We are born to communicate, though we don’t always pause to question the intention of our words before we write or speak.

What is the conscious or subconscious driver behind your message? Are you confidently expressing a personal truth, or are you seeking validation to iron out a sense of personal uncertainty? The difference between self-expression and seeking acceptance can be summarized in one word: GROWTH.

Let’s break it down:

What is self-expression?

Self-expression is about telling the world how you can do good, support growth and be of service. It is a contribution of your unique value and voice to the betterment of the whole.

Voice = sharing your gifts, passion, knowledge and perspective to promote, empathy, growth and ease-of-life for others.

Your voice is what I like to define as “sharing your gifts, passion, knowledge and perspective to promote, empathy, growth and ease-of-life for others.” The late Stephen R. Covey called our voice “unique personal significance – significance that is revealed as we face our greatest challenges and which makes us equal to them.”

It includes sharing:

  • WHO
    you are
  • WHAT you stand for + WHY
    • E.g. What you’ve experienced (and
      learned from your experiences), and how that lends itself to serving the
      needs of others.

It’s the equivalent of saying, “How can what I have to offer help you?” or “Here’s what I’ve learned, and here’s how it can help you to (insert benefit here).” You then welcome others to join in if the message or idea resonates with them. In it’s most effective form, self-expression is comprised of your belief and a benefit to your audience.

Self-expression = (your) BELIEF + BENEFIT (to audience)

The process of expressing ourselves is expansive. It promotes growth because YOU ARE GIVING SOMETHING TO THE WORLD – be it new thought, an innovative idea, a powerful message or tested strategy.

Self-expression is happening regardless of whether or not everyone likes you, because it is what you unshakably believe. It is what you stand for.

Simon Sinek is a great example of this. He simply tells people what he believes and welcomes others to join in. There is no strain of a sales pitch or manipulation of clever marketing – it’s straight-up “I stand for this, and you are welcome to join me in this movement.” If you want to feel inspired everyday, feel safe at work and come home fulfilled, then you join in with him.

If you could fearlessly express one belief, what would it be? What personal truths have emerged from your unique composite of experiences? What universal truths (values) do you feel most passionate about? Express your unique voice through the medium of your choice (blog, video, speech, etc) and shape your message by merging story with strategy (the most powerful form of self-expression).

How does self-expression differ from seeking acceptance?

Seeking acceptance is about asking the world: “Here’s who I am…do you like me?”

The process of seeking acceptance is restrictive. It impedes growth because YOU ARE ASKING SOMETHING OF THE WORLD in order to proceed.

When we seek acceptance, the full expression of our voice and our contribution become contingent upon what others think. The feeling is one of proceeding with trepidation, only moving forward and standing for something if ______________ (fill in the blank). Contingency and contribution are not mutually supportive.

Brené Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, speaks to this point very well. She says, “Don’t walk through the world looking for evidence that you don’t belong, because you will find it. Don’t walk through the world looking for evidence that you’re not enough, because you’ll always find it. Our worth and belonging are not negotiated with other people, we carry them inside our hearts.”

Our fullest expression of personal and universal truths, beliefs and values should never be contingent upon what everyone thinks of you. It’s an outward expression, not an inner need. In its greatest form, self-expression is confident, yet humble.

Take the time to find and feel your worth – the unique value (gifts, passion, knowledge and perspective) that you have to offer to help move the world forward. When you find it, share it, because the world needs your unique contribution and perspective.

Pleasing people and seeking acceptance or validation is not the equivalent of being in service. It is self-serving, and such need-driven communication diminishes your potential impact. In fact, it diminishes your potential, period.

Understand and accept that not everyone is going to love you, and that’s okay. Know that there is an abundance of people available to love (and work with) you. Those who confidently self-express understand abundance and know there is an audience for everyone.

Your unique voice and value has an intended space, and you will discover that market only by sharing your beliefs with the world. What matters is that your expression is conducted in a context of respect and support (for yourself and for those you serve), with an intention of bettering our world. The intention is growth.

It is our duty to go forth and share what we are intended to share.

So long as our expression is done in a context of respect, and with an intention of bettering our world, it is our duty to go forth and share.

When you share your voice from a place of wanting to maximize your business platform and life fulfillment through contribution, it is service, expansive service. You care deeply about those who choose to come on board your mission with you.

Along the journey, you’ll add dimension to your message and ideas by taking into account how those who are on board (and those who aren’t yet on board) see you and are using your message. You’ll use their input to better your mission. This progressive process is very different than the restrictive nature of seeking acceptance, because it works to expand and deepen your offering.

If you feel hesitancy or the need for acceptance when you begin, focus on those who are fully on board with your mission. Over time, you will naturally worry less about those who choose not to come on board (i.e. you don’t dwell on what they think). The forward drive to continue sharing your message, thought or idea to the scale or depth that you envision only happens when you focus your energy and attention on those who are on board with you. You focus on self-expression and service, and you know that the direction of your focus is always a choice.

Fully self-expressing won’t always be easy. There will be critics…though is it not worth it to take the chance and feel the freedom of sharing the truths, values or beliefs that are passionately burning inside of you?

Brené Brown also speaks to this point beautifully when she says, “It’s so scary to show up. It feels dangerous to be seen. It’s terrifying…though it’s not as scary, dangerous or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and thinking ‘what if I would have show up? What would have been different?’”

To summarize, self-expression is about “how can I do good for the world” or “how can I share who I am to help make the world better,” and not the “how can I get the world to love me” intention of seeking acceptance.

When you use self-expressing as service, you aren’t looking to be validated or get anything in return. You understand that when you give from a place that is true to who you are, what you stand for, and what you’ve learned (from your experiences) to now share with others, there will be plenty of work that comes to you because you are operating from this pace of expansive self-expression.


  • Joscelyn Duffy

    Thought Leadership Brand Strategist, Ghostwriter & CEO, The Maven Agency

    The Maven Agency, Joscelyn Duffy International Inc.

    Joscelyn Duffy is the CEO of Joscelyn Duffy International Inc., Founder of The Maven Agency (The-Maven.com), ghostwriter behind 21 books, and a sought-out communication veteran known for helping emerging and established thought leaders bring their knowledge-based businesses and world-changing visions to life. She is a contributor to Psychology Today and has been featured on international publications and podcasts, such as Entrepreneur and Thrive Global.   Dubbed the “Voice Finder” and “Message Maven,” Joscelyn has supported Fortune 500 companies, serial entrepreneurs, global teachers, coaches, authors and speakers in 6 countries. She and her team have created business strategy, innovative brands, and world-class books for everyone from NY Times best-selling authors to world-renowned leaders like Brendon Burchard and Sonia Choquette. Her work has landed clients 7-figure revenues and features on platforms such as ABC, NBC, Fox and Entrepreneur.
      You can connect with her at joscelynduffy.com