Marketing Yourself on the Web: When All You Have Left is Your Pride

Benedict Carey of the New York Times has written a wonderful post, When All You Have Left Is Your Pride.

Here are some selected excerpts:

Look around you. On the train platform, at the bus stop, in the car pool lane: these days someone there is probably faking it, maintaining a job routine without having a job to go to.

The Wall Street type in suspenders, with his bulging briefcase; the woman in pearls, thumbing her BlackBerry; the builder in his work boots and tool belt — they could all be headed for the same coffee shop, or bar, for the day.

“I have a new client, a laid-off lawyer, who’s commuting in every day — to his Starbucks,” said Robert C. Chope, a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and president of the employment division of the American Counseling Association. “He gets dressed up, meets with colleagues, networks; he calls it his Western White House. I have encouraged him to keep his routine.”

The fine art of keeping up appearances may seem shallow and deceitful, the very embodiment of denial. But many psychologists beg to differ.

To the extent that it sustains good habits and reflects personal pride, they say, this kind of play-acting can be an extremely effective social strategy, especially in uncertain times.

“If showing pride in these kinds of situations was always maladaptive, then why would people do it so often?” said David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston. “But people do, of course, and we are finding that pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances, in ways that are not at all obvious.”

For most of its existence, the field of psychology ignored pride as a fundamental social emotion. It was thought to be too marginal, too individually variable, compared with basic visceral expressions of fear, disgust, sadness or joy. Moreover, it can mean different things in different cultures.

But recent research by Jessica L. Tracy of the University of British Columbia and Richard W. Robins of the University of California, Davis, has shown that the expressions associated with pride in Western society — most commonly a slight smile and head tilt, with hands on the hips or raised high — are nearly identical across cultures. Children first experience pride about age 2 ½, studies suggest, and recognize it by age 4.

“It’s a self-conscious emotion, reflecting how you feel about yourself, and it has this important social component,” Dr. Tracy said. “It’s the strongest status signal we know of among the emotions; stronger than a happy expression, contentment, anything.”

The implications of this are hard to exaggerate. Researchers tend to split pride into at least two broad categories. So-called authentic pride flows from real accomplishments, like raising a difficult child, starting a company or rebuilding an engine. Hubristic pride, as Dr. Tracy calls it, is closer to arrogance or narcissism, pride without substantial foundation. The act of putting on a good face may draw on elements of both.

But no one can tell the difference from the outside. Expressions of pride, whatever their source, look the same. “So as long as you’re a decent actor, and people don’t know too much about your situation, all systems are go,” said Lisa A. Williams, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northeastern University.

Therapists say that in time, people usually do better when they come clean. “In some ways it’s easier to do this now, with so many people out of work,” said Michael C. Lazarchick, an employment counselor in southern New Jersey. “You may very well find out that others are going through the same thing, or something like it — ‘Oh yeah, I just took a big cut in pay.’ ”

But in the short term, projecting pride may do more than help manage others’ impressions. Psychologists have found that wearing a sad or happy face can have a top-down effect on how a person feels: Smile and you may feel fleetingly happier. The same most likely is true for an expression of pride. In a 2008 study, the Northeastern researchers found that inducing a feeling of pride in people solving spatial puzzles motivated them to try harder when they tackled the next round.

Pride, in short, begets perseverance. All of which may explain why, when the repo man is at the door, people so often remind themselves that they still have theirs, and that it’s worth something. Because they do, and because it is.

However much pride may go before a fall, it may be far more useful after one.

Perhaps the key quote, at least to me, is:


Pride, in short, begets perseverance.

I think is especially important in these difficult times. For example, I am not ashamed that I was laid off by IBM in February, 2009. It was their decision, not mine.
If IBM no longer needed the services of someone with a B.S. in Mathematics from Caltech and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences (CIMS), then that is their call.

I thus make it a point to tell folks that IBM laid me off. Indeed, to some extent I even take pride in it, for I do intend to perservere. There is no shame in being laid off, and sharing your fate with others will help you to meet others who have also been laid off. From such meetings can come new opportunities, both to help them and, by exposing your position, to get help and opportunities from them.

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