The Temptation of Self-Promotion

I didn’t feel quite right about what I was doing as I was typing within the chat portion of the computer screen during the professional webinar. But, I felt compelled to correct the presenter. So, I did. I informed her that she had actually given credit to the wrong person for the term that she just described to the audience. Rather, I am the one who coined that term in my research. Thankfully, I did not use italicized font in the actual chat message. But, I might as well have done so, since that is how I stated it in my head while typing it out.

For the next few days, I felt angst over what I had done. It was a deep, unsettled feeling that neither sleep nor time alleviated.

I knew what I needed to do next.

I confessed my act of self-promotion to God, and I asked Him to change my heart so that I’m less tempted to act in such a way again in the future. Then, I sent an apology not only to the presenter who had misspoken, but also to her two co-presenters who were aware of the situation. It was only then that I felt relief from my angst, and I once again experienced the peace of God that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

I wish I could say this was the only time that I was ever tempted to act in a self-promoting way or that this is how I have always handled my mistakes. But, I can’t. What I can say is that this experience provided an opportunity to reflect on the temptation of self-promotion in hopes of better recognizing and resisting this temptation the next time it rears its ugly head.

Even though self-promotion is woven into the fabric of the culture in academia, followers of Jesus are called to live differently.

Christians are not supposed to “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2), but rather, to resist the temptation to do so.

All of us working and/or studying in higher education are led to believe that we must let others know about our accomplishments – that it is our job to do so – or else we may be overlooked for promotions or other exciting opportunities. Or, we might feel a sense of competition with our colleagues or classmates that compels us to self-promote as a means of attempting to convince others of our worth. And, let’s be honest. Social media makes this temptation so much harder to resist. Do we post our own accomplishments on Facebook and/or Twitter? Do we “share” and/or “retweet” positive comments that others say about us? If so, why?

When facing the temptation of self-promotion, each of us would be well-served to interrogate the motives of our heart.

Why are we wanting to let others know about our accomplishments? What are we hoping to gain from doing so? Are our motives pure and honorable, or are they impure and selfish? Remember that Christians should not do anything out of “selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Philippians 2:3).

In addition to encouraging honest self-reflection when facing the temptation of self-promotion, I want to offer a few other considerations for those of us seeking to follow Jesus in higher education.

  1. It is possible to accurately – yet humbly – represent our work.

Most who work in higher education are required, on an annual basis, to submit some form of self-evaluation for the purposes of accountability and merit determinations. When asked to provide evidence of our work, all of us should certainly oblige. This is quite a different process than initiating self-promoting activities on our own.

So, yes, let’s be sure to list all of our professional positions, publications, and presentations on our resumes and curriculum vitas. And, let’s communicate our accomplishments and honors when asked to do so. But, let’s do so factually and with a heart of humility – without inflating our own importance or that of our work and without unnecessary pomp and circumstance.

Let’s remember the words of Jesus: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

  1. Our work should be praiseworthy, and it is okay to be commended by others for it.

As Paul wrote in his epistle to the Colossians, we should be working with our whole hearts and doing so as if we are actually working for God.

And, it is precisely because we are doing our work for God that it should be top-notch in quality and should be pleasing to our supervisors (if employed on campus) and/or professors (if taking classes). So, for that reason, we should not be surprised if and when others do take note of the quality of our work. And, we are reminded in the Scriptures that even though we should not be praising ourselves, it is okay for others to praise us (Proverbs 27:2).

  1. God sees our work – even if others do not – and we can trust Him to make our work known to others in accordance with His will.

In the Scriptures, Mordecai provides a great example of this truth (Esther 2:19-6:10). Mordecai uncovered a plot by two of King Xerxes’ officers who had conspired to kill the king. He told Queen Esther about the plot, and she reported it to the king. Though the queen gave credit to Mordecai, no official honor was given to him. The only action that was taken at that time was that the incident was recorded in the “book of the annals” – the record of the reign of the king. It would be reasonable to suggest that Mordecai and the role he played in foiling the plot were both seemingly forgotten.

But, nothing is forgotten where God is concerned.

One night – which happened to be the night before Haman planned to have Mordecai killed since he would not show honor to him – the king was suffering from insomnia and decided to have some of his servants read to him out of the book of the annals. It was then that the king realized to the fullest extent what Mordecai had done and determined to honor him for it. Rather than being killed by Haman, Mordecai’s life was spared, and he received great honor from the king.

God has a way of making our good works known to others – in His perfect time and manner. We can trust Him. We do not need to rely on self-promotion to do so. When facing the temptation of self-promotion, let’s remember some of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

“For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

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