Why Not Self-Promote?

This semester I had the opportunity to interview Billboard Editor-in-Chief Lesley Eichelberger for a feature story I wrote for the Wilson Magazine. I had questioned her about all sorts of personal experiences—what professors she liked and disliked, if she had ever met a cheapskate, her funniest college experiences and if she had ever met a braggart.

Her answer to this last question has surprised me the most and has affected my perceptions so radically that I feel I must share it with you here.

“No. I’ve never met a braggart because I do not believe in the term. I believe that people—and women in general—should never shy away from self-promotion. If you do something great, tell people about it!” she said.

In the past, I have always shied away from what Lesley terms “self-promotion.” Of course, I still try to refrain from seeming arrogant or overinflated. But Lesley’s comment made me realize that I rarely share with others when I have achieved something difficult, and I wonder how that has affected me.

More importantly, I wondered if other Wilson women shared in this “humble-sickness,” and how it has affected both their self-concepts and successes. My recent experiences at Student Research Day made me believe that other Wilson women do share the same qualms with self-promotion that I do, and that it may affect these incredibly talented, yet self-critical women in a negative way.

Here were brilliant Wilson women presenting complex, original research. According to Associate Professor of Chemistry Rebecca Smith, several of these students had presented or planned to present their research at prestigious academic conferences in various states around the country.

But when I talked to many of these students, few of them told me that they thought they had done a good job. Even fewer told me that they had done “great,” or “spectacularly well.”

One student seemed incredibly fault-finding with her own presentation, while many of the other student presenters thought they did “not bad” or that the experience was just “decent.”

Why couldn’t these accomplished, soon-to-be Wilson graduates just tell me that they had done a “great” job? Why couldn’t they brag a little bit about the amazing projects they had toiled with all semester?

These student responses made me believe that these Wilson women feared how others would perceive them if they expressed confidence and pride in their results, or worse, that they could not realize just how much they had accomplished.

These responses also made me wonder if these same women would shy away from expressing their accomplishments accurately in situations where their livelihoods depend upon it—in job interviews, in auditions, in gallery showings, in meetings with bosses to discuss promotions or raises.

It saddened me to think that these astute Wilson women did not earnestly express their achievements—or worse—believe them.

In a recent experiment, I stopped denying my accomplishments to others for three days. I told people when I received positive feedback or made a small step towards my goals. I told several people about my daily achievements—no matter how important they seemed.

On the first day of my experiment, I told a friend that a professor told me how I “continue to do excellent work.” On day two, I told a friend about how I had set a new PR (personal record) on a 3 rep max deadlift attempt, and on day 3, I simply shared my plans and goals for the future with someone I thought would criticize my very lofty—yet nontraditional—goals. To my surprise, people congratulated me, and one even provided positive feedback and constructive advice about how I may better accomplish my objectives.

If it benefited me to share my goals and “gloat” a little bit, I cannot help but believe that a little bit more self-promotion and self-confidence could help those lovely—yet incredibly self-critical and humble—Wilson women who presented this past weekend.

To them I say this:

Share your achievements with anyone and everyone around you. You did an excellent job. You succeeded despite numerous pressures, classes, jobs, sports and family commitments. Reap the rewards—and the congratulations—of your hard work. You deserve it.

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