cry the beloved

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The story last week about lessons from Porter Airlines was my most widely read blog post ever. I was inundated with positive feedback. I’m glad the post resonated so widely. This speaks to the fact that everyone loves a good story. As a result, everyone knows about Porter’s customer service but they also know that I received an award.

The tale of winning awards has got me thinking about the awkward art of self-promotion. I wonder if I took advantage of that great story as a not-so-subtle way to circulate the news that I’d won an award. What was my motivation for letting people know of this accomplishment? Is my blog just a digital tool for self-promotion? What qualifies as a legitimate reason to brag online?

Countless advisors reiterate the importance of building an online presence for both businesses and individuals. In the year 2013, people are encouraged to build a social media portfolio that can include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and much more. I have been trying to follow contemporary wisdom regarding the importance of building a personal brand online but I have to say that it often feels like a self-centred exercise.

I’ve always felt conflicted about these efforts in self-promotion. I wonder how you can self-promote and still retain humility – a character trait that I value greatly.  Some of the most widely respected authorities in business have also noted that humility is an essential characteristic in highly effective leaders.

For now I’ve decided to continue this uncomfortable process of self-promotion. Here’s my rationale.  I consider most of my work to be a form of public service. I serve through clinical care, medical education, advocacy and community engagement on health and social issues. It’s been my experience that the stronger my public profile, the more quickly and effectively I can be an influence for positive progress on the issues that matter to me.

One example is the Give a Day to World AIDS movement. In this case, it seems that the more people know me, the more I get invited to speak, the more people hear what I have to say about HIV in the word, the more money is raised for the cause. My colleagues have always encouraged me to build my public profile because it ultimately helps us meet our goals.

My current conclusion on the matter is that it’s the motivation behind the self-promotion that makes the difference. I believe that I can legitimately build my public portfolio if it helps me attain a position where I can be an influence for public benefit. I’ve written about motivation before and I know that our motives for any act of goodwill can never be entirely pure. But this is the only way I can resolve my angst about these acts of self-promotion.

The best description of this kind of anxiety I have ever read comes from Alan Paton in “Cry, the Beloved Country”. He writes in quite a different context. But what I take away from this passage is that sometimes you need to stop over-analyzing your motivations and just get on with what seems to be the right thing to do. I will quote Paton here at length in hopes that his reflections will be set in a fair context…

“Therefore I shall devote myself, my time, my energy, my talents, to the service of South Africa.  I shall no longer ask myself if this or that is expedient, but only if it is right.  I shall do this, not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and because I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie.  I shall do this, not because I am a negrophile and a hater of my own, but because I cannot find it in me to do anything else.  I am lost when I balance this against that, I am lost when I ask if this is safe, I am lost when I as if men, white men or black men, Englishmen or Afrikaners, Gentiles or Jews, will approve.  Therefore I shall try to do what is right, and to speak what is true.

“I do this not because I am courageous and honest, but because it is the only way to end the conflict of my deepest soul.  I do it because I am no longer able to aspire to the highest with one part of myself, and to deny it with another.  I do not wish to live like that, I would rather die than live like that.  I understand better those who have died for their convictions, and have not thought it was wonderful or brave or noble to die.  They died rather than live, that was all.

“Yet it would not be honest to pretend that it is solely an inverted selfishness that moves me.  I am moved by something that is not my own, that moves me to do what is right, at whatever cost it may be.”

If you’ve read this far, I’d really like your feedback on this issue. How do you think someone can build a public portfolio and reputation in a way that is authentic, modest and effective?

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Discussion - 4 Comments
  1. John Glassford

    May 01, 2013  at 2:31 PM

    Jane you have every right to promote yourself as we all do have that right. I do not see you as ego driven but driven by service above self.

    I am a fan of your work and admire what you have achieved and to me that is what matters achieving walking the talk as they say. In the process if you are placed on a pedestal then so be it as long as you use that pedestal for good work, of which you do in spades.

    Keep promoting yourself and as a result many people who are in need will benefit from your work. That is the bottom line for me getting children who are orphans due to AIDS into school and into a better life. However I know just how hard it is to talk about AIDS in Africa so as we say in Australia I dips me lid to you Jane.



  2. Ron S

    May 01, 2013  at 2:31 PM

    …t’is a dilemma! I do agree with your comment “that it’s the motivation behind the self-promotion that makes the difference.” I too think about how best to “create a presence” – in any environment – without it being too much of a sales pitch. So, for what its worth, here is what I’ve come up with…

    …do the promotion by asking questions! It’s not unlike what you’ve done in this posting – “I’d really like your feedback”. By asking focused questions, while providing a bit of background (as you have done here), you demonstrate your interest and willingness to listen to others which encourages them to listen to you and eventually actively seek your advice/opinion. So, your motivation may be – to achieve real engagement with your readers, followers, etc. to help you improve your understanding of a particular topic or issue; and in turn, to use that understanding in a way that supports the achievement of a result or outcome.

    So, what do you and your readers think?


  3. Hendy

    May 01, 2013  at 2:31 PM

    I agree it is the causes that you so need to promote and if in doing that you are lifted up so as to be a spokesperson let it be. Keep your motives pure, keep your eyes and heart on what is important and do not worry about self promotion.


  4. Cathy Reesor

    May 02, 2013  at 2:31 PM

    The fact that you are “conflicted with self promotion” says it all. Your humility and the passion you have for what you believe in shines through as soon as you start to speak about the issues close to your heart. You have been given a gift, and speak for many who would otherwise not be heard. I say do what it takes to be their voice! :)


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