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I’ll let you into a little secret: the way I’ve been feeling recently is exactly why I wanted to set up The Standout Set – a group to help women who are running their own business / side-hustle, or dream about doing so – in the first place.
I’ve been in such a quandary over EVERYTHING lately.
Should I do this? Should I do that? Should I do any of it or is it all just a big fat waste of time?
Those doubting voices in my head have been LOUD.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I’m attempting to write more (and get paid for it) while cutting back on the core PR work I’ve done for years…while also looking after my 21-month old (and growing another baby too).
I’m ‘pivoting’, as I believe the buzzword is these days.
And it’s been hard-going, to be honest.
Yes, I’ve still been working, and yes, I’ve still been creating content for my blog. I still held The Standout Set’s first meeting last month. A big tick for me, then.
But not really.
Because I’ve mainly been doing all of these things really quietly. So quietly, in fact, that I feel like I might as well have not done them at all.
I’ve been doing the work and then – metaphorically speaking – I’ve put it all away in a drawer to be forgotten about.
I’ve not really promoted it. I’ve not told anyone they should read my work, engage with my work, commission me to do some work for them.
No. I’ve been keeping my head down and moving on to the next thing, while the work I’ve already done hides, metaphorically, in the drawer – probably next to a Prince gig ticket from 2012 and the scorecard from when I beat everyone at crazy golf on holiday last summer.
This is a pattern of behaviour I’ve followed for a long time, I’ve realised. (The ‘hiding my work away’ thing, not the hoarding of old souvenirs.)
I’ve never had any problem with DOING the work. I’ve always been conscientious and I’ve always fulfilled my work obligations – whether they come from clients who are paying me, or from self-set deadlines that make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.
And it’s a nice feeling, isn’t it, when you do the work, and finish it, and you can strike through something on your to-do list? That sense of purpose, and of productivity, and a reminder that you’re actually pretty good at what you do, when you set your mind to it.
If all you’re ever doing though, is completing the work and moving on to the next without stopping to really acknowledge it, or to shout about it and share it to its full potential, that nice feeling ends up being very short-lived.
Very solitary, very contained and very short-lived.
Not what you or your work deserves.
(Note: I’m not talking here about things you create solely for your own enjoyment…I realise that not everything we create has to be for external consumption and commercial gain! But I’m referring here to my own work – and yours – that is aimed at an external audience…)
Do you rejoice in results? Or squirm at ‘self’-promotion?
I remembered recently how my first boss in my first proper PR job had a brilliant catchphrase:
This essentially meant that whenever we achieved something great, usually a hard-won piece of press coverage for a client, then we should be shouting about it from the rooftops.
She believed we should run to the client and put it under their noses and say ‘look, we did this for you, aren’t we wonderful?’ and we should share it with our colleagues and our customers and anyone else who would listen.
Not for vanity reasons, but for business reasons – in a fast-paced, competitive industry, it was crucial our clients knew what a great job we were doing for them.
I always had SUCH a hard time rejoicing.
(For a PR person, I am bloody awful at PR-ing myself and my work!)
To me, it DID feel like vanity, like excessive horn-tooting. It made me feel uncomfortable.
I was happy to simply email the piece of press coverage with a modest cover note before putting it away in a folder and moving onto the next, half-hoping that the client would notice how wonderful the piece of work was without me having to go mental on the OTT self-promotion (which is how it felt).
Spoiler #1: as long as everything was ticking along nicely and the client thought they were getting their money’s worth from us, they rarely noticed anything relating to our work – because they were far too busy with other stuff.
And the same goes for anyone we’re trying to target with our work.
Everyone’s busy and no-one will notice how wonderful your piece of work is, unless you tell them.
And so my boss was right: we really need to be rejoicing in our results.
It’s not vanity, it’s necessity.
Also: it is not SELF-promotion. You are promoting YOUR WORK. You are not promoting YOU (because you are not your work!).
Despite knowing all of this, it’s something I’m still battling with now – hence the ‘doing the work and shutting it away in the metaphorical drawer next to the Prince ticket and the crazy golf scorecard’ thing.
Are you designing at the whiteboard?
I know there are several reasons behind my behaviour.
One is to try and minimise the criticism I leave myself open to. Keeping myself safe. And small.
If I’m not shouting ‘HEY LOOK WHAT I’VE DONE, ISN’T IT THE BEST BLOODY THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN/READ IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE?’ then I’m not drawing attention to myself, and inviting people in to give their point of view that might not be as enthusiastic as mine.
(If I want people to read what I’m writing, then I need to get over this – wouldn’t you say??)
Other reasons are explored brilliantly in Tara Mohr’s amazing book Playing Big, which I harp on about A LOT, because it resonates with me so much. (If you’ve not read it, READ IT!)
For example, she outlines how, from childhood, us girls in particular are never really encouraged to promote our work and our achievements. Rather, we are encouraged to keep our heads down, do the work and move to the next thing, quickly and quietly, as befits the behaviour of ‘good girls’.
It can therefore take a lot to move away from the belief that ‘self’-promotion is unnecessary or bad.
Mohr also talks a lot about ‘designing at the whiteboard’, which is TOTALLY me putting my work in a drawer never to see the light of day again.
‘Designing at the whiteboard’ means planning and planning in secret, without ever launching your products/your creations out in the world for feedback, until you feel that they’re 100% perfect.
I’ve done a lot of this recently, or my own version of it anyway. I’ve felt that I can’t put my work ‘out there’ until I am 100% sure of it and 100% sure of the direction I want to go in, and so I’ve done a bit of work, tentatively, but not pushed it.
Spoiler #2: things are never 100% perfect and you can never be 100% sure.
It’s much better to put your work out there and garner useful feedback from your target audience that will help you realise whether you’re on the right track or not, and can then tweak accordingly.
I totally GET this. I do. But it doesn’t make it feel less scary.
To me, it’s the equivalent of going out half-dressed, or leaving the house in your tracksuit bottoms and bumping into someone you know.
Or worse: being seen in something that you’d never normally wear, as you manoeuvre through the messy, ‘figuring out’ stage of a new endeavour and you try out new things. Bootcut jeans, let’s say (which I last wore in the early 2000s. Nothing against them if they’re your bag, but they make me look like a twit.)
I worry that, while I’m in this ‘figuring out’ stage, I could easily take a wrong turn in my work and end up wearing a pair of bootcut jeans (metaphorically speaking – hopefully) instead of the fancy outfit of my dreams. Or at least an outfit that feels like ‘me’.
Potentially being seen in my trackies or the wrong jeans, as I go through this ‘figuring out’ stage, makes me feel very vulnerable.
But really, it’s not the end of the world, is it?
I know it’s an essential stage of getting to where I need to be. I know I need to get over it.
And I think I can just about manage it. (As long as the jeans are not stonewashed…)
And as long as I keep moving forward, and trust in my own instincts to make the right (non-sartorial) choices, then I know I’ve got the potential to wear the best outfit I’ve ever worn in my life.
As do you.
If you’re ‘designing at the whiteboard’ right now, and there’s something you’re working on that you’re worried about putting ‘out there’ – this is just to say I’m totally with you.
So how about we step away from that bloomin’ whiteboard, put our work out there and start rejoicing in our results instead?
Bye for now x