Several years ago a friend from overseas asked if it was possible for Westerners, especially Americans, to be successful if they avoided self-promotion or other methods to get themselves noticed. Some of my students seem almost obsessed with building résumés and letting everyone know about their abilities and accomplishments. Without this, they wonder how anyone would get good jobs, promotions, coaching clients, or votes in elections. Jesus seemed to shun these self-promotional tactics (John 7:2-10). And the Bible lauds humility (Luke 14:11; James 5:5; Psalm 75:6, 7). Even so, this is not the way most of us operate. In this era it is difficult to move forward if we dislike publicity or shun self-promotion.
Last month I read a new book titled Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion. The author, David Zweig, begins by inviting us to imagine a concert [or maybe even a worship service] where a person or group takes center stage and engages our attention. Almost nobody thinks about the individuals or teams that operate the sound-board, lighting, or images on the screens – at least not until something goes wrong like a sound failure or abrasive feedback noise.
These unnoticed people are indispensable where they work, but nobody notices unless they make a mistake. Many Invisibles are highly competent, educated, and well-trained, like the anesthesiologist in an operating room. After surgery the surgeon gets praised but patients rarely send fruit baskets or thank-you notes to the specialists who keep them alive. “These people are invisible, just expected to do their jobs.”
Nearly all of us do some work that is unappreciated and rarely noticed, but Zweig defines Invisibles as exceptionally skilled, meticulous people, often professionals, who perform critical roles. In contrast to under-employed people or laborers toiling in anonymity, Invisibles often have the qualifications to pursue prominent careers. Instead they find their greatest satisfaction in shouldering responsibility and doing their behind-the-scenes tasks exceptionally well, with little or no interest in recognition. Many even dislike acclaim or accolades. Is it surprising that these people are described as “an exceptionally satisfied lot?” They are successful and fulfilled but without seeking applause.
Do you know people like this? Does this describe you? Are you someone who takes pride in what you do, but who shuns self-promotion? Many of us would like to hear from you. Please comment.