How to brag without sounding like a douchebag

I have a question for you. If I asked you to brag about yourself right now, what would you say? I imagine you would react by freezing up and mumbling and not doing a very good job. And you are not alone! Most of us find it difficult to brag. (By us I mean women, but if any of you dudes find it hard, this is for you too).

I’ve been thinking about why it’s difficult, and I think it’s this tension: on the one hand we want to feel respected and appreciated, to be seen as powerful. And on the other hand, we don’t want to sound like douchebags. We don’t want to bullshit people. It feels uncomfortable to make a claim about yourself that someone could knock down.

I have an exercise I use to get myself in a headspace to talk about my achievements without feeling that creeping horror of “they’re all gonna laugh at you” – one that helps me talk about my achievements without making it all about me. It’s a simple idea:

  1. Write down 3 of the hardest things you’ve ever done
  2. For each one, ask yourself: what was hard? What did you learn?
  3. Say it out loud: My name is [insert name], and I [did this hard thing]

That’s it! No elaboration required – you just SAY OUT LOUD THE HARD THINGS YOU’VE DONE. You aren’t lying or bullshitting. You are stating the facts, and sharing your growth, and letting whoever is listening draw their own conclusions.

I’ll show you what’s on my list. Off the top of my head, here are 3 hard things I’ve done:

  • I gave birth to my son after 44 hours of labor.
  • When I was 22, I moved to Oregon with my best friend. We had no plan, barely enough money and only knew one person out here.
  • 12 years ago, I took a show to Poland with my theatre company. We performed in many crazy situations, the craziest of which was doing the show in an open field at sunset while the set caught fire and burned down around us.

So let’s look at that last one. What was hard? It was grueling. I put myself in some dangerous situations. We could have died. It was scary. What did I learn? How to keep calm when the world (or set) is crashing down around you.  How to dodge fire. How to think on my feet. That I could handle the worst case scenario. And after that, performing onstage without fire seemed like no big deal.

From this, I can put together a pretty good brag. Like this:

I am Faith Helma, I worked for 15 years as performance artist. I made 20 shows. I performed in some crazy situations. Once I did a whole show while the set burned down around me. Two years ago, I hatched an idea to channel that creative energy into a coaching business. And instead of dismissing that idea, I took it seriously, and now I am running this business. I am failing and learning every single day. And I am being honest about my failures which scares the shit out of me but you know what? One thing you learn when you are performing a show while the set burns down around you is how to keep calm, how to think on your feet, and how to dodge fire. 

So now it’s your turn! Go through the steps, dig deep into what you’ve overcome in your life, and practice saying it out loud. And then if you’re up for an extra challenge: see if you can sneak it into conversation with another human being.

p.s. I wrote about this topic over a year ago, here: BOASTING PRACTICE . Back then I shared clips from two masters of the boast, Nicki Minaj and Muhammad Ali. Both of them start with something hard they did — making stupid mistakes when starting out, getting knocked down in fights — and spin that out into some righteous, braggadocious poetry.

 

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