The Risk of Inspiring by Your Achievements

You may want to talk about yourself on several occasions.

A humorous story about an awkward moment from your childhood to endear yourself to the audience? Completely fine.

Describe your struggles finding the love of your life to build an emotional connection with the room? It might just work.

Speaking about your achievements to impress, inspire or motivate? Well, with that, I would be careful.

Malcolm Gladwell asks his (virtual) students in his Masterclass: “Whose autobiographies have you read?”

For me, the last three were:

  • Agatha’s Christie (The best-selling novelist of all time)
  • Matthew McConaughey (Oscar-winning actor)
  • Phil Knight (the founder of Nike)

I guess Gladwell is hinting at something. He continues along those lines (paraphrased, not quoted):

“Most likely, their achievements are way bigger than yours. If you write in the first person, the audience is suspicious (“Is that person trying to impress us?”), and you are held to much higher standards. You are compared to the best in the world.”

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine you hear a speaker at your next event say something like: “When I was 35, I quit my job as an accountant. At first, I struggled. But now, five years later, I have my own company, five employees, and loyal clients. I overcame the struggle and succeeded!”

Compare it with: “When my cousin Adriana was 35, she quit her job as an accountant. At first, she struggled. But now, five years later, she has her own company, five employees, and loyal clients. She overcame the struggle and succeeded!”

Feel any difference?

Here’s what I was thinking:

In the first example (the speaker speaking about themselves): “That’s cute. But you’re not that amazing, you know. Mike Zuckerberg haven’t even finished his university and is net worth $98 billion.”

While in the second: “Cool, this cousin Adriana must be an interesting person to meet!”

For further consideration:

It’s very likely you’re very proud of your achievements. We all are. But there are risks to speaking about your own success. It makes people suspicious, and they will put you in comparison with the best in class (which you, likely, won’t come out of as a winner). If you want to convey an idea or to inspire – speak of the success of others.

If, however, you ARE best in class… Good for you! You can ignore the advice above and keep indulging in self-praise. You can get away with it.

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