If a "humblebrag" isn't the answer, what is?

Jane Perdue

For lots of reasons, many women struggle with getting the balance between confidence and humility just right. It’s another one of those “Goldilocks” life, love, and leadership puzzles that challenge us to get it perfect and avoid the extremes.


Some advice I recently read on how women should self-promote made me really uncomfortable. Why? It zoomed right past confidence and into hubris. I agreed with the author that it’s a busy, noisy world, where being heard or being top-of-mind are precious commodities. But, her guidance to create a five-part strategic plan to showcase winning an award (any award, no matter how prestigious) felt like over-the-top, calculated conceit. No doubt, personal branding is important. But, taking it too far can result in us being labeled arrogant and egotistical. That’s career buzzkill, not helpful for a woman struggling for visibility in a man’s world.


But, the other extreme is equally as hurtful. A self-effacing “Oh, it was nothing” or “I was just lucky” can backfire, too. Our denials can fail to give us credit when credit is due. A friend told me about having been to an awards dinner where nearly all the award recipients either downplayed their accomplishments or apologized for them. He slyly—and not totally in jest—remarked that he was surprised those women were nominated since they believed they’d done so little to be noteworthy.


The rise of the "humblebrag"—boasting disguised as modesty—isn’t a solution either. Social media brims with examples of manufactured demureness: “Geniuses at Amazon just recommended my own book to me.” “Just spilled wine on my new book contract. #bumblingthroughlife.” Tempering good news with some personal fault isn’t the confidence/humility equilibrium answer.


So, where is the sweet spot in sharing just the right amount of personal accomplishments? We have to learn to recognize when a gracious “thank you” is enough. Sometimes saying less is really saying more. Let’s give ourselves permission to feel good about our successes and share it. Gracefully and tactfully publicizing our achievements helps to keep us top of mind when promotion time rolls around. And yes, good girls can do this and still be good girls. Tame that inner critic or suffocating fear that stops us from talking positively about ourselves. We have to get comfortable focusing more on success and less on the possibility of failure. “Failure and feeling bad are necessary building blocks for ultimate success and feeling good,” writes psychologist Martin Seligman. And, despite what all those self-help articles say, we have to resist the siren song of being part of what writer David Zweig calls the “culture of profile” where the “metric of value is just attention.” Not all attention is good. The pull of the whisper is more alluring than a blaring band that goes on and on. As women, we just have to remember to whisper more often.


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