/ 25 March 2015

DJ Sbu’s thirst for success speaks of the excess of ego

Fake cover Forbes Africa.
Fake cover Forbes Africa.

Hard work should speak for itself. It’s something in which I have always believed, but perhaps that notion is housed in a religious upbringing and a cultural requirement that, to be a good person, you do your best to veer away from bragging, showing off and basically masturbating in public because it feeds the ego and keeps you disconnected from the rest of the world.

To be a good person, you work hard. More than that, you work hard at practising humility and staying humble.

I am not saying that this is a universal truth. I’m not here to define humility or describe what it looks like. I’m also not here to shout from the rooftops and preach about what defines a good person and what doesn’t.

Even the act of charity is self-fulfilling. There is no such thing as an unselfish good deed. I also doubt any sort of religious upbringing forces one to employ a degree of shame – or be more susceptible to it. I know in my case it’s probably true, for the reasons I have stated above.

Muslim guilt, Catholic guilt, etcetera – these are all real things that stem from somewhere. But it’s not an exact science is it? Scroll through your Twitter feed real quick, or your Facebook wall. How many of the most vocal self-promoters are devout to a religion? I don’t have an exact percentage when it comes to my own feeds, but I can say this: the nonreligious people feature fairly low on the scoreboard when it comes to showing off.

Social media levels the field
There has always been a certain degree of talking about oneself, or talking oneself up, that is necessary for success.

Social media has made this much easier. It has proved that everyone who has access to the internet and owns an account is definitely very, very important, and has a very, very important opinion that needs to be expressed. That’s the nature of the tool.

If nothing else, it has at least made the playing field even. If everyone is equal on the greens of self-promotion, it at least renders the overly egotistical ones a little bit insignificant. Not a bad thing in my books.

Here’s the downside, however: it also makes the game more competitive and results in a massive sense of insecurity. “I need to not feel insignificant, so I need to prove that I am not.”

Edward E Jones, the father of ingratiation, said that the mere act of wanting to present oneself in a certain way to garner attention is because of a feeling of low self-esteem.

It’s fair to state, however, that in these circumstances, the act of exaggerating the self and achievements is coupled with feeling stressed. I can understand how this translates into feeling a certain way in a competitive environment – environments such as jobs that require a certain degree of creativity, and others that involve perhaps the creation of a new energy drink in an already saturated market, as in the case of DJ Sbu.

Muscling in on the market
Maybe it’s just a case of making a gap where there isn’t one? Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things.

Let me explain. There isn’t a gap in the market for another energy drink, but DJ Sbu perhaps went on the success of other energy drinks, so he creates one, he is threatened by the competition in the market, he starts to feel a little bit insecure about his product and its potential to fail, and he has a tool at his disposal that also happens to be a very competitive environment, which is Twitter. So, to “win” at the game, he takes self-promotion to a whole other level. He retweets a picture of his face on Forbes magazine. There is no pull-back.

To want to be recognised is a human thing – to act in a way that we can be sure of that recognition, or some recognition at the very least, is also a human thing and we all do it. But then isn’t it also a human thing to be able to recognise when it’s just too much?

Gone are the days of being gracious and self-promotion being an act of give and take. Gone are the days when the brand, nay, the product of the brand, spoke for itself. You have to speak on behalf of it now, and now you can. And the result is that you end up speaking for yourself.

The trend is in motion – DJ Sbu has more free advertising than his energy drink could ever ask for. You are guaranteed to talk about that tweet more than you will ever engage with a free sample, for example. Great. But is that really hard work being recognised? And is that really competing for the hard work to be recognised?

Is the promotion of your work your job, or is your job the promotion of you? Again, my personal Twitter and Facebook feeds would lean toward the former. Unfortunately.

And, as a final thought, to quote New York Times blog that tackles the issue of self-promotion (for and against): “When so many people are competing for attention, getting attention becomes a full-time job with dispiriting results (and is highly annoying to everyone else).”

As soon as someone tells me to believe they’re good at what they do because they constantly say so, my brain switches off. Perhaps that’s why I’ll never be famous, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Shame on me.