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How to Sell Yourself Without Selling Out

How to Sell Yourself Without Selling Out

My friend posted the video below on Facebook this morning.


I don’t share many posts, but felt compelled to share this one. Here’s why:

I agree with her. I believe her words. She has conviction – that look in her eye that says she means what she’s saying. We know her, we relate to her because she has celebrity and she is expressing something of meaning. She is telling us it’s ok to be who we are. That it’s important to be who we are. That we should be proud of it.

Now here’s the thing: she’s already famous. She doesn’t have to sell anything to anyone. Not now. Everyone has haters of some kind, but she’s big enough that her cheering squad will back her up and pay her bills and keep her on tour if she “doesn’t do that event”.

Not all of us are there yet (I mean, my last tour barely sold out Prospera Place). In other words, most of us are trying to figure out how to get sales, generate leads, find an audience. And I don’t just mean in our business. I mean in our lives. We want others to see us as valuable and support us, be it in our careers or our personal lives. Some of us are stay-at-home moms, but we require just as much recognition for our contributions – for our USP (Unique Selling Proposition) – as corporations do. Because we not only need to be authentic, we need others to see it and acknowledge it.

They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.
— Kahlil Gibran

So yes, it’s easy to say “be yourself” or “do what you love and the money will come” or whatever adage gives you a kick in the pants in the face of self-doubt. But when you need some traction – some actual tangible way of proving your worth – it gets a little harder to be idealistic. “Screw you, I’m not doing that because it’s against what I stand for” has a grey area, especially if you are at a new job and want to make sure you stay there (and, really, is it that bad to steal a couple of ideas from your neighbor for the next board room meeting if they are really good ones?)

On the other hand, there are few things more important to developing your own value than integrity. Like Miss Gaga said, you want to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say “I can go to bed with you” because you like what you see. And that what you see is consistent with something deep down inside you. Consistency is what gives us a storyline – something to sell and something to believe in.

The beauty of uniqueness.

The beauty of uniqueness.

So what’s my point? Go ahead and steal all your neighbor’s ideas, just make sure he’s as brilliant as you think he is.

Everybody has to sell out at some point to make a living.
— Dennis Miller

Just kidding. But understand this: when you are in a position of developing your own “brand” in life, professional or otherwise, it is not only important to be mindful of how you are being perceived and what the best methods are to make yourself “marketable”. It is also crucial to be authentic – to have integrity, to know who you are and stay true to it. To say “no” to the things that cross the line between advantage and betrayal of self.

At the onset of any endeavor we have to be more intentional with our actions than when the ball is rolling. Lady Gaga is preaching a valuable message, but she is in a position where she can. If she was a nobody, telling a handful of her only fans that she doesn’t want to take selfies with them because it feels shallow might not fly. It probably wouldn’t now, either, but there will be another crowd waiting down the street.

Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.
— Bill Waterson

Consider these things when you are worried you might be selling out:

1.    Understand your goal: Understanding what you want out of a career or a lifestyle is important. Do you want to be important? Valuable? Honorable? Do you want to help others? Improve the condition of the planet? Eat the world’s biggest turkey leg? Having direction keeps you from swaying too far toward the goals of others.

2.    Know that selling your story is not the same as selling out: Who you are is a story, and to get anyone to understand/listen you need to offer up that story. And stories, as I’ve said before, are not regurgitations of all the minute details of a life. A story is a curated set of information with an end goal – to get you to care. That means we have to be deliberate in our presentation. Being deliberate, or “selling” certain aspects of ourselves to others, does not mean we have to be inauthentic. You don’t need to know about all of my scars to know I’ve had a few falls in life. And I likely would rather not know about all of yours.

3.    Care what (some) people think: “Stop caring about what other people think.” I’ve heard this/told myself this countless times over the years, and in part it’s valuable advice. But we all need to fit somehow into the matrix of society. If I didn’t socialize my children in some way, they’d get eaten alive out there. But choosing whose opinions about you matter and when it matters is an art. A balancing act. Sometimes my mother has a completely different version of the world than I do, but every now and then her voice reminding me that what I’m doing is something she wouldn’t approve of keeps me out of some hairy situations and, in the end, keeps me the civil person I am today.

4.    Think about what matters most: “Know thyself.” It’s crucial if you want to get anywhere in life without being a victim of others. Essentially selling out is abandoning higher values for menial gains – choosing sex over family, self-indulgence over contribution, money over meaning. If you have a clear picture of what your greatest values are, you can evaluate your actions and make sure what you are doing aligns with what your heart really wants. Most of the time, even if you’re unaware of what that is, your heart will tell you anyway. That little flip in your gut that says something isn’t right? That might not be the bean burrito you had for lunch.


Yes, people will listen to you if you speak from the heart. People will follow you if you stay aligned with your beliefs. And some people will still want to take selfies with you even if you blow them off. But it’s OK to be intentional when presenting yourself. It’s OK to, sometimes, say yes to events that are awkward. Sometimes it’s necessary to put on a smile when you want to punch someone in the face. But selling out isn’t. Crossing the line between what you feel is advantageous and what you feel isn’t right in that deep-down, gut nudging way isn’t necessary. It is, as with everything big in life, a balancing act, but you make the ultimate decision about what is worth it. And in the end, it is about worth. Yours. 


Ever sold out? Was it worth it? Share with us.

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