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Why 'selling yourself' is not really selling 'yourself'

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

My mum used to work in a dental practice. It was a new practice, with big bills to pay. Her boss had asked her to ask customers to pay, on their way out, when they had had their cavities filled, or just had a hygienist appointment.

She couldn't do it. She felt embarrassed. As if selling, and getting paid, was a dirty thing.

Now, why am I telling you this?

Because it's one of the most common things I hear.

'I'm not very good at selling, or worse, I am not really good at 'selling myself'.

It's made me wonder. About what we think we are actually selling. About our attitudes to selling. And about where that reluctance to talk about ourselves comes from.

So, let's break it down a bit:

Why it's not SELLING that's the problem

You see, I don't think you have a problem with selling. At all. I think you sell things all day, every day. You offer an opinion. You try to convince someone else. You tell people what you're going to do. You're selling. Similarly you have no problem with buying either. Or paying someone for their goods or services. So it's not that.

Is MONEY a dirty word?

Ah, now, that becomes more interesting! As my mother's example shows, for some reason we feel we are OK to pay for some things, but not for others. We wouldn't think of leaving a shop with our goods in our bags, without paying (would we?).

But a dentist appointment? Or any type of service? Why do we feel more ambivalent about that? Do we feel OK paying for that, or selling it, but not too overtly? Do we just want to send a nice impersonal invoice and let others deal with it?

But what are we actually selling?

Selling ourselves. It does sound sleazy, doesn't it? So, what is it that we're actually selling? Is it your time? Your service? Or is the result that you get for your employer or client?

I'd argue that increasingly it's the latter. It's no longer about bums on seats (unless you're working on a production line). Instead it's about the results you get. The services you provide that help your employer get the results they want.

And crucially, it's not YOU you're selling. It's how you can provide the services that are required.

The difficulty about talking about yourself

We've not been taught to talk about ourselves. Quite the contrary. Lots of us have been taught to think of the team, the group, of others. To not be loud. To not attract attention.

But what if you looked at your results and thought of them as facts (which - of course - they are!). What if you could show what you can do (which you can!). What if you were the CEO of your own career. What would you say then? How would you 'sell' your services and the results you create?

'Selling yourself' is not really selling 'yourself'.

It's selling the results you create. Which you can create again. Because you've done it before (fact!).

How does that feel?


Tineke Tammes is an ICF accredited Career Coach, who supports creative, multi-passionate, professional women in making successful career transitions! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.

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