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.


Still Watching

A follow up to my brilliant “In Defense of Eavesdropping” post from yesteryear. Well, if not brilliant, clever?

I am still watching you.

In particular on airplanes. Think the proliferation of e-readers makes eavesdropping more difficult? Wrong. I’m spying your e-book between the gap between the seats. Steinbeck huh, nice choice.

Too much curiosity to stop.

Based on a quick glance at his iPhone, Skater Dude next to me on the plane was listening to NPR podcasts. Disappointed I couldn’t make out any titles. And come on dude, update your apps already. A fiftyish woman one row up and in the aisle seat is in almost full view. Classy dresser, designer glasses, reading the New York Times Magazine during take-off. A young Diane Keaton maybe? Not even close. Diane Keaton would be reading a script right? Fiftyish Woman played Angry Birds and other stupid games on her iPhone the entire flight. Same with Tatted Up Guy sitting next to Steinbeck Reader.

All this while watching Bridesmaids on Nineteen’s laptop from across the aisle. Add mad multitasking skills to my list of amazing attributes. Eldest was even nice enough to offer up an earpiece for the funniest scenes. And all this people and movie watching while finally finishing up True Wealth by Juilet Schor.

Reading about environmental degradation, economics, and sustainability is a great deterrent to eavesdropping, but our privacy is sacrificed the second we step outdoors (and of course, connect to the internet). Near the end of lunch at the San Luis Obispo California Pizza Kitchen (vegetarian with japanese eggplant) I asked about directions to Art’s Cyclery. On the way out a woman at the adjacent table said, “I heard you asking where Art’s Cyclery is located. They’ve moved. My daughter looked it up on her phone. Here you go.”

Once outside, Sixteen and I spontaneoulsy did a little jig titled “Completely Weirded Out.” Karma is real. What goes around, comes around.