Babe Didrikson High HurdleDear Coach –

One thing I struggle with is speaking about myself.  I come from a background that values humility. Add to that my overall discomfort with being in the spotlight and you see how those moments can be fraught with fear and anxiety, not to mention the risk of making a really bad impression!

While I have been successful in letting my successes in my current job become apparent to others, I realize it is largely due to the help I get from my boss and co-workers who refer to my contributions (so I don’t have to). I know this will not always be the case so I want to stop shying away from opportunities to “pitch” myself, and learn to speak about my strengths with more confidence and conviction. 


Hiding in the Shadows

Dear Hiding –

I promise not to minimize your predicament by saying, “Pshhh!  Just overcome your family traditions and your butterflies and let it out!” You have two significant hurdles to clear before you can feel comfortable and competent when speaking about yourself with ease.

The first is upbringing, and I would categorize this one as a “high hurdle.”  You have spent that last 20-something years being told to hide your light under a bushel – that it’s impolite to step into the spotlight and talk about your strengths and unique capabilities.  Time to start addressing your backstory.

“Backstories” lurk in the shadows of our consciousness. They serve one purpose:  to inhibit our success, and ultimately our happiness. Deepak Chopra suggests that these perceptions emerge out of experiences we had as children and adolescents, and can become “full of hostility and resentment.” We are all capable of turning these stories around so they no longer undermine us.

The first step is to focus on one specific goal or near-term opportunity. For you it’s selling yourself in professional settings.

Now describe your doubts, fears or self-limiting beliefs that may be hindering your ability to realize this goal.  Be specific and honest.  Write them down now, while you read this post.

Next, can you identify where those doubts and fears come from?  For you the answer is yes:  “My parents and grandparents for starters.”  Write down exactly what they would say to you if they saw you pitch your skills and talents to a stranger.

Now, answer this question:  Is this backstory still true?   Your letter clearly indicates that the answer is no, it’s no longer true. You understand how important self-promotion is to your career advancement.

Whether your answer is yes or no the above question, try to identify the strongest self-limiting belief you hold about this backstory. I’m hearing in your letter that you don’t deserve to put yourself out there. That talking about successes and accomplishments is for other people.

Now, answer this:  who will you be and what will you gain if you could let go of this self-limiting belief? And finally, what immediate steps can you take to erase this backstory for good?  In your case it is finding low-key, low-stakes opportunities to practice talking about yourself. Your local Chamber of Commerce is no doubt holding an After Five networking event this month and you could easily attend.

Moving on to the second hurdle: the icky, awful feelings of anxiety and self-doubt that creep in when you start to talk about yourself in an assertive and complimentary manner.  Here’s one trick that works well: Summon your “friendship signals.” These signals are all non-verbal and therefore have nothing to do with the words that come out of your mouth (however stilted, stammering or confusing).

When you see a friend on the street, what do you do?  You lift your chin, smile, raise your eyebrows, lean in, engage, and dare I say it, may even put your phone away!  If those non-verbal signals are present, your listener will forgive a few verbal stumbles.

Here’s an easy-breezy formula for talking about yourself when opportunity knocks.  Use Witch's Brewthese three sentence starters as a witch’s brew concocted specifically to ward off the self-defeating narrative that threatens to overtake your thought process:

  1. I am… (job title, organization, role, function, purpose, etc.). Use key words that will spark your listener’s attention)
  2. I have... (one or two accomplishments or things you are proud of )
  3. I hope to… (for a job search) or That has allowed me to… (for more generic purposes)

And if you are still quite nervous and want to turn the spotlight away from yourself, just redirect the conversation with a question like, “What about you?” or “But I would love to hear more about…”

Later on, when you are relaxed, you can offer more information in a casual manner.  Rarely do you have to get everything out in the first 30 seconds. If you are engaging and attentive, and your listener is not in a rush, you will have time to provide a fuller, more impressive picture of your awesome self.

Thanks for your letter. We’d love to hear from more readers.

– Barbara

Barbara Roche