Dear Australians, it’s time to get over your fear of standing out

I see you in my office every week, in your boardrooms; I talk to you on the phone, in cafes, at community barbecues.

You are smart, successful, articulate, talented. You speak passionately about what you do.

You have a lot to say if I ask the right questions. You have big plans, dreams, intense aspirations.

But you are angry about what your competitors are up to. They haven’t worked as hard as you, but they are getting all the attention. They are over-confident, cocky … selling image over substance.

Why are they soaking up all the oxygen in your space?

Regardless, you will keep doing what you do. Quietly, optimistically. Working hard behind the scenes, you have faith that the Aussie dream of a fair go for all will prevail in the end. Tortoise vs the Hare... those arrogant sons-of-bitches will eventually get theirs …

I see you a year later at the same event. You feed me the same lines.

I talk to you about doing more to get out there, about being more visible, about claiming your expertise and building a platform for your message. You listen, but you are reluctant to act. You valiantly defend the importance of keeping a low profile.

These are the reasons you give me for staying in the shadows:

“It’s not my role”
“I don’t have permission- my employer wouldn’t like it”
“It’s better to ‘fly under the radar’”
“It would just telegraph my moves to the competition”
“I don’t have time”
“I feel guilty”
“It’s not about me”
“I don’t want to look like a dickhead”
“I’m not ready yet”
“I’m not good enough yet”
“What if I stuff up?”
“It makes no difference to my bottom-line”

These are just words you use to disguise your fear of standing out.

You are in good company. Deeply embedded in the Australian psyche: is the fear that if we stand too tall, we will get cut down – or worse – be rejected by the herd.

As a Kiwi, turned Aussie citizen, I see this idea as rooted in Australia’s penal colony past. When you have been exiled to a harsh environment for breaking the rules, bucking the system is a bad idea. There is safety in numbers; nobody should feel inferior — but god forbid you should ever show up as superior. Mateship matters more than religion and it must prevail (unless of course you commit the crime of open self-confidence. Then and only then your mates may turn their back on you).

So you dim your light. You stay in the backroom. You bitch about people who don’t and you never feel sufficiently acknowledged for your hard work.

What does self-doubt cost us?

Professionally, I help people promote their business brands. Quite often, this requires the promotion of the leaders and experts within that company. Brands can’t speak. And (advertising people aside) nobody is interested in “a brand”; they are interested in human beings … the voices of leaders, experts, customers. This requires visibility.

It always amazes me how uncomfortable Australians are to step up and be in the spotlight — even when the commercial ore professional rewards are there.

Even more disturbing is how devastated people become when others receive the acknowledgement they could have had. The harshest penalty for remaining invisible is seeing others claim the space we have worked so passionately for.

The brilliant writer Henry Miller puts it best in this quote:

Public acknowledgement — of skill, talent, contribution or expertise — is fair reward (a “fair go”) for labor. This aligns closely with our Australian values and we need to get a lot more comfortable more both giving it and receiving it.

What you do is important. It’s time to get out of your own way and get out there. Yes, you.

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