“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” – Prov 27:2
The movie Air takes you inside the early days of Nike and tells a marketing story that has become a cornerstone of the modern sports era. How does a person transcend to a brand? Michael Jordan’s success story, which glamorizes the box-breaking power of believing in yourself, has set a standard not just for sports, but for every industry.
In a world of increasingly automated tasks, people are searching for a way to demonstrate value, and we are told that the answer is found within. Not in a cultivation of character, virtue, or skills, but in the passionate promotion of self. It hardly matters what you’re doing, the question is can you look good doing it? The Bible would lead us another way.
Jesus shows remarkable, almost baffling restraint in how he talks about himself, considering he is the only hope for humanity. He shrinks from self-glorification so thoroughly that his circumlocutions in the gospels form a theme called the Messianic Secret. “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing,” Jesus says. (Jn 8:54)
Like all wisdom principles, we must resist universals. When shaping a resume, humility is not writing one line: “just talk to my boss.” There are times you must speak up for yourself. God wants his people to walk with confidence. But the pitfall of excessive deference is a rare one. Timid people usually have more roundabout ways of virtue-signaling.
This proverb feels more archaic in the internet age but is perhaps all the more important. An increasing number of jobs fall into the model of self-employed, independent contractor. Self-promotion, therefore, becomes part of your job description. The lines between personal and business are thinner than one generation ago. More people feel the temptation to “never turn it off,” because your next big opportunity could be one conversation away.
We are not actually so far removed. In Solomon’s time, people lived on farming estates or in small towns, where everyone knew each other. Your personal integrity and business credibility were one and the same. The impulse today, though, is not toward building trustworthiness, but brand recognition.
We want the shortcut to success, not meaningful longevity. If we’re honest, most of us are tormented by the fear that, “If I don’t publicize who I am, no one will know, and I’ll never become what I could have been.” God knows. From what I have observed, those who pour their energy into self-marketing usually achieve results, but always at the expense of substance. Their best efforts are consumed in mastering the art of platform construction so that they have very little to say when they get on the platform.
God has a different way of reckoning impact that we should try to mold our minds to: “Many are first who will be last, and last who will be first” (Mt 19:30). It’s funny how quality seldom remains a secret. Make Jesus your focus and let him worry about your reputation.