Author of F*ck Being Humble, Stef Sword-Williams – Ep. 63

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Stef Sword-Williams, Fuck Being Humble Quote
She turned 7 years of advertising experience into a mission.

About Stef Sword-Williams:

Stefanie Sword Williams is the founder and author of F*ck Being Humble.

Stefanie created a business to encourage individuals to be unapologetically proud of their achievements and overcome the fear of self-promotion. Named as Forbes 30 Under 30 in Europe, she has delivered workshops for global brands including Unilever, Warner Music, Google, Puma, Microsoft, Vodafone, The Guardian, The BBC and spoken at conferences such as Cannes Lions Festival and D&AD New Blood. In 2020 Stef released her first book ‘F*ck Being Humble: Why self-promotion isn’t a dirty word’ and also delivered a TEDx Talk on why the world needs to be a little less humble.

Based on this, I think you can easily tell why I was drawn to Stefanie’s story. Hers is a tale of how someone took the skills they learned from their job and turned it into a profitable mission and calling. I loved hearing her story, and I know you will, too.

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2:30 – “Self-promotion as a word, particularly in the UK, is very much frowned upon. People don’t want to associate themselves with it.”

5:07 – “I knew that with the right ingredients, I could create an event format that could both educate people on how to self-promote, but could also change the expectation of what it’s like to network.”

7:27 – “What was amazing was the name and the article [I wrote] alone had that emotional connection with people. So that did give me the inkling that actually there was huge potential in what I was building, which was really exciting, if not daunting.”

11:27 – “It needed to be fun and needed to be exactly the opposite to what career development is now. I didn’t want to build a brand called ‘Shoot for the Stars’ and have shit visuals.”

15:02 – “I think a blessing in disguise was was the idea around needing to build a challenger brand and needing to challenge everything has actually been the thing that has, I think, grown my business so quickly.”

18:33 – “There were inevitable moments where I was like, ‘Oh, this is stressful. This isn’t why I quit my job.’ But there wasn’t panic that there wasn’t the demand there because there really was… it couldn’t have been a better time to run a business around career development.”

23:18 – “Make sure the marketing materials you have you are really proud of, because I used to not like the document that I’d created because I designed it and it wasn’t very good. But once I paid for it to get done properly by a designer… I’m so excited to send it out now.”

27:49 – “I always said, if I can crack the UK market, I will be flying in every other market, because we are so cynical—we are so pessimistic. It is not ingrained in us at all. And actually, to have the success that I’ve had in the UK market, I have to pinch myself…”

39:03 – “I’m OK with not pleasing everyone, because you can’t please everyone when you build a challenger brand.”

41:34 – “I [ran] an event on navigating pay and asking for salaries. And the next day I was very near the event venue, and someone tapped my shoulder and said, I was at your event last night and I’ve already asked my boss for a pay rise.”

45:01 – “I knew from graduating that I wanted to work on advertising that would change the world. And I moved to six different jobs in seven years, and every time I was searching for that fulfillment of maybe I’ll work on a bigger brand that’s going to get the opportunity to give back to the world.”

46:19 – “I definitely know the fulfillment came once I stepped away and built my own brand and stopped selling other people’s ideas when I had my own that were worthy enough to be sold.”

49:28 – “When I was writing my book and I had huge amounts of imposter syndrome… Can I do this? Should I do this? Who am I to write a book? I had to say to myself: all I need to remember is if one person reads this, that’s all that matters.”

55:03 – “Don’t let somebody else tell you what you’re capable of doing. The worst thing that you can listen to is somebody saying ‘I think you should do that or stay in your lane’. Don’t let anybody ever stop you from achieving what you think you’re capable of doing because they’re generally holding you down.”

Self-Promotion RESEARCH NOTES: 

A leadership skill 

“It is important to see that self-promotion is a leadership skill. It is your responsibility to talk about what you and your team have achieved, not only for your own benefit, but also for the team and the company. It’s how to create influence. It’s how you sell your ideas across the organization. It’s the basis of building relationships with key stakeholders and gaining access to the power networks.”


Written by Bonnie Marcus

A necessity

“Self-promotion is a necessity at work as leaders are not always able to know about everyone’s work performance, as accurately as possible. As such, there are times where employees would have to specifically bring achievements up in order to remind the leader that they did perform well, which can bring recognition and at times monetary benefits.”


Written by Andy Chan

Selling idea vs selling yourself 

“Yet most investors agree that the “idea” is worth nothing alone, and it’s the entrepreneur execution that counts. That means that selling yourself is more important than selling your idea.

“In the corporate world, experts have recognized for a long time that how people perceive you at work is vital to your career success. No matter how talented you are, it doesn’t matter unless managers can see those talents and think of you as an invaluable employee, or a game-changing manager, or the person whose name is synonymous with success.” 


Written by Martin Zwilling 

Keep Your Head Down And Work Quietly Mindset

“One of the largest stumbling blocks to self-promotion is the fear that we’ll be viewed as annoying, obnoxious or narcissistic. The fear of “making the wrong impression” is so strong we’re often willing to forfeit what could be career-making opportunities to preserve a “non-offensive” persona.”


Written by Renee Goyeneche

Penalty for not promoting yourself 

“The penalty for not promoting yourself, however, may be much steeper. Misplaced modesty during salary negotiations costs the average working woman upwards of $500,000 in lost wages by age 60, according to an analysis in the 2003 book, “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide.” The study also found that, among people graduating with master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, men were eight times more likely to negotiate their salaries.”


Written by Sophia Dembling

If given the chance, go brag 

“Humility is admirable. But if someone requests information or an answer that requires you to reveal positives about yourself, you should oblige. 

“Research indicates that when someone details an accomplishment in response to a direct question, others don’t judge that person as any less agreeable. In fact, in research I conducted with Kate Barasz of ESADE and Michael Norton of HBS, we found that if you’re given an opportunity to brag—for example, by being asked, “What are your greatest strengths?” or “How did you finish that so quickly?”—forgoing it can raise suspicion. We found that not answering or being coy about such questions may cause people to think you’re neither trustworthy nor likable.”


Written by Leslie K. John

Why do you need to self promote 

“Lack of expertise in self-marketing can result in lack of competitiveness in the workplace. 

“’In the grocery store of life, you have to figure out why someone would pick you up off the shelf,’ says Andrea Nierenberg, president of a business communication consulting firm. The best way for federal employees to gain a competitive edge that distinguishes them from other candidates in the job search process is through recognition and communication of their accomplishments.” 


Written by Janet M. Ruck

Self-promotion makes you marketable 

“People have to know who you are and they have to understand the value you offer in the workplace. Through self-promotion, you establish a reputation in your field. You become memorable, which means that people think of you when opportunities arise that fit your skill set. You’re able to move around with ease because of your marketability, giving you peace of mind even in an uncertain job market.”


Written by Chrissy Scivicque

Women less inclined to self-promote than men

“A new study suggests men are far more at ease with self-promotion than women, which contributes to a broad disparity in promotions and pay. According to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, women consistently rated their performance on a test lower than did men, even though both groups had the same average score. Where men on average gave themselves a 61 out of 100, women gave themselves a 46 out of 100. Even when told that an employer would use their self-evaluation to decide whether to hire them and what to pay them, women still self-promoted less than men.” 


Written by Christina Pazzanese

Value in self-promotion

“But if you’re not comfortable talking about your achievements, how will anyone know about them? Researchers have found that people who feel uncomfortable self-promoting are likely to fall behind their more vocal peers.” 


Written by Kelly McKesten and Stéphanie Thomson

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