By Katie Donnar | September 30, 2015
When the rich kids in my high school AP history class would brag about their in-ground pools and fancy vacations, our teacher would hopelessly respond in a monotone voice: “must be nice.” He still remains one of my favorite educators because he had no shame in telling it like it was, or in guilting those rich kids back down to earth.
He encouraged us to work hard, and to carefully toe the line between self-advocating and bragging, which was an important lesson for me. Although I wasn’t one of the rich kids, I was taught early on that hard work pays off and that, sometimes, being overconfident in my ability made up for my lack in bragging about fancy stuff.
I’ll never forget the morning in AP History that I decided to cockily announce my SAT score among peers and the humbling response muttered from across the room: “must be nice.”
There’s a very tricky balance between waiting around for someone to notice your hard work and grabbing a megaphone to announce your success.
Self-advocacy is important. Not only does it allow you to grow in confidence by learning to own your success, but if acted upon with humility instead of ego it can offer the chance to inspire others to reach higher and push harder, instead of leaving them dwelling on the dead-end thought: “must be nice.”
Sheryl Sandberg, former Google executive and the first woman to serve on Facebook’s board, touches on the benefits of self-advocacy in her book “Lean In” and how important it is to approach such a subject with care. While success can be impressive, my takeaway from Sandberg’s points are that self-advocacy should be well-timed. At least allow a moment for colleagues to notice your work, if they don’t, cool, move on and hold those metrics in your arsenal until your annual review.
Secondly: her examples prove that self-advocacy should be much less about “self” and much more about how your role is bringing tangible value to the company. This becomes truly important in language when you approach the subject to your superior. Whether the hope is a raise, a promotion, or proving that you are capable of taking on the next big project– be a leader and advocate that your new efforts are for the momentum of your team.
The essence of my job as a publicist is to learn the best things about my company or product, write a story, and then brag about it to the whole world when the timing is right. But there’s an art to this work, and it requires a great deal of honesty, patience, and resilience: puffery isn’t fun and sensationalism will never help any publicist establish credibility, nor will it help any professional make it through the next obstacle on the corporate jungle gym.
Be honest about what you do well, how you are positively contributing to your team to improve your company’s overall value (offering numbers in this area won’t hurt), but most of all: understand your worth and know that if your current employer isn’t willing to have an honest conversation about your next steps, maybe it’s time to move on. After all, there’s nothing worse than the pang of jealousy that might come with watching everyone around you graduate to the next level. Don’t let yourself fall into a “must be nice” mindset. If everyone else is advocating for themselves, then who’s advocating for you?