What Does Your Self Esteem Cost? Buying Honors & Prestige

July 13th, 2012

“Sarah, we’d like to honor you with the Woman of the Year award!

You’ve accomplishedso much that we thought it would only be appropriate to celebrate your success.”

“Wow” said Sarah. “Really?”

Sarah often doubted herself and her abilities regardless of her A super plus personality and work ethic. In that split second she reflected back to how many times she felt less than, and at times even felt like an absolute fraud. All of which made her work even harder to prove her worth.

She smiled at herself as the moment of reflection was interrupted.

“Yes, you know when we show women achieving, it helps inspire others to know that they can do it too”.?? Sarah nodded as she listened, but began to feel uneasy about the award of Woman of the Year in this prestigious women’s association. After all, they have more than 100,000 members. She was amazed to be singled out. In fact, she thought, “I actually haven’t been active in this organization at all since joining 6 months ago.” Was her profile even up to date? Her antenna went up. “Why doesn’t this sound kosher to me?” she thought.

“Sarah, with the award comes a plaque. May I mail it to your PO  Box?”? “Yes, um, sure, but what else can you tell me about this    award? I’m asking because I’m surprised.” She expressed her inner  thoughts about her lack of participation.

“Oh don’t worry  about that. Other organizations offer these awards and charge $2-  3,000 for this elite privilege…”

Now her BS meter went up, big  time. Her left eyebrow raised and her jaw tightened. Here it  comes. She’s about to be sold something in order to be honored as “Woman of the Year”. The conversation continued for several more minutes. Sarah challenged the sales person on the other end of the line and determined very quickly that the organization knew little about her, her achievements, the litany of recent PR for her work or the organizations for which she volunteered her time.

“Well if it’s about the money, I can offer you a reduced rate this one time

She ended the call by telling the woman politely that she would not invest any additional money in an organization that she really had no intimate knowledge. The call ended abruptly as the sales woman said “ok” and clicked down the phone.

A week later, after an email to the organization expressing her utter disbelief about being asked to pay for the honor, she received a phone call. It was explained that the upgrade in membership was to facilitate the marketing of the honoree to the organizations members. ?”Really?” Sarah asked. “Can you explain to me exactly what that means?” The customer service rep could only explain it was about search engine keywords “so other members can find you.” The same rep also admitted the award was not based on activity in the organization. “So how is this determined?” she asked. The rep stumbled over her words. “It’s based on your niche.” Sarah retorted “What have I accomplished in my niche to receive this honor?” The line went quiet.

This is a TRUE story. The names of the person and the organization are being held anonymous in respect for the good work their members may be doing. However, there is a reason I’m sharing this story with you, my readers.

During desperate times, people resort to desperate measures. This tactic, to sell premiere memberships under the guise of being honored with an award, is one that preys on a person’s self-esteem (or lack thereof). As a professional of more than 25 years in business I have never once paid for an accolade or award. No one should. It is an award for a reason. It is to recognize good works, achievements or advancements in your given field by your peers – not the recognition that you’ve paid a fee.

I liken this tactic to throwing your best friend a surprise party but asking them to pay for the cake, make some of the food and to arrive early and help you decorate.

I am not naïve. This type of thing goes on all the time. However, I would like to throw this warning flag up and tell you that when others ask you to pay for an award they are basically preying on your deep seeded fear that you may not be recognized for all that you do and maybe, just maybe, this is going to be the only chance you get. So take it! No matter how it comes. No matter the cost – small or large. No one will know, except you.

Do pay for association fees and memberships that provide you great content, insight or access to resources you may not have within your reach.

Do pay other professionals who offer you services and tools that help you advance your life personally or professionally.

But please do not fall prey to these desperate tactics that exploit your hidden doubts and fears about yourself.

10 Responses to “What Does Your Self Esteem Cost? Buying Honors & Prestige”

  1. Carolyn says:

    Wow. Really? I’m the one feeling naive right now. People really pay to get an “award”?

    I have an idea. Let’s set up our own awards banquet and honor each other for being ethical entrepreneurs. You in? No fees. And we’ll split the bill evenly.

    Thanks for bringing such a thought provoking topic to the forefront, Maria!

    • mariagamb says:

      I also thought I was completely naive about this too. Then I shared the story with about a dozen other professionals and the response ranged from:
      “Yup, all the time” to “I had no idea this happens”

      It happens more than you realized. Often cleverly disguised. But usually it requires a credit card to be handed over to obtain.

      Really the only person that knows the truth is often you. So it becomes a matter of personal integrity.

      • Meg Rogers says:

        Maria, thank you for bringing to light and asking our point of view. I am guided by my moral compass and take time to apply the common sense test. If we consistently call upon these key foundational elements within each of us, I believe the business climate would be healthier and sustainable. The ethical, individuals of integrity outnumber the less fortunate unethical. Individually, we can make a difference…you are proof of that! In gratitude, Meg

  2. BonnieKarpay says:

    Thanks, Maria, for shedding light on this STANDARD business practice for organizations and publications!

    This has happened to me more than once. The first time, I almost fell for it! Ah — the recognition, the acknowledgement for doing good work. Finally being noticed by a legitimate publication.

    No, it was a tool to sell advertising dollars. Sure, I’d be listed in their annual “Top 25” list, but that’s not much of an honor, is it? I’ll get my acknowledgement the old fashioned way: testimonials, referrals and sold-out events!

  3. Paul Zelizer says:

    Great post Maria,

    Success and credibility is something we earn by showing up, being present through time and delivering great results. Sounds simple enough but try getting that through most marketing gurus heads! :-) People like you and Seth Godin and Kate Warren and Soren Gordhamer have taught me so much …



  4. Wow, Maria, this is a powerful story. Scary, too. So many self-esteem, feeling less-than/living up to other people’s expectations popped in my head as I read your words. Feeling grateful I don’t feel that way anymore and astonished that this type of behavior exists. Of course, my ego also got a bit riled up reading this. Who doesn’t want to receive an award? Please, please – pick me! That, too, used to be me. Now I want to earn respect from others. If you want to present me with an award, great, as long as I’ve earned your trust and respect…and I won’t be asked to “buy” it from you.

  5. Juve says:

    I second Carolyn’s idea…:)
    The answer to your question was laid out very well in the article.
    Credibility is the only ability you can’t give yourself and you certainly should NOT “buy it” !
    As an entrepreneur, reputation & integrity is everything…:)

  6. Cambridge Who’s Who lives off this stuff.
    Nothing new. Trump happens to own this. Go figure.

  7. Wow! This flashes me back to high school and college with those “top” awards that wanted you to buy big leather bound books with long lists of names that meant nothing. I didn’t realize this nonsense transcended the schooling years. Yikes! Never pay for an award. Credibility and reputation cannot be “bought”.

    • mariagamb says:

      Paula –
      It is more wide spread than most people realize. This falls into the category of self compliance. How do you choose to operate in the world. It’s a personal choice. I hope more people choose not to fall prey to buying their reputation.

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