You know that old physics question, “If a tree falls in a lonely forest and there is no animal near to hear it, does it make a sound?”
It occurs to me that hot on the heels of this well-known philosophical conundrum is perhaps another, less familiar, which asks,
“Are therapists bad at self-promotion or do people who are bad at self-promotion tend towards a career in therapy?”
You could hang out with pretty much any group of therapists and before long the awkwardness of charging for their services will come up.
Many tend either to worry about charging too much, charging for missed appointments, raising their prices, or all of these.
It makes some sense that the financial benefit of being a professional therapist can sometimes feel at odds with supporting people who are in a dark emotional place but it also says something about the difficulty many of us have with self-promotion.
I wouldn’t have thought of myself as someone with social anxiety for most of my life but realising that I have been and thinking about the things I’ve found most difficult in relation to it has been cathartic.
Most confusing of all in my younger days was the juxtaposition between a love for writing songs I wanted people to hear and a crippling inability to play them to anyone.
In bands, it was fine because there were others to “hide” amongst. But alone, a strange contradiction emerged in which I would enthuse about the possibility of gigging and then, if at all possible, find a way of avoiding it to my own bewilderment and frustration.
I would routinely forget words and chords I had written in a way that frequently made the whole experience even more excruciating than I’d imagined it would be.
It may not have looked like it from the outside but being front and centre mostly felt appalling until it was over and replaced by a relief that I mistook for triumphant euphoria.
In my work, I have often pointed out to a client that the situation they have found themselves in, largely by their own design, has probably come about to teach them something.
For example, introverts who get into relationships with extroverts are unconsciously giving themselves a wonderful daily opportunity to develop their extroverted side by modelling the behaviours of their partners, and vice versa.
My primary interests were always music and writing, both of which required self-promotion to push forwards, a skill I eventually realised I did not possess and had not sufficiently taken advantage of these pursuits to develop.
Then, I started my own business, another situation in which a vacuum of self-promotion might have created significant difficulty.
As it turned out, I got lucky.
Rather than peddle my wares around the streets, handing out leaflets, attending networking events (even writing that makes me feel weak), and designing relentless social media campaigns, I found a couple of busy clinics in which to rent rooms which helped me establish a base from which I’ve never really had to push any harder than felt comfortable.
In a band rehearsal more than thirty years ago we were in the midst of a disagreement the cause of which I’ve long forgotten.
Lawrence, our guitarist, who left the band by virtue of running off with his friend’s husband told me that I had a big ego.
It was a shock and an early indication that I didn’t know much about either myself or how others saw me.
I couldn’t see it then but much of what I displayed when I was younger was a form of counter-attack, a mask to cover vulnerability and what and who I felt to be unacceptable.
I recently asked my friend and podcast co-host Martin why he thinks we have become less bothered about what people think of us in recent years.
“I think it just comes with maturity,” he said.
It’s true but it takes something else to break down a difficulty with self-promotion or indeed any self-limiting behaviour.
It requires the desire to do so, love and respect for oneself that may have been hard-earned but has emerged all the same, and that you take some action to change it.
Perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer to others who struggle with self-promotion comes from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic”.
She’s talking about creativity here but that’s what self-promotion really is, isn’t it? A way to say, “I’m here and this is what I do.”
“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found it hard to push yourself forwards. Just drop a line or two in the comments.
Can you see what I did there?