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The Value Of Promoting Yourself To Your Harshest Critic

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“Fortune does favor the bold. I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.” – Sheryl Sandberg

By Janet Choi (Chief Creative Officer, iDoneThis)

Women who promote themselves experience greater career advancement, compensation and career satisfaction. So I say “amen!” to Oprah’s advice that “in order to get people’s attention you gotta blow a loud trumpet. You gotta beat the drum loudly. Nobody listens to you when you go quietly into the night.”

But Oprah, why is it so hard to take up the “Me” banner, summon the breath for that trumpet? How come this knowledge isn’t enough to spark a lady self-promotion revolution?

The notion of self-promotion repels many awesome women I know, and it’s a practice that I personally still find uncomfortable. In large part, speaking up about our achievements and ourselves is a challenge, because we don’t give ourselves a pat on the back first. Authentic promotion is anchored on the initial ability to acknowledge your own accomplishments. It turns out a lot of us need to practice promoting to ourselves first.

So why are we so often our own harshest critic? Sheryl Sandberg has warned us about the dangers of “stereotype threat”, where awareness of prevailing negative stereotypes regarding ability can undermine performance and potential through the internalization of those negative messages.

For example, girls generally outperform boys in science – but not in the United States, where stereotype threat influences girls’ concept of suitable roles in spite of capability. Their absorption of the understanding that science, math and technology isn’t for them ends up affecting both their performance and approach.

Stereotype threat also pervades women’s career trajectories in STEM, affecting drop-out rates and advancement levels. A study by Toni Schmader and Matthias Mehl even found how women in the field psych themselves out, consequently sounding less competent and more disengaged when talking to men at work. Valuable mental energy is spent monitoring and navigating a conversation, opening up further opportunities for insecurity to push through.

When we internalize negative stereotypes, self-doubt doubles as a form of self-protection. The result is that we put ourselves in a default position of defense rather than offense. Second-guessing, feeling like a fraud, or thinking that there’s no chance that doors will open prevents us from even ringing the doorbell. If there’s anyone that recognizes the benefits of playing offense, it’s Marissa Mayer, who noted, “If you push through that feeling of being scared, that feeling of taking risk, really amazing things can happen.” And it’s harder to push through from defense.

While Sandberg’s urging that “[i]f women believe they can succeed in tech, they will” might sound like magical thinking, there are concrete ways to combat stereotype threat which involve filtering out doubt to give you a better perception of reality. As Sandy Jen, co-founder and CTO of Meebo, explains her success – “I choose the ways in which I measure myself.”

Specifically, two powerful methods of fighting off stereotype threat are:

  1. Encouraging self-affirmation
  2. Seeing ability as mutable

And there’s one great tool that accomplishes both — the work diary.

Through regular journaling and reflection regarding your work, track your progress, accomplishments, and challenges you’ve overcome as you go. This record gives you a truer reflection of your work, undistorted by inner and outer demons, and offers a source for resilience to fight off bouts of insecurity and negativity.

You also gain a visible record of how ability can grow and improve all the time. Feeling down that you’re not good at something? The great thing is that you can get better at it. Had a crappy day? Gain insight from negative experiences that can fuel future progress and further growth.

Kellee Kahlil, founder of Lover.ly, has pointed out – “If you lean in to the fear, it feels a lot more like excitement.” Fear and excitement share the same edges, and it’s easier to lean into the side of excitement when you feel more secure, run on momentum from building up motivating wins, and have a strong foundation of a visible progress record.

Keeping a work diary helps put you on offense.

Finally, leaning into excitement helps light the way forward for others. Jen, too, found inspiration in other female founders:

“Regardless of gender, there’s always self-doubt and insecurity and women in particular tend to sell themselves short. It really inspires me when I hear about a female founder launching an idea and changing the world. It shows the younger generations that tech startups are not just for the boys, girls are winning too.”

Success isn’t a zero-sum game, and sharing yours makes a difference.

Our ability to grow and learn includes how well we promote ourselves. An aversion to self-promotion may feel like an instinct but often it has been learned through stereotypes and our environment. Like anything else, it can be unlearned by acknowledging your progress and self-affirmation.

We have enough to deal with already, as Sandberg reminds us: “Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face — and there will be barriers — be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold. I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.”

Photo credit: Howard Lake on Flickr.

Women 2.0 readers: How are you working on promoting yourself more? Let us know your tips & tricks in the comments below!

About the guest blogger: Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest team performance and progress management tool around. Janet writes about productivity, growth, fulfillment, and the way people work. In the past, she was an editor at Opera News and, as the third attorney to join the ranks of iDoneThis, has worked in community and economic development, food policy and public interest law. Janet holds a B.A. from Duke University and a J.D. from American University. Follow her on Twitter at @lethargarian.