In over 30 years in the business world, I found few corporate executives where “humble” would jump out as the first adjective to describe them. If anything, their egos hit you between your eyes before you even shook their hands.
A couple years ago, I turned to writing as a new avocation. The obvious skill overlap between my prior 30 year career in I/T sales management and my new venture was being able to communicate effectively. I must have been good at it in my prior job. I was able to comfortably retire at 55 and pursue other interests -- traveling, writing, reading, sports – the stuff most workers dream about doing. But I never really attained what many would consider ultimate success in the business world. I never made it to a “C” level position. You know, CEO, CFO, CIO, E-I-E-I-O. I probably lacked several characteristics of today’s corporate executive, but I had always wondered if my down-home humbleness got in the way, keeping me from attaining the highest levels in business.
Being in sales, you not only had to sell your services and products, you had to sell yourself to your clients. I felt more comfortable with the former and not so much so with the latter. Most (clearly not all) people who got a chance to know me seemed to like me, but I found it hard to promote myself to someone on a 30-minute sales call, or for that matter promote myself at all. If they liked what they saw, then fine. If not, I never thought that dragging out my high school track medals or bragging about who I played golf with last weekend was necessary.
Now I know there’s more to self-promotion than bragging. You need to walk the walk, talk the talk, look and dress the part, and it doesn’t hurt to learn how to effectively compliment and recognize others (i.e. suck up). I understood, and still understand, all of that. But it just seemed to me that to be ultimately successful, at least in business, confidence and capabilities weren’t enough.
I wonder if the same is true in writing. Having only been doing this for a little more than two years and having self-published only two novels, I haven’t achieved anything to be humble about. But still, I’m not sure that even if I produced a good product, it would go anywhere without good promotion – self-promotion.
Have you ever thought about how many introverted, quietly confident, famous writers there are – those who’ve relied on their skills and product to become successful? My guess is there are probably more in the last 50 years than there will be in the next 50. Writing is a competitive field, more today than ever before. A few great novelists are discovered every day, but many more fight their way through the crowd via blogs, web sites, interviews, press releases, book signings, advertising -- promoting themselves as much as their work. If you measure success by book sales, I wonder if writing is a vocation for the quietly confident, the humble.
“Praise can be your most valuable asset as long as you don't aim it at yourself.”Orlando A. Battista (1917-1995)