Negative Self Talk and Self Deprecation

I’m not sure if I can short form blog effectively (like two of my blogging heroes – Brad & Fred), but I’m going to try a little more of that since my time to blog is so limited.

While browsing my social streams today, this headline/article caught my attention:


via Can You Hack Your Self Esteem?

There was a paragraph in the piece that particularly stood out to me, because my experience so strongly differs from that of the author (Alex McClafferty of WPCurve):

“I’m comfortable with writing, public speaking and soft skills. I don’t have any ‘hard skills’ and I’m a generalist. This is a much nicer way of saying: I’m terrible at coding and my design skills are no match for a crayon-wielding 3 year old – even though it’s true. Why does this matter?

Negative self-talk is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell people you’re no good,weak or struggle with sales or product or marketing, then you don’t even give yourself a chance. Instead, frame the skills you lack as opportunities for improvement, not glaring holes on your resume or fundamental weaknesses. If you want to learn a skill, you can.”


I’m a constant self-deprecator. I have a hard time talking about myself in general, and a particularly hard time boasting about skills I posess (although, even I can admit that I’m good at not shaving and thus, growing an increasingly embarassing mustache).

The idea that negative self-talk is a self-fulfilling prophecy is something I disagree with. In my experience, folks who talk about their weaknesses openly and honestly, use self-deprecating humor to shrug off compliments, and seek guidance by being transparent about things they’re “no good at” are my favorite people to work with and to help. They’ve also been, in my experience, the very best performers at their jobs. Conversely, those who lead with their strengths and minimize or gloss over their weaknesses in an attempt to seem like super-people generally aren’t my cup of tea.

Sarah Bird (Moz’s former COO, now CEO) is an awesome example of this. She regularly talks about her weaknesses, dismisses compliments (often with enjoyable humor), and seeks out the best and brightest to make herself smarter and better in the areas she needs. She’s also a big believer in focusing on one’s strengths and using a unique strength as a force multiplier to accomplish problems that would be insanely hard for anyone else.

These two images are from a slide deck I built on entrepreneurship lessons learned over the last decade I’ve been at Moz:


I’m not sure if there’s a lot of science or deep analysis of these issues in existence, but I tend to find camraderie with people who are self-deprecating, and I haven’t seen this become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Knowing your weaknesses and sharing them seems like it would be a great path to learning more and earning respect. I can’t tell if I’m the weird one, or if folks like Alex are giving bad advice.