The Blog.

5 reasons why we resist self-promotion

21 Sep 2015 | Being Human, Mind monkeys

A while ago I was nominated to put myself forward for an award in the Forward Ladies National Women in Business Awards. Had I not been nominated, I wouldn’t have done it.

What is it about self-promotion that makes so many of us procrastinate? Whether it’s putting yourself out there as a business, or putting yourself forward for a promotion, writing your own CV or the ‘about me’ page on your website – why do we have such resistance when it comes to self-promotion?

Why don’t more people put themselves forward for awards? I got chatting about this with my coach Amanda Alexander in an impromptu interview last week, and here’s what I’ve come to realise:

1. We think there are others more deserving

My first thoughts to being nominated for an award were, Wow! quickly followed by Who me? and Surely there are others more deserving?

We tell ourselves if there is someone else more deserving then we shouldn’t bother. As Amanda pointed out, it’s like wanting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, then thinking But what is Kilimanjaro compared to Everest? – “there’s always someone who’s climbed Everest and that’s always going to be bigger and a better achievement.”

But why should that be a reason not to celebrate your achievements?

2. We compare our behind the scenes with other people’s highlight reels

I love hearing other people’s stories. Where they’ve come from, what they’ve overcome, where they are now. It’s beautiful. But sometimes I forget that what I’m seeing is their highlight reel – even the ones that allude to the lows as well as the highs.

We often don’t see our own stories in the same light. When we are in the middle of our own story, events are jumbled up, and don’t make sense. Highlights are scattered and momentary. And the journey gets replayed so many times in our heads, it becomes mundane. We focus on our behind the scenes and compare them to other people’s highlight reels.

We also very rarely look at our own highlight reel in its entirety. We see it dotted in and amongst the much larger landscape of pot holes and wrong turns. When I stopped and made myself write down all my achievements, aspirations and acknowledgements, I looked back and realised ‘actually that makes pretty good reading!’

3. We don’t practice self-promotion

Self promotion, along with dealing with conflict, is an area ripe for procrastination, because we don’t get enough practice.

We are not taught it from an early age. In fact, some of us may have been actively discouraged from bragging, boasting or bigging ourselves up. No wonder it’s outside of our comfort zone. It’s uncomfortable because it’s unfamiliar. We’re not used to handling it because we don’t give ourselves enough practice.

Culture has us conditioned to wait to be picked, for someone else to notice us and validate us. Indeed, I wouldn’t have completed the application for this award, had I not been nominated by someone else in the first place.

But something interesting happens when you start to practice self-promotion. At first it’s awkward. It feels self-indulgent, egotistical. But when you press through that, it makes you more self-aware. You become more aware of who you are, as well as who you’re not, where your strengths lie, as well as where they don’t. You become much clearer about where you shine and give your best – and as a result, you can be of better service to others.

4. We don’t want to be a star

Don’t get me wrong, when I’m stood on stage in front of an applauding audience, it’s an epic feeling. But purely being centre of attention for the sake of it, that’s not me. I enjoy recognition, absolutely, but I don’t naturally gravitate to the limelight. In fact, I only ever want to have a stage when I have something to share!

What feels even more incredible than the applause, is the individual conversations I have afterwards, when I hear about people’s lightbulb moments and action plans. When I see the personal change they’re taking away.

My deepest satisfaction and my strongest motivation comes from serving others, not myself. My lightbulb moment came when I realised that for me, it’s about being a light, not a star. A star says “Look at me!” a light says “Look at you!”.

Being a light is about serving others. A light shines the way and makes the path clear. A light breaks through darkness and brings clarity to confusion. A light brings life and encourages growth. A light reveals someone else’s brilliance. But to be a light, you have to shine. Be willing to draw attention, be visible and be seen.

5. We fear rejection

The problem with avoiding rejection is that we can only completely avoid it by taking ourselves out of the running. In discounting the possibility of rejection, we discount ourselves. The real question is, do we risk being rejected or do we reject ourselves?

As a Marianne Cantwell posted on the Free Range Humans Facebook page last week, about picking up painting when you’ve told yourself for years that you’re not an artist: “Turns out that creating perfection is only one reason to paint.”

Perfection is only one reason to do anything, and as Marianne said, “I’m not even convinced it is a good reason”.

Perhaps winning is only one reason to enter an award. Perhaps a better reason is simply to stand up and be counted. To show up, give your best, and give other people permission to do the same.

Over to you. Where will you shine this week? What will you put yourself forward for? While we’re at it, who will you encourage to put themselves forward? I’d love to hear from you – drop me a line in the comments below.ForwardLadies-Badges-250px_Shortlisted


  1. Bev Murrill

    great job, Grace… so glad you’ve taken the plunge to put yourself forward. you’re a great role model for so many women.

    • Grace Marshall

      Ah thanks for being one of mine Bev!

  2. Richard Tubb

    Grace – congratulations on the business award nomination. Very well deserved! Is there a way we can help support you as the award is decided upon?

    As with most Brits, I find self promotion awkward at best. You share some great tips on how to overcome that reluctance for self promotion. Thank you!

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Ric, it’s definitely a common Brit trait. I believe it’s just wait and see on the awards – no voting that I’m aware of. Thanks for your support!

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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