Here’s My Card

Eoin O’ Liatháin, WIP Class 2012, talks about the awkward business of self promotion in the United States

Self-promotion is an awkward business in Ireland. Whatever the cultural reasons might be, the marketing and promoting of oneself is considered taboo. We Irish don’t actively engage in networking, card-swapping or self-promotion in any way comparable to our American counterparts. Living and working in Washington DC for the past 6 weeks has highlighted this cultural distinction for me and offered some fresh perspectives.

The first time I noticed Irish people’s passive approach taken towards their careers was again a contrast of Irish and American. It was in university that it became obvious that American students were explicitly driven and unapologetic their ambition. Whether it was running (and winning) Student Union President, not being afraid to put themselves forward at Society AGMs or planning internships and meeting the right people. This activism stood in sharp contrast with Irish students. We, though in no way less talented or intelligent, would be happy not to interfere with things. We expect things will work out, and if they don’t, it wasn’t meant to be. Little thought is given about what I can actively do to help my career and how do I go about achieving that now.

In Ireland it seems to me that there are two problems relating to this activity of self-promotion. The first relates to the individual, and the second to society at large. On an individual level, Irish people show fear, self-doubt and a denial of the self by not promoting themselves. ‘What gives me the right?’, ‘I should wait my turn’, or ‘I’m not good enough’ are some of the innate reactions people face with the prospect of marketing yourself to a position. The fear is easy to comprehend; for promoting yourself is to take a risk. You’re putting yourself out there for others to judge. Either you succeed or your fail. It’s a very naked process. Why this fear exists here and not in America is a different question. Perhaps our culture isn’t as tolerant towards failure (and the innovation and initiative that often goes along with it!) as the United States. Perhaps the free market capitalist society of America is more individualistic than our democratic socialist model. In any case, ‘Better to remain silent than speak and be thought a fool’ sums up the unfortunate Irish disposition.

Secondly, there is a cynicism and mistrust in wider society surrounding people who engage in self-promotion –  a ‘Who do they think they are?’ knee-jerk response. I’ve been in conversations when  people have scoffed at a time-slot of a conference labelled: ‘Networking time’. Such unashamed egotism, they would say. The thought of having a business card is also met with horror and mild disgust. Again it’s hard to pin down cultural reasons for this without using general sweeping statements. One reason for the social aversion to the idea of self-promotion may be that it is symptomatic of people measuring themselves against other peoples’ success and thus damaging feelings of self-worth. That seems a bit of an overly pessimistic view of the Irish professional culture however. All I know is that in Ireland you don’t actively promote yourself, in the United States of course you do.

It’s harmful. Whether climbing the corporate ladder or contemplating going into business for yourself, marketing is a key component of success. In the United States, you network. You have a card. You swap cards. You follow up with emails. You make connections. You have a sponsor. A mentor. You promote yourself. You look after you, because if you don’t, who else will? Some other person who looks after themselves will get in ahead of you.

Given so little of this culture exists in Ireland then, wouldn’t it be highly competitive for you to buck the trend?