‘Express, Don’t Impress’

There’s a saying in sales: “Sell them what they want to buy”. In other words, hang back and see what the other party is looking for, then sell that.

It’s not how I want to live.

Instead, as I’ve blogged before, I want to live a life of authenticity vs. being a chameleon.

I’m writing about this because a friend emailed me, saying he’s about to interview for a job with a very famous VC. “Just be yourself,” I wrote back. “If you put on a facade and you get the job, the bad news is that he will be hiring a facade and not The Real You.”

Tal Ben-Shahar says this: “Express, Don’t Impress.” Just be who you are. Don’t focus on impressing other people. If you do, it’s a never-ending exercise of seeking personal validation and affirmation from others. Your self-worth is then tied to others’ views, which will fluctuate. You’ll feel great when others affirm you. You’ll feel devastated when others criticize you. You’ll avoid confrontation.

Also, you’ll seek activities that maximize praise from others rather than pursuing work about which you’re passionate. If you’re focused on impressing others, you will be drawn to the roars of the crowd. Unfortunately, that crowd may be here today but could be gone tomorrow. You’ll then follow the crowd to where it is gathered next.

It’s easy to write these words. It’s very hard to live by them. But, I’m trying.

I’ve been incorporating this “Express” principle over the years into my work life. I tell entrepreneurs pretty quickly during a pitch if Kepha is not a fit and why. At our VC firm, we strive for a culture of full transparency. We don’t hide bad news from each other. I don’t feel like we’re trying to manipulate each other. We’re problem-solving together as a team.

I’ve also been incorporating more authenticity into my personal life. I won’t stay quiet anymore if someone says something that really violates my beliefs. Moreover, in my marriage, I’ve shared more about what I’m thinking, including worries. The irony? It has brought us closer.

Of course, there’s risk to this. People may not like what you say. They may get really upset at you, particularly if you criticize them. I’ve found, though, when that happens, it is likely because you’ve said something that they themselves are thinking–but, cannot bear to say out loud to themselves.

But, here’s the upside. I’ve found that people sense when someone is hiding something. I’ve found that people are drawn powerfully to someone who has the confidence to be real. And, as I’ve blogged, embracing vulnerability is a key step for personal growth.

So, just be yourself. Express, don’t impress. The entrepreneurs and VCs who can do this in their dialogue can do some powerful things together.

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