Founder/creator, author, public speaker, and certified badass Stefanie Sword-Williams sat down with @letterstodeardiary's founder, @madirez, (virtually from across the pond) to share her story and advice to DD readers. Buckle up for an incredible interview with the writer that will challenge everything you thought you knew about self-promotion.
Self-promotion in the digital age has become as important, if not more important, as any resume. For example, would you ever accept a job promotion without updating your LinkedIn status? (I think I know everyone's answer to that one.) So, why does self-promotion still feel like a dirty word? That is precisely the concept that Stefanie Sword-Williams breaks down to her readers, listeners, and followers of @fbeinghumbleldn, while sharing takeaways they can implement immediately in their own lives. The business executes this idea through various avenues, including speaking engagements, content on social media, and of course, the F*ck Being Humble book. In this interview, she relates the lessons she now teaches to her own experience as a twenty-something entering the workforce, which inherently inspired her growing empire.
Stefanie Sword-Williams: "We are petrified of all aspects of self-promotion, and very often it's because we don't know how to do it, it's not because we don't want to do it. So a big focus when building my business and all the content around F*ck Being Humble has been how can we take quite a dry, dull subject area (predominantly led by old white men in suits) and thinking about how can we make it more fun and engaging, so that you want to start doing it. Because I am twenty-nine, I am closer in age to students or younger working people, so I look at how we can tell stories in a much more genuine, natural way. I also worked in advertising for seven years, so I take the expertise I learned from storytelling for brands and help apply it to individuals."
DD: When did that transition happen between working in advertising, thinking that was what you wanted to do, and then creating F*ck Being Humble and writing your book?
SSW: "When I first moved to London, I joined a startup where I was the first employee with two founders. I worked the hardest I've ever worked for a company and took on two roles. I worked in video and content production, account managing looking after clients, and also taking on the role of developing new business. I thought it would be an easy job, but it's a tough job to go out there and find business for a company. But it was such fantastic exposure for me to learn that, and I always tell the story that part of the reason I decided to start F*ck Being Humble is that I had a performance review where I didn't get a pay raise or promotion. I felt quite frustrated, and my sister at the time said to me, you know you gave a lot to that business; you have to start taking time for yourself. Do the things you want to do, don't work late every night, don't work through your lunch break, and that was a really important message that I think so many of us forget when we start working."
"My mission was to make networking not sh*t, because I think that’s how other people see it a lot of the time. But before I even launched the event side of the business, F*ck Being Humble picked up a lot of press (such as) BBC World News and The Times. I got featured in many articles, which was amazing, but intimidating because I hadn't even started! I actually wrote an article on LinkedIn talking about why I started a self-promotion platform called F*ck Being Humble, and I always joke that it went ‘viral’ on LinkedIn. Loads of people were sharing it and posting that they were really inspired by it. I had three or four publishers and book agents get in touch and say, we think you should write a book, you're onto something here, and I just said, 'No, no, I'm fine. Thank you!' I hung up the phone and said, ‘That’s not for me’. And then when I saw the momentum behind the events grow so organically, and the feedback was amazing, I decided six months later to pick up the phone again and call them and say, ‘Okay, let's have a chat.’"
"And then I secured a book. In the first year of running F*ck Being Humble, I had eight months to write the book alongside my full-time job. I knew I didn't want to quit my job, I loved my job, and I was really happy with it. At the start, I never really had the ambitions that F*ck Being Humble would take on a world of itself and that I was going to leave my job to do it. But when the book was coming out in 2020, the momentum was building, so two weeks before the pandemic, I decided it was time to quit my job and be a public speaker, and then all public events got canceled. "
DD: I'm in the US, and I heard about F*ck Being Humble. People from all over the world are hearing about it. What has that experience been like seeing people from all over reading and resonating with your content?
SSW: "The reactions and responses have been so great. I think people love it because it is so conversational. After all, it is like your friend talking to you about self-promotion. There is zero jargon in there; it is easy to digest and also just really practical. I've always prided myself on creating useful content and making sure that you can walk away and implement it. I get tagged in so many photos where there's like 70 different post-it notes, every page is folded down, or everybody's written notes and underlined lines in the book. So that's been amazing."
"Launching a book during the pandemic, I didn't get to have a book launch. I didn't get the same buzz and excitement. Still, in a way, it's almost sort of prolonged the experience which has been nice because more people are reading it and still picking it up. It's been a year now that the book has been out, but people are still coming up to me in the street saying, 'I've been reading your book, and it's amazing.'"
DD: Stef, what advice would you leave our readers with, whether you think they know what they want to do or are still figuring it out?
"Try everything. I think there's such an expectation that you pick the career you're going to do straight out of university, and that's it forever. I disagree with that. And I think so many people live really unhappy lives because they feel prisoner to the dreams they imagined when they were like sixteen, which, you know, we change every week. I think I'm probably going to run about ten different businesses in my life."
"Your 20s are about trying different things, putting yourself forward for various opportunities, moving jobs regularly... Don't feel a prisoner to maybe the education or the degrees you chose, because we can work in many different areas. So whether you work for free, you intern, you start a side hustle, you have a passion project, just don't be passive. Make sure you're active, experiment and explore different things that excite you, and also know that not everything you do has to be monetized... It's up to you to navigate that, but we were allowed to change our minds with work. And I think that's probably the most important takeaway: as you get older, you see that everybody wants to work on different things. And if anything, they kicked themselves for staying in a situation they weren't happy in for so long. Don't be afraid to try all the different amazing things that are coming your way."