What My Mother Taught Me About Talking About Myself

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

My mother was not your typical mom. She enjoyed being loud and crude, and sometimes the advice she chose to give was wildly inappropriate (if memorable). But amidst those memories, which I cling to fiercely now, there are some that are really valuable. One of the smartest things she taught me is also one of the hardest things to learn: My mom taught me how to talk about myself.

Like any other bookwormy tween who watched a lot of Woody Allen movies—yeah, I wasn’t your standard 11-year-old either—I relied heavily on self-deprecating humor. And I thought it was working for me, since my friends seemed to appreciate it, until my Mom broke this terrible bit of news: “When you say bad things about yourself all the time, people will eventually remember the bad things you’ve said, but not the source.”

The source? I’m the source. How could they not realize that I’m the source?

“But I’m joking,” I replied.

“It doesn’t matter. They won’t remember it was you who said it, and they won’t even remember that it was funny,” she said.

I thought about it. I tried to imagine the scenario:

Hey, should we invite Laurie to the party? No, I heard she gets really nervous and weird at parties.

Maybe she had something there. Then my Mom added the clincher. “It works the opposite way, too. If you say good things about yourself, people will ALSO forget the source.”


Years later, I was working as an assistant at MTV. I fielded calls and appointments and watched writers, actors, and production people go into my boss’s office and walk away with jobs I wanted. “I’m on the wrong side of this,” I thought. So when somebody asked what I wanted to be doing instead, I told him I wanted to be a writer, but nobody saw me that way. And he said, “Just keep saying you’re a writer. Sooner or later, someone who hasn’t even seen your writing will give you a chance.”

It was my mother’s advice, right there in the halls of MTV.

Of course, it wasn’t enough for my Mom to say it—it had to be echoed by somebody else to have any impact, like the time my Mom suggested I use an ice cream scoop to get muffin batter into tins and I pooh-poohed her until Bobby Flay said the same thing. “Didn’t I tell you that years ago?” I can imagine her saying, and wish I could hear her saying now.

Bobby Flay was right, my friend with the writing advice was right, and of course, it was my Mom who was right before both of them. Within a few months of telling people I was a writer, I had my first two paying jobs as one, from people who had never seen my work before.

“Laurie’s a writer, isn’t she?”

You bet your sweet ass she is.

So heed my mother’s advice. Don’t tell the world that you’re ugly or stupid or awkward. Don’t make jokes about how bad you are at things, not to people who don’t really know you and don’t already adore you. And sometimes, without too much ego, try telling people what you’re good at, or what you want to be good at, because they’ll forget it was you who said it, and give you a chance to do something you love. Also, listen to your mother, and don’t wait for Bobby Flay to back her up.

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