Despite allegations that the American society is full of narcissists raised on a steady diet of Instagram and reality TV, most people feel a little apprehensive about talking about themselves. Starting from when we’re children, we’re socialized to speak only when spoken to and minimize what we say about ourselves. The end result is that no one ever says anything but “fine” when asked how they are today, and it’s trendy to be either self-effacing or clinical in your social media bio.
If you’re trying to market yourself in any way — and we all are, whether we’re searching for jobs, pitching our startup idea, or trying to get a date — you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you insist upon this detached view of yourself. Consider the following scenarios:
You’re writing a cover letter or answering the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question in an interview. You say, “I received my degree from University A, and I interned at Company B. I’m currently looking for a job in Industry C.”
You’re trying to convince someone to invest in your big idea. You say, “This company will solve problems for people. It’s a passion of mine, and I believe that our hard work will lead to success.”
You’re on a first date and your date asks you what you like to do for fun. You say, “I like to listen to music and go to the movies. You?”
Yawn. Don’t answer questions like a bot trying to pass a Turing test. Honestly, no one cares what degrees you have, if your product will solve problems, or that you like music. What they care about is your story, what makes you tick, what drives you.
It’s hard to talk about yourself in a more open way, especially in situations that tend to be a little artificial. You don’t want to seem self-absorbed or like you’re bragging, so you look to external validators, such as the university that conferred your degree, to describe yourself, rather than describing the work you did to achieve things. Even with your friends, you probably chat about external things more than your personal story. And when you do tell a story, you feel pressure to make it as impressive or entertaining as possible — and this actually can come off as insincere or narcissistic.
What if you went through life as though as it’s all one big story? Think about your favorite scenes in movies. The dialogue is carefully designed to advance the plot and show who the characters are. What if your dialogue was like that?