The Art of Self Promotion

Everyone that’s ever written a resume or had a job interview has engaged in self promotion. I’m bad at it. Always have been, always will be. And I’m blaming my dad, Donald J. Byrnes, who  opted for hard work and humility.

Despite my DNA, I know skillful self promotion when I see it. Saturday night I found myself on the campus of San Luis Obispo (SLO) University in Central California. In the university’s beautiful Performing Arts Center more specifically. As I flipped through the program for the evening’s concert, I realized Zuill Bailey, the guest cellist, knows self promotion.

“The funny thing is,” I whispered to my date, “when most people read these artists’ profiles they think they’re biographical, that someone writes them for them, but the artists write them themselves.” “Then,” I added, “get a load of the guest cellist’s opening paragraph. It’s an award winner.”

ZUILL BAILEY is widely considered one of the premiere cellists in the world. His rare combination of celebrated artistry, technical wizardry as well as his engaging personality has secured his place as one of the most sought after and active cellists today.

At first glance, that made me want to puke, but the more I thought about it, my stance softened. Here’s why. Let’s guesstimate that there’s 5,000 truly spectacular cellists in the world and approximately 500 opportunities to make a good living playing cello. Nine out of ten are underemployed not because they’re not as talented as the “sought after” tenth, because they’re not as skilled at self promotion. Artists that want to make a living practicing their art have to promote themselves.

Wild guess. I would not enjoy ZB off stage, but I don’t begrudge him swinging for the fences when it comes to his description of himself. The problem of course is when people exaggerate their accomplishments. When they’re better at self promotion than they are at their jobs.

In the mid 1990s I was working educational magic (Channeling ZB!) at Guilford College, a small liberal arts college in Greensboro, North Carolina, when the President decided to retire. He wrote a letter of explanation to the community, the bulk of which was a list of his accomplishments (my favorite, he bragged the endowment had doubled, but failed to note that the market had tripled during his tenure). My dad, the chief executive officer of a major company at the time, was always interested in my work, and so I shared the letter with him. Disgusted he simply said, “Incredibly self-serving.” I didn’t realize it until I re-read it through that lens. He was right, it was embarrassingly self-serving.

My dad’s “road less traveled” philosophy was work hard, care about those you work with, don’t track your accomplishments, and maybe someday, people will respect you and say nice things about you. Too many of those nice things were said after he suddenly died from a heart attack on the way to work at age 69. Yesterday he would have been 87 years old.

Eighteen years later and I still miss him and his countercultural ways.

 

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