Honesty is Not Modesty

9 August, 2020

While I consider myself a fairly modest person, I seem to have garnered something of a reputation for being excessively modest. Editors, clients, friends, and others have noted that on ... well, I’ve lost count of how many occasions.

Over the years I wondered why I got that reputation. Then it struck me.

I’m too honest.

Too honest about my abilities. Too honest about my experience. Too honest about what I can and can’t do. That’s been a blessing and a curse, but as a freelancer/contractor I believe that honesty really is the best policy in the long run.

Everyone Puffs Themselves Up

That’s true. I’m guilty of having done that once or twice. We all are. But it’s the amount by which they puff themselves up which can be the problem.

Whether as a full-time employee or as a contractor, I’ve seen too many people represent themselves in ways that aren’t true. Many outright lied about their skills and experience. And they were caught out, either sooner or later.

When that happens, your reputation gets dented. It might be a small dent or it might be a major one. But that dent is there and might never come out. It’s going to dog you.

Let’s be honest: your misrepresentations (hey, I’m trying to be generous here!) will come back to haunt you. I’ve seen that happen far too often. And, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, I’ve taken a bit of pleasure in that. Schadenfreude and all that …

What Being Honest Means to Me

I don’t believe that honest equals modesty. Honesty is being honest.

It’s being upfront about what you know and what you can do. And what you don’t know and what you can’t do. It’s presenting your knowledge and skills as they are and not what you want someone to think they are.

Sounds like common sense, but it’s always interesting to see how uncommon common sense actually is.

Yes, being honest has cost me assignments and gigs. It may have even damaged one or two professional relationships. In the latter cases, I think the damage was done not by being honest but by the other person’s expectations.

On top of that, I refuse to misrepresent myself. Remember what I said earlier about being caught out? I don’t need that damage to my reputation, regardless of how prestigious a gig or how much money I’m being paid. The short-term gain isn’t worth the long-term pain.

But You can Learn It!

That’s probably true. But will I be able to learn a skill or how to write in a certain way or how to do something, and effectively put it into practice, during the length of a contract or gig? Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not above learning new skills. That said, I have to weigh the time and effort of learning a new skill with:

Sometimes, the effort and time is well spent. Sometimes, it isn’t.

In the end, though, being honest isn’t a sign of weakness. Being honest isn’t modesty. Being honest can build trust and can hold you in good stead. Being honest might not cast you in the best light with some people, the ones who expect you to lie, but then again would you want to work with them?

Scott Nesbitt