“How To #HumbleBrag Effectively”: Shailvi Wakhlu, Senior Director of Data at Strava (Video + Transcript)

March 8, 2022

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Angie Chang: Our next session is a Strava coffee session. I think we’ll have to rename it up to, as Sukrutha said, chai, or other teas. We love Strava. So now let’s welcome Shailvi Wakhlu from Strava. She’s here to help us humble brag and advocate for ourselves.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Awesome, thank you so much for the introduction. Angie, let me share my screen. All right, hopefully you can all see that. Hi everyone, my is Shailvi Wakhlu. I go by the she-her pronouns and I’m the Senior Director of Data at Strava. Welcome to the Strava coffee break on the topic “How to humble brag effectively.”

Shailvi Wakhlu: If you want to get better at self-advocacy or know someone else who does, then I hope this talk resonates with you.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So first off I wanted to briefly cover what is self advocacy. It is speaking up for oneself and one’s interest. It’s a simple enough concept, but I found it to be very powerful for us to incorporate for our career success. Understanding, prioritizing and communicating our needs is how we grow ourselves and our careers.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So self advocacy is unfortunately not a skill that comes naturally to most people. Many folks, face difficulties in shining a light on their achievements or talking themselves up.

Shailvi Wakhlu: If that sounds like you, then you should know that you’re not alone. I think culturally, anything that remotely even resembles boasting can be considered a vice. And I also belong to one of those cultures that really encourages people to keep a very low profile as a norm

Shailvi Wakhlu: . Sometimes it’s for safety, sometimes it’s for acceptance and sometimes it’s purely out of habit. Women and marginalized genders also often receive direct and indirect feedback, “Do not be too loud and to focus on being a supporter rather than a promoter.”

Shailvi Wakhlu: Society in general also tends to really discourage self-promotion. Appearing, salesy or flashy often tends to have very negative connotations to it. Our brains have been programmed from society to sometimes just ignore messaging where our people are praising themselves.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And finally, usually at least for me, this has been true. It’s usually our own inner voice with whom we struggle to reconcile the desire that we have to be seen and heard, and to not be seen as bragging. And all of these in many other reasons can make self advocacy very hard.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So while it is hard, it’s still remains extremely important. And I’d like to say that advocating for ourselves is not bragging. In fact, it is a key skill, we all need to practice and learn to make sure that we are doing the right thing by our careers.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Self advocacy is absolutely crucial when it comes time to make more money, negotiate, better salaries. Because after all, how can someone pay you more than they think you are worth when you are the one responsible for telling them your worth.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Promotions also tend to be very heavily dependent on people, clearly articulating how they continue to add value to the business leaders who are in a position to sponsor or promote you, they often tend to need reminders of that.

Shailvi Wakhlu: If you’re a leader of a team or a project, your ability to get resources and head count often needs buy-in from superiors and peers alike who need to comprehend the value of what you and your team are doing.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Your ability to attract talent can really depend on how easy it is for you to convince someone that you’re working on something great. And it’ll be helpful to their career path as well.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Overall, I feel unless you get lucky, success really depends on your ability to make sure that people understand your value. So my pitch is, “Take that time to practice being comfortable, confident, and genuine and advocating for yourself.”

Shailvi Wakhlu: So many of you today in the stock are in the mid to senior part of your career. And I wanted to take this opportunity to plug that self-advocacy, isn’t something that only career professions need.

Shailvi Wakhlu: In fact, you are absolutely never done with self advocacy in your career. Even if right now you are in a stable situation, you’re successful in your role, know that situations can change any time with or without notice.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Maybe you currently have a good boss who’s an advocate for you, but bosses can change. If your current company and or your team supports you remember that can change too. Or maybe you switch something out, maybe you decide to switch companies or you get assigned to a new team.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So in that situation, you will lose access to some known situations that maybe you felt a little bit more prepared for, where you knew how to amplify your message.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Even if absolutely nothing changes, the fact remains that your legacy compounds. You cannot hope to rest on your past successes forever. And if you want your legacy and your impact to grow, you have to continue investing in your success to make sure that people don’t forget about it and make sure that people don’t overlook it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And finally, this is an example that I often bring up that even CEOs need visibility. How else will you otherwise in that position, get funding, hire great people, support your employees, or get the best outcomes for shareholders? So just separating out that feeling, that you’re at the top of your career and you’re well respected doesn’t mean that you no longer have to invest in self-advocacy.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So with all of that in mind, how do we actually get better at self-advocacy?

Shailvi Wakhlu: I have three things to walk you through. We will first learn how to reframe our own internal narrative mental narrative. And we’ll walk through couple of examples. Then we reframe the external narrative, which is how we choose the right words.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And finally, we will practice, which is why my #humbleragchallenge comes in. So let’s examine some of our mental narratives that tend to hinder our self-advocacy.

Shailvi Wakhlu: The first example is “I am too busy for self-advocacy”.

Shailvi Wakhlu: How many of y’all feel that you just don’t have the time for a lot of things in your career leave alone self-advocacy? However, I feel that if you don’t make for self advocacy, you will hinder the progress you can make in your own growth.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Investing in your growth early is important, and it is essential. You don’t know what tomorrow holds and putting in the habits and processes in place today that might help you get to the next set of opportunities that you desire can really pay dividends when you need it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Next example is that feeling of my talent to just speak for itself. And a lot of us have actually been told that if you do really good work, you will eventually be rewarded for it. Shine rightly and the world notices, but maybe, maybe people are just not in the same room.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So at the end of the day, if people can’t see something, they can’t acknowledge it. So we tend to assume that our talent will shine and everybody will know that we are great. But maybe everybody around us is really busy and they can’t keep track of the tiny details and examples of how you add value. So acknowledge that you need visibility, and it’ll be much easier to talk about your achievements.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Another mental narrative is that, as you get to more senior roles, the ambiguity increases, and that is true. Often, I think just the previous talk was talking about this, that sometimes there’s no defined part.

Shailvi Wakhlu: There’s no job description, there’s no… Especially for senior roles. And the implication is almost at a lack of defined path means you don’t need to focus on self-advocacy because everything is a little bit of a gamble.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And so focusing on your own visibility may not lead to predictable outcomes and may instead be a distraction. And to that, I say that self-advocacy is indeed taking that time to create your thoughts.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Write your own job description, define what success looks like and connect the dots on how it adds value to the company that you work for. The need for self-advocacy, doesn’t end just because there’s no defined playbook. It still needs intentionality and it still needs attention for you to move forward and grow, even if you’re not sure exactly what the destination is going to be.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And my final example for the mental narrative is that feeling that we have that hey, maybe celebrating wins is just… It’s flashy. It’s unnecessary. And maybe some of us find it inauthentic. However, here again, I say, and I especially say this to leaders that celebrations aren’t just for yourself. They are for absolutely everyone around you. Therefore, that colleague who’s struggling with their work.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Therefore, the people who are looking for their examples of success, or just your teammates, anybody who is involved with the project and anybody who’d like some validation that their work produced something that was good. You are essentially thanking the universe for that opportunity to produce value. And you’re expressing gratitude for that successful outcome. So you’re acknowledging the hard work behind it is going to help really boost everybody’s morale in the process.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So now we’ve covered a few of the mental narratives. We’re going to pivot to the external narratives. And once we feel comfortable in our own mind, that self-advocacy is the right thing to do.

Shailvi Wakhlu: We can focus a little bit more on improving the specific messaging that we use to talk to others. So I’m going to walk through an example of how you might choose to talk about a project that was just finished. That went well.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And there are obviously multiple ways that you could do this. So the default way you maybe… Maybe it’s not default for you, and that’s great. But maybe it’s just downplay it. Project was no big deal. Anybody could have done it. And that’s it. Then there’s the other extreme, which is that you brag about it, which you say, “I did the best job. Nobody else could have done it.” And that’s sort of the other extreme.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So here’s my version of it, which is the team came together to land an incredibly challenging project which also became a fun way to expand our skills. We pushed hard and were able to finish it in half the time that it was expected to take. So this is a mix of sharing a win, but with authenticity that translates into a humble brag.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So notice the keywords that I highlighted here, acknowledging that something was challenging and that you worked hard on it. It shows your ability to accept and shine on tough problems.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Highlighting that you’re capable of bringing together a team to actually collaborate and you are sharing credit for it. It shows important leadership qualities, including a measurable achievement provides something which is a tangible win for people to focus on.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And showing that you actually learned something and grew from it and had fun doing it. That just brings it all together to confirm that this was a natural fit for you. And you’d like some more opportunities like this in the future. So coming up with the right words is helpful, but you don’t need to overthink it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: If you sit down and think about the true feelings that you have about a success story, the words will come to you and your messaging will be authentic. This is just an example. So don’t try to retrofit every story into a success template. Just be genuine and talk about what you truly care about.

Shailvi Wakhlu: I think you’ll be humble bragging effectively in no time. So finally, no commitment is complete unless we figure out a way to go practice it so that it comes naturally. And for that, I have two simple challenges. If you’re new to this, you can start with something small and one is personal, one is public. It really depends on your comfort level.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So on the personal side, this is something you do for yourself. You can just start documenting your wins, make a habit of it. It doesn’t have to be something big, just anything that you’re proud of. Anything that you feel you hit some success on. It can be as simple as, “Hey, I connected two people and they made something else successful.” That’s a win.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So additional guidelines here is be specific so you remember the details and it’s easier to tie back that connection later on and do it with the intention that you will plan to use it for your next promotion. If not the specific example, then at least the themes that you come up with over time, and maybe you don’t end up sharing the list exactly. But it’s really helpful to have that place to reflect back on things that you do well on things that work for you.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And it also makes it easier for you to talk about your work and not blank on it if someone asks you questions about it. So my suggestion here is to do it at least weekly at the bare minimum. And I think it’ll go a long way in building confidence.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Next level is to go public. So whatever your team’s shared mode of communication is find one avenue that you’re comfortable with and post your achievements there. Make it into a team thing. Make it where you share learnings.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Do it at least once a month. And that’s a good way to get everybody involved. We used to definitely do this in one of my teams previously and everybody found it a good way to actually learn from it and just grow from it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And yes, if you do decide to do this, please… If you do this on Twitter or LinkedIn, please tag me. I would absolutely love to hear about your personal success stories and celebrate with you and amplify you. Thanks all for listening.

Shailvi Wakhlu: I hope this was useful. You can follow me on social media if you’d like to stay in touch. And if you’re interested in the content that I share.

Shailvi Wakhlu: I am also releasing a book later this year on self advocacy and would love feedback on any of the subtopics that might be relevant to you. And finally, a big thank you to Angie and Sukrutha from Girl Geek X for hosting today. Thanks.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you, Shailvi. 

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Share this