Today an op-ed ran in the Washington Post denouncing our national obsession with "showing off," using Donald Trump as an example of our problem with fame and narcissism. The piece fell flat for me not because the journalist couldn't figure out how to apply our culture of personal brand and voice for her own career, but rather, it was an opportunity to talk about why showing off actually matters, a lot. (Also, Donald Trump is not America.)
The author, Kathleen Parker, made it clear we have a problem on our hands (or hers). The problem? That everybody craves too much attention. Especially on this new medium, Twitter. This is nothing new, we have screens upon screens and our nation's most popular television programs circle around instant fame. Think pieces abound about our obsession with attention and what it's done to our literal attention (spans or lack thereof) or how all our children want is to be famous.
The other side of the coin is this: bragging is integral to career now. You can denounce it, or you can learn how to use it to your advantage. At least, that's what I've done. Or rather, what I teach people to do. How to leverage voice and know-how and learn how to break through the noise. Or in more simple terms, redefine self-promotion to get ahead in the workplace. It's the truth of 2015, and it matters at every phase of your career.
Democratic visibility has allowed for savvy journalists to build personal brands and voices that amplify their career. For Parker, that went too far against what she learned growing up. What was disappointing here was that Parker actually had a huge opportunity, as a woman with a platform, to celebrate her own successes and discuss how she was going to figure out how to show off in her own right. I speak to many older professionals for whom this "brand of me" feels foreign and awful. I understand that - talking about yourself is so hard that I built my company around it. But it's the reality of the economy we live in.
We don't live in an age of professional show-off. We've got a handful of people who scream, and then a lot of people who have no idea how to talk about themselves.
Most of those people include women. We have no vocabulary for women to speak positively about professional achievement. Instead, we will police them. Instead we go to a place of what you shouldn't do. You shouldn't say just, you shouldn't say bossy you're too loud, outgoing, obnoxious, overconfident. We're too busy policing to realize building that positive regard for our own work is far more important than banning words.
This is the world we live in now, where everybody can be known in a heartbeat, for good or for bad.
You could look at it one way as narcissism, or you look could look at it another way, as an opportunity to advance your professional goals. I have no doubt the most entrepreneurial and digitally savvy of journalists also understand why this is important for their career. Parker doesn't. The error is in decrying the economy of our cult of personality instead of figuring out a way to get in on it.
Attention is important. We live in America, where attention is our currency. So you have to get in on the conversation.
"Showing off," or rather, giving people (and particularly women) a vocabulary to talk about their own achievements has a tremendous impact on professional confidence. This is what I care about communicating to women at every level, from intern to CEO. Your accomplishments are worth talking about. With confidence. Show off more.
Everybody isn't going to stop shouting so that you can speak. So if you learn to be strategically attention-seeking, it's not negative. It's about bragging, better. We live in the era of the professional showoff, and to not seize that opportunity would be foolish.
Meredith Fineman is the founder of FinePoint, a communications and leadership company that empowers professionals through public relations tactics. FinePoint also works with women and girls, teaching women how to self-promote and brag. You can read more of her writing, here.