Don’t “Sell Yourself”

Many of the artists I know are introverts and/or shy (and no, the two are not synonymous.) The irony is that the arts are a field in which one must often do extra work to make themselves heard. To cultivate an audience, one needs to call attention to their work. Performing artists like singers and actors have the added difficulty of not being able to just leave their work on an easel and walk away. Their product is inseparable from themselves and is to be seen by ideally as many people as possible.

So artists who are introverted and/or shy have to develop a set of skills diametrically opposite to their nature. Part of professionalism as an artist is being able to put that introversion or shyness aside for as long as it takes to advertise oneself or finish a performance. Many find doing so to be exhilarating and fun but eventually we have to come back down again.

Just as we don’t expect mechanics to always be fixing cars or professors to constantly be teaching literature, artists too are people. The secret is to know when to be on and when to be off. Sometimes you just have to be off. When I’m meeting new people for the first time I always try to make a good first impression but I only occasionally use my acting skills in doing so. Doing so would be exhausting and not entirely honest.

So when you’re stepping into a situation like that, you make a conscious choice and you choose to be okay with it afterwards. You may worry that you were received as being weird or awkward and maybe you were (not that that’s a problem) but part of professionalism is knowing the difference between your professional life and your personal life – the difference between what you do and who you are. I think most would agree with me in saying that the goal of life is not to get stuck doing the same thing all the time and loosing yourself in it.

If you’re in the habit of selling yourself, or if you’re learning how to sell yourself, here is my encouragement. Every now and then, don’t. Just be weird and shy and nervous. Your business as an artist will be business, but your personal relationships are between people, not businesses. Don’t lose yourself in your work, find yourself outside of it. In the end, it will actually make your art much better; your ability to apply criticism and handle rejection will be vastly improved.

Don’t sell yourself. Sell your product. Sell your skill. Sell your ability or brand. But you are you, not any one skill that you happen to have.


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