When Modesty Becomes a Curse in Your Career

In a 2008 interview, the late author Maya Angelou exclaimed, “I don’t know what arrogance means. You see, I have no patience with modesty. Modesty is a learned adaptation. It’s stuck on like decals. As soon as life slams a modest person against the wall, that modesty will fall off faster than a G-string will fall off a stripper.”


In other words, modesty is a by-product of a safe and sheltered life?


Some people are modest because they are shy and don't like to be the center of attention.

Others are genuinely modest by nature.


Modesty leads to dishonesty, which means that modest professionals understate the scope and scale of their achievements.


If arrogance means that a person overstates his abilities, modesty implies that you will understate yours.


Angelou continued, “Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘run like hell and all of fire'. You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.”


Whether you are modest or introverted or simply uncomfortable with self-promotion, you still have an obligation to not only those who will follow you, but also those who depend on you.

The achievements of a modest person are just as important—if not more so—than the "achievements" of someone who can't stop blabbering about why he or she is God's gift to our planet.


You see, I believe in people who quietly, persistently, and tenaciously plow ahead. I also believe such people have a moral obligation to tell the truth about their results. This means to be factual and complete in stating the nature of your results, rather than belittling or failing to mention them.


There are certain forums in which you have an obligation to tell the whole truth. These include your resume, bio, and any business-oriented social media profiles you maintain. But every day I see people do the opposite; they publicly understate their achievements.


By the way, if you don’t have a bio, you should. It includes some of the same information as your resume, but should be written in a narrative style. Imagine that you are giving a presentation; whomever introduces you should be able to read your bio as your introduction, and it should work perfectly.


In all of these forums, you need to be as specific as possible about your accomplishments. Here are some examples:


·      Increased sales by 22% in my first year, by personally visiting customers instead of just calling them on the phone.

·      Developed a new process for screening resumes that shortened the time needed to hire a manager from 75 days to 42 days.

·      Won a Gold Award for Artistic Achievement from the Association of International Artists.

·      To qualify for dual majors in Biology and Sociology, in six consecutive semesters I took five courses instead of the normal four.

·      To broaden my thinking and improve my writing, I read two books every week and wrote summaries that I posted on my blog, CoolBookSummaries.com.


Notice that each of these statements is specific, factual, and clear. When you make it as easy as possible for others to grasp your accomplishments, you aren't bragging... you are telling the whole truth.


Modest or not, you have an obligation to tell the whole truth. If modesty prevents you from doing this, then you have transformed modesty into a curse.

(This blog was first published on LinkedIn. It has been re-posted here with prior permission from Bruce Kasanoff.)

(Image Courtesy: Pixabay.com)

Categories: Leadership

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Bruce Kasanoff

Bruce Kasanoff helps companies empower and inspire their employees. He brings relentlessly positive messages of personal empowerment, flexibility and clarity. ...

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