The Tight Rope of Self-Promotion

I don't often write about career topics or professionalism. Frankly, it's because I don't feel qualified to be anyone's coach. I have had a decent amount of success, but never so much that I consider myself an authority on the matter.

Nevertheless, here I am writing about self-promotion.

It has come to the forefront of my mind as there has recently been a bit of a "power shift" where I work. In other words, somebody up top is leaving. The vacuum has created quite a stir and lots of discussion about who the next "chosen one" will be.

Internal applicant? External? Old? Young? Nice? Jerk?

Some even thought I might apply for the spot.

Then I didn't.

"Why?" you ask.

I'll get to that later. But it got me thinking about the enigma of human self-promotion.

As children, most of us were taught not to "brag." We were told that's selfish, and nobody likes a bragger. That's mostly true, I think.

As adolescents and young adults, we are often taught to be confident and hard-working, but not over-confident. And certainly don't brag!

Then we graduate high school and/or college and enter the workforce. Suddenly, bragging is okay. Now we are supposed to spend hours gleaning every possible qualification, certification, participation, and activity in our life and magnifying it with a 5,000x microscope to show everyone.

Is there something in between?

Most of my life I've operated on the motto that, "If you do good work, people will notice."

Yes, true. People notice. But that doesn't mean they will do anything about it. Often "moving up" isn't accomplished simply by working hard (so we're told). 

Please understand, I'm conveying "conventional" wisdom here. These aren't necessarily my ideas.

So the only way to get ahead, then, is to shamelessly promote ourselves like a TV infomercial.

I'm a professional, but I'm a Christian. Often these two perspectives collide, and I need to make a choice.

Proverbs 27:2 says, "Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth--a stranger, and not your own lips."

I realize that following this advice may mean that I get passed up for a promotion or two. So be it. 

I will not sound my own horn. I will not point to my own banner. I will not share my accomplishments randomly to people in conversation just to let them know how successful I am (or how successful I believe myself to be). 

Everyone moves through life at different speeds with different priorities and different goals. When I hear someone actively trying to draw attention to their success, it reminds me why I should never do it.

Do I list my accomplishments on my resume/CV? Yes.

If someone asks me about one of my accomplishments, do I tell them? Yes.

Do I insert sound bites about my success into conversations with everyone I talk to to make them believe I'm Mr. Awesome? No.




You may think you're helping your career, or impressing people just for the sake of impressing them, or making people like you, or making yourself feel valuable; but you will accomplish none of these things by drawing attention to yourself.

You will attract the attention of shallow, misguided, charlatans in your endeavors. You will impress the ignorant, repulse the wise, and only temporarily ease your lack of self-worth.

It just doesn't work.

When I land my next position, I want it to be because my references spoke well of me--not me.

Proverbs 22:4 By humility and the fear of the LORD [come] riches, and honor, and life.

I Peter 5:5 clothed with humility; for God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Psalm 75:6-7 For promotion comes neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south; but God is the judge. He puts down one [person] and sets up another.

So why didn't I apply for the higher position?

Because I'm not qualified. 

I'm not ready. I can admit that, and it's okay. 

I'm not down on myself or struggling with confidence. I have plenty of confidence. I often struggle more with over-confidence (like many men).

But let reason be your guide. 

And if you're a Christian, let the Bible instruct you in not publishing "me campaigns."

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  1. Good read. I read your posts but haven't been able to comment much (a baby & toddler get most of my attention, as I'm sure you can relate very well to!) Thanks Dan!

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