Thursday, September 29, 2016

On Tooting Your Horn

A little while ago, I ran into an old friend in town, and among other things she noted that I tended to toot my own horn on Facebook – in other words, that I often post about my speaking gigs, my books, or the good times I am having.

It was meant well, and taken as such. And she is completely accurate. But it raises a deeper issue that rarely gets explored: the differences between tooters and non-tooters. So I would like to take you inside the mind of a lifelong tooter, to put it in its proper perspective.

You see, for many people, this issue takes on moral overtones. Non-tooters often grow up believing that it is shallow and pretentious to brag about yourself; as one recent meme put it, “May your life be half as good as it seems on Facebook.” At the other end of the spectrum, tooters are at risk of seeing non-tooters as dullards who celebrate nothing and share nothing.

Neither of these stereotypes is accurate. So here is my attempt at brokering a truce between two equally valid worldviews. First, here are some of the reasons why I tend to toot my horn:

1) To me, tooting isn’t egotistical – it is epidemiological. Since the dawn of history, men were often hunters and gatherers who took care of their families. And when they stopped being able to do so, they died. This is how hunting trophies and harvest celebrations came about: they celebrated the successful pursuit of food and survival. So for thousands of years, tooting has been a celebration of life, and of still being in the hunt. Same thing when I celebrate my goals and pleasures – it isn’t about winning or being better than others, but rather about taking pride in the happy pursuit of a good life.

2) For me personally, there is almost a spiritual dimension to celebrating yourself. During the toughest times of my life, non-tooters had little to offer me. In those days it was other tooters – people who openly liked themselves, and encouraged others – who saw potential in me and gave me hope. I always wanted to be like them, not like those who had nothing to say.

3) We tend to be attracted to our own species as friends. I really like the company of other tooters. For example, I have always delighted in seeing other people’s books, cheering on their launch campaigns, watching their videos, and hearing their stories. It is life-affirming for me to be in the company of other people who take joy in their own pursuits, and see possibilities for themselves and others.

4) Tooters make good tutors. Yesterday at a speaking engagement in Pittsburgh, one woman told me how much she enjoyed my talk (always a good thing to say to a tooter), and then confided that someday she would like to be a public speaker herself. I gladly sat down with her at lunch and opened my playbook about getting started in the business. More broadly, I love seeing other people learn, grow, and succeed. If you want to learn to become a writer, speaker, musician, or whatever, your best bet is to find a good tooter.

5) Finally, we are all the product of our own family histories. I come from a large family of high achievers, including a modest but very accomplished father, and a funny and often brash mother with a very healthy ego – and as I often told her, much of my own success came directly from what I learned from her. For me, as with her, taping my mouth shut about my life would feel like a dull grey existence.

Non-tooters often mistakenly believe that tooting is a reaction to covering up some deeper emptiness in your life. Not in my case. If you were to crack my head open, you would find a pretty happy guy inside most of the time. And if I am sharing good things publicly, this is a very good sign that I am in my normal happy place. When things are tough for me, I am much more likely to withdraw then blather on.

Now, a word to you non-tooters: you’re OK too. You have perfectly good and valid reasons for being the way you are, based on who you are and what you have learned in your life. And there are healthy and unhealthy extremes to both your personalities and mine. Tooters can be friendly and engaging, or egotistical boors. Non-tooters can be kind and modest, or wet blankets. It goes without saying that we should always try to be our very best selves and make other people feel good.

But above all, we all have to be true to who we are. We all have our own unique personalities and gifts. And living someone else’s life is never a prescription for happiness. So if you are like me, toot away!


Richard Bradley said...

Well said!

Rich Gallagher, LMFT said...

Thanks Richard!

Henry Hung Fong said...

A well-balanced, thoughtful article. Agree with virtually everything you covered. Only one item would improve your article, in my opinion -- a discussion on the cultural aspects of tooting. How one reacts to someone's tooting his/her own horns depends largely on that person's culture (race, ethnicity, family background, economic status, education level, success). "Where you stand depends on where you sit." (I made this saying up when I was in college, after observing a large number of people of different cultures, intelligence, economic backgrounds, political preference, and race.)

Rich Gallagher, LMFT said...

I feel you are absolutely correct Henry - there is a huge cultural context here, and everything is relative to that context. Well put!

Henry Hung Fong said...

In my own education and career in America, I've noticed that many first-generation East Asians (i.e., from China, Japan, Korea) tend to be non-assertive, passive, quiet in school discussion groups, contests, competitions, etc. Very "cultural" and "Asian," so to speak. However, this doesn't seem to be true among East Indians in America. They tend to be verbal, confident, assertive, even confrontational and aggressive. I have thought about this difference a great deal. My own explanation: most Indian Americans spoke English as their first language at home and in school in India, many attended top universities in India (e.g., I.I.T.), and were the cream of the crop when they left India to attend college or grad school in America. They are 100% convinced that, in order to succeed in corporate America, they have to be more "American" and more driven. Thus, it is really no big surprise to me that we recently see so many Indian American CEO's in corporate America (not nearly as many Chinese American, Japanese American, Korean American) -- especially in tech (e.g., Microsoft, Google/Alphabet, Adobe, VISA, PepsiCo, etc). A strong example of the cultural aspect of tooting one's horn.

Interestingly, there is a generational (age) aspect to this cultural perspective of tooting. What I said above about East Asians versus Indian Americans is true primarily for the first-generation . . . and is not generally true of the younger (2nd, 3rd, 4th) generations. Here, among our young people who are born in America, East Asians are every bit as
competitive, assertive, and aggressive on school and in their careers as the Indian Americans. (I have noticed this in my own extended family; we have many intermarriage among our younger generations.)