Have you ever heard of the ‘humblebrag’? This unattractive phenomenon has evolved in recent years due to the ever-increasing use of social media, particularly in Twitter and Facebook. It appears when a contributor tries to brag without bragging, which sounds rather odd, but I’ll explain. It happens when someone tries to disguise their latest triumph by wrapping the news with a coating of false modesty. ‘It’s so embarrassing,’ they might say. ‘I’ve won the achievement award again. I can’t think why – there were so many great contenders.’ It reminds me of a scene from Mr. Bean where he is presented a cake for his birthday that he originally ordered for himself and responds to the waiter when it was delivered, “For me?”.
Urbandictionary.com defines humblebragging as ‘… subtly letting others now about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or ‘woe is me’ gloss.’ Anyone can humblebrag. I’ve been guilty of it myself, but I mostly recovered in time by catching myself and deleting the evidence before it went viral. Humblebragging is a skill that crosses all boundaries, no matter what your social grouping, your economic status or your gender.
There’s little doubt that this distasteful little trend has come about through the exponential rise of social media usage. We share our innermost thoughts and daily activities with the world, and they’re much the same as everyone else’s. As a result it’s only human to want to share and revel in our successes, but at the same time we don’t want our tall poppy heads lopped off. So what to do? Inevitably we try to make light of our achievement with a humblebrag.
But however often we indulge in a modest little humblebrag, we’ll never be as good as the celebrities and faux-celebrities of this world. Here are some modest (and genuine) little humblebrags as recounted by the Independent.
‘I just realised I’ve only showered in ONE of my FIVE showers since I’ve moved in here. This must change.’
‘Signing photos of myself never ceases being a strange and awkward experience.’
‘In New York City in my bum clothes, and I’ve honestly never been hit on by so many guys in one day. I must be ovulating, or something.’
It’s not surprising that Australians have adopted the humblebrag with amazing enthusiasm. Who wants to appear a show off, or worse, a wanker? So, in an effort to avoid that sort of backlash, we lessen the impact by wrapping it in a show of humility.
What’s so bad about wanting to share our good luck or a success with our friends? Why can’t we just say it like it is? During our sessions with clients we suggest that they first ask themselves why they want to publicise their achievements. Perhaps, if it’s primarily to gain approval from others, it’s not such a good idea. But if we are really excited about our achievements, by all means be proud and let everyone know. We might inspire others to change their lives and achieve the same as we have.
Our experience also suggests that there could be another deeper social anxiety going on. Perhaps we are diminishing our achievements so that we don’t make others feel inferior. After all, they may have issues we are not aware of. Things may not be going too well for them. However, this does seem rather extreme. Most of us will be thinking such sensitivity can be taken a little far.
So, what do we do? What exactly is the social etiquette when networking? When someone asks you personally what’s happening with you, you should feel able to respond openly and honestly. On the other hand, you run the risk of being labelled as ‘up yourself’ if you shout your good news out to the world, especially in an “egalitarian” culture like Australia. My experiences in other parts of the world especially in the US suggests otherwise.
Maybe you just need to keep things real. No boasting, no false modesty. Leave the humblebrags to try and out-do each other. Just receive your accolades and be happy with yourself… but occasionally do blow your own horn albeit subtly. We’ll love you for it.