Self-promotion is a tricky thing. Those of us who want to make our skills and interests known to those around us walk a fine line between making our peers aware of our work, and trumpeting our perceived benefits so loudly we make them want to reach for the mute button.
For many of us, fear of doing the latter unintentionally swings us too far in the opposite direction, hiding our gifts where those who could appreciate them can’t see them. I know I’m guilty of this, and have spoken about it before.
Today, I read an article on Fast Company by Paul Jarvis, who managed to state his opinion on the matter with a unique combination of elegance and brusqueness. Essentially, he said what several others said to me in response to my previous post, as well as in conversations about taking my own work to the next level: let the work speak for itself. Sometimes, this is a scary proposition. The need to self-promote comes from a fear that our work isn’t speaking loudly enough, that we need to amplify the voice of our work to ensure success. But Jarvis counters that fear with the following:
It may seem passive at the surface, but it involves quite a bit of effort–making sure every client is so totally happy with the end result they shout it from the rooftop (or at least the digital equivalent of a rooftop–being Twitter and Facebook).
This resonated with me at a stage where I’m looking to expand the scope of my work. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how, when I’m ready, I’m going to let people know what I’m doing and encourage them to buy in. Jarvis made me realize I’m ahead of myself. The work has to come first. The work has to come first, and it has to be good enough that it speaks for me. It’s okay if I’m quiet- my work should shout, not me.
Bear with me for just a moment, as I dive into a Full House reference. There is an episode where Stephanie and her friends decide to form a band — for fans of mashup music, please note the band was called Girl Talk — and Jesse offers them the opportunity to play live at the Smash Club. The girls focus on the look of their band, practicing only minimally. Despite warnings from Uncle Jesse (and who wouldn’t listen to him? It’s Uncle Jesse! Of Jesse and the Rippers!) about the danger of focusing on style over substance, the girls find themselves consumed with worries of image, and their performance suffers. I can see where, albeit on a more professional level, I’ve had a similar concern for my own work. I don’t want that. If I’m going to do my equivalent of playing Ace of Base’s “The Sign” in front of a crowd of people, I want it to be good.
The lessons have to come first if the recital’s going to be any good. I’m reminded of a post Mallory Bower wrote a while back about the time that must be invested prior to advancement. The same time can be said about the time it takes to branch out, too. This article, as well as the advice of several friends and colleagues, served as a great reminder to slow down, and build my body of work until it can stand on its own. Just as toddlers learn to stand, they also develop a voice. Here’s hoping that my dedication to lessons will help my work find its voice, and that its voice will, in time, create opportunities for recitals.