The Fear of Self-Promotion

A look at the fear of promoting your work, and how to overcome it.

Photo by  Brooke Lark

Photo by Brooke Lark

Originally Published in The Startup

I’m often scared, hesitant, or resistant to promote my work.

The very thought, in fact, is quick to trigger many of my fears and fear-based habits.

I often seek to control what people think of me when engaging in self-promoting activities, the underlying fear being that I’ll be misunderstood or seen as arrogant, self-involved and, for lack of a better word, a d*ckhead.

I worry that others will confirm my own worst thoughts about myself (most of which are far from true, yet which feel very real).

Aside from the fact that I can’t control what others think of me, or that we often change our behavior simply because of our perception of others’ perceptions of us, it’s important to realize these are merely self-created stories. Granted, they can be pretty damn convincing, but they’re still just stories.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten into the habit of questioning my beliefs.

As the wonderful Byron Katie suggests, asking myself whether or not these thoughts and beliefs are true helps to alleviate the self-inflicted hardship that comes with being scared to promote my work.

Virtually all human suffering is a result of us believing that our thoughts are true.

So…am I arrogant? Absolutely. At least some of the time.

Am I self involved? Sure. Everyone is to some degree.

But if these thoughts about myself aren’t entirely true, then my resistance towards promoting my work must have deeper roots. And, having had the pleasure of working with many entrepreneurs, business owners, and start-ups, I know for damn sure that I’m not the only one that struggles with this.

The Root of Resistance to Self-Promotion?

It’s a lot easier to get a read on what might be the cause of our fear when we’re looking from the outside in. Witnessing many of the people that I admire encounter this issue, I’ve noticed that there is a commonality forming the base of everyones resistance: value.

Yup. At the end of the day, doubts around self-promotion are often born from the belief that what we’re doing doesn’t really matter.

I myself consistently question the worth of my work, whether paid or otherwise.

Are the articles I write actually helping people?

Are the businesses I’m working with benefitting from my involvement?

The funny thing is… no number of positive testimonials, comments, views, or paychecks erodes this lack of belief.

Simply put, external validation can’t address something that is determined by me alone:

I am the sole determinant of my own beliefs. If I believe that what I’m doing is valuable, then it is.

This is a responsibility that can be difficult to accept, but that can fundamentally change the way we relate to self-promotion.

So…Do You Think What You’re Doing is Valuable?

Having worked in a professional capacity with many brands and individuals, I’ve received my fair share of compliments.

I’m a hard worker, consider myself rather easy to get along with, and do my best to give 100% of myself to whatever it is that I’m doing.

In spite of this, I often don’t believe others when they tell me that my work has helped them. The underlying doubt around the value of what I’m doing still persists.

But when I believe that what I create is valuable, I’m actually excited to promote it. I believe others when they praise it.

The bottom line is this: if we put time and effort into creating something that we’re proud of, the belief that we create as a result is impervious to external influence.

What’s more is that when we do this, it’s easier to love the process of getting our work out there because we see it as being valuable. Both to ourselves, and to the collective.

Promoting what we’re doing then becomes something benevolent, rather than self-involved.

This obviously runs contrary to that fear of being perceived as narcissistic or self-involved.

If your work is valuable, and you see it as such, then what you’re doing is actually of service to the world instead of only to yourself.

What a liberating concept, right?!

Assessing Value on Your Own Terms

It’s important to note that the idea that my work isn’t valuable does sometimes have merit.

When I’m doing things for the wrong reasons (rushing to meet deadlines, motivated solely by something like money and nothing else, etc.), it generally follows that what I produce kind of…sucks.

With awareness of this tendency, I now take time to evaluate what I’m considering promoting before actually promoting it:

  1. Am I Rushed?

I first assess whether I’m giving myself the time that’s necessary to make sure I can do my best work.

That generally means I have time to step away and take a breather if need be, and that I’m putting something out there only when I‘m’ good and ready.

As I work on a certain piece or project, I’m subject to the volatility of my own mind. There will be moments of inspiration where I feel as though its the greatest thing since sliced bread, which are later contrasted by a pit of despair where I feel it wouldn’t have been humanly possible to create something of lesser value.

Making sure I’m not rushed and having enough time to work on, and keep coming back to, something helps me navigate this mental rollercoaster.

It also generally allows me to come to a place of greater clarity and stability.

2. What are my motives and intentions?

I always, and continually, assess my intentions to promote something.

Like I said: I can be arrogant. I can be greedy. I’ve learned to accept that these are realities of my humanity, but also that I don’t need to be a slave to them.

When my intention is aligned with providing value for others, then I’m far less likely to run away from self-promotion.

The same reigns true in re-evaluating past work: if it’s outdated, I change it. After all, I’m constantly learning. My own insights and methodologies change to suit me and those that I’m working with. And while I can’t really change a piece that’s already been published, for example, I can always do something like a follow-up.

3. Is This Valuable?

After giving myself the time to work on something unhindered by deadlines or tainted intentions, I ask myself whether I value it.

Do I really think that it’s going to be of service and support my intention?

If the answer is yes, only then do I start promoting it.

Share What You Value

We all have something valuable to offer. No one, and I mean no one, has the same blend of experience, perspective, and voice that you do.

If you actually value what you’re doing, value what you’ve created, the world needs to see it.

We all have a duty to support to the collective, especially during a time where global community is a real thing: what we do has impacts that are further reaching than ever before.

What happens when I determine that my work isn’t actually valuable?

It’s no surprise that this realization can often be a bit of a slap in the face.

Especially when I’ve put a lot of time and effort into a project, it can seem like a waste.

But, and I say this having created a lot of rather terrible stuff, that being honest with myself in this way is one of the most gratifying things that I do.

There is value in the invaluable. What generally comes out of these situations is some content that I can still work with, as well as insight into my shortcomings.

I leave clearer in my intention, and know that there is some lesson (that I’m likely unable to see in the moment) that will be valuable for me and whoever I work with.

Photo by  Niklas Hamann

Photo by Niklas Hamann

There is a LOT of Room for Doubt

If you’ve taken the self-promotional leap and are actively doing your best to put yourself out there, you likely know that it doesn’t necessarily get easier.

There’s a lot of room for doubt to creep back into the fray, especially if you struggled to get started in the first place.

Self-promotion isn’t easy and it’s an ongoing process. We need to continually reinforce our self-worth and the worth of our work to keep at it.

It’s not some magical flipped switch. Even once you start promoting yourself or your work, it doesn’t come easy (and neither do the results). Marketing, especially today, is difficult and constantly changing. And this is another reason that we can resist self-promotion: its hard!

This is where its important to return to your belief and values: when your work is truly valued, when you truly believe in it, self-promotion becomes less chore and more fun.

*My Own Self-Promotion Plug*

My fear of self-promotion has nothing to do with anyone but myself.

I’m posting this article because I think it’s valuable. There’s a lot of other content out there dealing with similar issues around self-worth and promotion that I’ve read and found to be helpful.

But that doesn’t detract from the value of my own experience and insight into this topic. I’m not discouraged from posting this because I know, experientially, that what I have to offer is really helpful.

With that said, I hope you found this to be of value. If you did, please feel free to share this piece and check out some of my other work.

If you didn’t, tell me how you think I can improve!

Interested in working with me? If you’re struggling with self-promotion, I can help you define what you do, sort out your messaging, and promote your offering to the world in a bad-ass way.

Thanks for reading!

~Varun