“Sell yourself or die,” is the mantra in these times. Whether it be for a new job, or to merely survive in your existing one, or when promoting one’s latest book or new product, running for election, finding a partner, getting noticed amidst the myriad of media distractions; even the dead have coffin styles from “pauper” to “well heeled” for their final self-promotional ride in a hearse to the graveyard.
When I grew up in the Third World, as it was then called (not any more – the Asian Tigers are now calling for their spots at the table of global heavyweights), we were trained not to raise our heads above the crowd. We were told that it was our inner lamp that needed to shine; and those seeing that light would call us to the front of the line to lead. I remember the crack on the head I often received from my teachers and the accompanying, “Don’t be forward!”
Then I came out to the developed West and was told that if I did not sell myself I was toast.
I feel sorry for introverted writers in times like this. I attended an international authors’ festival recently and saw a bunch of nervous but world-famous writers quiver in front of the audience, reading their lines with sombre seriousness. I was pretty sure that their writing was superb, but their delivery let them down. After all, they come into their own in a lonely room hunched over a computer or typewriter, not in front of the footlights.
I hope the pendulum swings the other way shortly, now that the world has experienced the shallowness of selling without substance. Didn’t we buy those useless mortgage backed securities before the financial meltdown of 2008? Didn’t we vote for a useless war in Asia (our neighbours down south did worse – they voted for two wars!) and aren’t we going in for a return engagement based on fear-mongering? Didn’t we buy the message that growth for growth’s sake was good for business – didn’t we buy all those hollow sales messages? And see where that has gotten us.
Perhaps it’s time to accept that if we do not have two subsequent quarters of growth (aka recession) the world will not end – it’s merely a blip in a decade of continuous growth, and a nano-second in evolution’s long march. Perhaps it’s time to question the messenger with the sales pitch to try and understand if this product, book, investment, car or home, is really right for us, and not make the “buy” decision because everyone else is buying the same thing and one doesn’t want to be left behind. Perhaps it’s time to think that “buy with what you save” is a better mantra than “buy based on future earnings expectations”.
Perhaps it’s time to look beyond a person’s wardrobe to his inner lamp – after all, didn’t princes once dress up as paupers and fool us, and kings go incognito among the people to find out what was really going on? Perhaps it’s time for me to realize that all those knocks on my head had a meaning after all – maybe those old teachers were trying to tell me something with their timeworn message...