good work, if you have great ideas, if you have skills that could make a difference — Dance. Tell me. Tell us all. Self-promote. I, for one, promise to high-five, re-tweet and share with others so together we can leave education better than we found it.
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Great post! You hit home on a lot of points. Self promotion is really hard for some of us. You’re right! If what you are doing is passionate and can make learning (or whatever) more thoughtful for kids, then talk about it.
Thanks Karen. Btw.. What are you up to these days? Would love to catch up.
Retired from principalship two years ago. Took a year to relax and find “me” again. Got healthy. Spending time with grandkids. Wrote a second edition of Still Learning to Read that should be out in the fall. Trying to stay connected to the educational community, attending conferences, reading professionally. Trying to find a niche but just not sure what direction I want to go in. Would love to catch up sometime.