Sell Yourself Short: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
August 1, 2023

The literal meaning of the idiom "sell yourself short" is to sell something for less than its true value. For example, selling a car for $10,000 when it's worth $15,000 means you're selling yourself short. In the figurative sense, it means to underestimate your own abilities or worth. When you sell yourself short, you're not giving yourself the credit you deserve. This can happen in a variety of situations, such as when you're applying for a job, asking for a raise, or trying to make a new friend.

In short:

  • "Sell yourself short" means to undervalue your own abilities or achievements.
  • The phrase advises against underestimating your own potential or skills.

What Does "Sell Yourself Short" Mean?

"Sell yourself short" means you're not giving yourself enough credit. It's like underestimating what you're capable of or not seeing how talented you really are. You might be engaging in activities that don't show off your true skills and dreams. People often use this saying in a cautionary way to tell someone, "Hey, you are more awesome than you think!" It's kind of like a pep talk, encouraging you to be more confident and go after bigger goals.

Let's delve deeper into its meanings and usage:

  • It typically means underestimating your worth or abilities and not recognizing your full potential.
  • You can use this idiom when referring to situations where you or someone else is not acknowledging the full extent of their abilities or is settling for less than they deserve.
  • It is commonly used in conversations about self-esteem, job interviews, and negotiations.
  • Here's an example of how you might use "sell yourself short" in a sentence: "Don't sell yourself short, Mike. You have the skills and experience to apply for that managerial position." In this case, "sell yourself short" means that Mike might not fully acknowledge his qualifications and abilities for the job he's considering.
  • Synonyms for the idiom include "undersell yourself," "underestimate your worth," and "undervalue yourself."

Where Does "Sell Yourself Short" Come From?

The phrase is believed to originate from the 14th Century British English. It originally meant betting or forecasting that the price of something will go down, a term used in stock and other financial markets. This practice is known as "short selling" a stock, i.e., betting against a company. The "short seller" essentially bets that the company's stock will decrease in value.

Historical Example

"Never sell yourself short. Believe in yourself. You may fall down a few times trying to reach your goals, but so what?

- 1001 Ways To Beat The Time Trap by William J. Bond, 1982

10 Examples of "Sell Yourself Short" in Sentences

To give you a clearer idea of when and how to use this idiom, let's take a look at some examples from various scenarios:

  • As a smart cookie, you shouldn't sell yourself short; your intelligence and skills are assets.
  • While carving a niche for yourself, don't sell yourself short; embrace and maximize your uniqueness.
  • You are destined for greatness, and you have no reason to sell yourself short.
  • Despite his achievements, he always sold himself short and underestimated his own talent.
  • Lo and behold, people who never sell themselves short often achieve what they set out to do.
  • She sold herself short by settling for a role that didn't utilize her full range of skills.
  • I believe in you and your abilities; don't sell yourself short by doubting your potential.
  • You're selling yourself short if you think you can't handle this project; you're more capable than you give yourself credit for.
  • I'm rooting for you, so don't sell yourself short; you're more capable than you think.
  • They advised her not to sell herself short and to aim for higher academic goals.

Examples of "Sell Yourself Short" in Pop Culture

The phrase "sell yourself short" frequently appears in pop culture, usually representing the theme of self-worth and self-esteem.

Let's check out some instances:

  • In an episode of "Seinfeld" titled "The Summer of George" (1997). Jerry Seinfeld tells George Costanza, "Don't sell yourself short. You made all those flight arrangements, hotels, buses."
  • "Don't Sell Yourself Short" is an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" directed by René Bonnière.
  • An article on titled "Getting a Job After the Startup Fails" advises, "Don't Sell Yourself Short. Just because the company failed doesn't mean you failed in your role at the company, and that's what you'll need ..."
  • An article on Accent Technologies' website titled "How to Beat the Competition in Sales" suggests, "Remember, as a salesperson, you have the power to make a deal happen – don't sell yourself short."
  • The song "Understatement" by New Found Glory contains the line: "Don't sell yourself short. You'll lose it in the end."
  • In the movie "Caddyshack," the character Ty Webb, played by Chevy Chase, says: "Don't sell yourself short, Judge, you're a tremendous slouch."
  • Omar's song "Don't Sell Yourself Short" is another example.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Sell Yourself Short"

There are various other expressions that convey a similar meaning to "sell yourself short."

Here are some alternatives:

  • Underestimate your worth
  • Not giving yourself enough credit
  • Underrate your capabilities
  • Discount your value
  • Belittle your own abilities
  • Undervalue your potential
  • Downplay your talents
  • Lower your own value
  • Shortchange yourself
  • Underappreciate your skills

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Sell Yourself Short":

  • What does "sell yourself short" mean?

"Sell yourself short" is an idiom that means undervaluing or underestimating oneself, not acknowledging your full potential or worth.

  • How can I use "sell yourself short" in a sentence?

You can use "sell yourself short" when you want to advise someone not to underestimate their capabilities. For instance, "Don't set the price too low; you shouldn't sell yourself short by undervaluing what you have to offer."

  • Where does the idiom originate?

"Sell yourself short" comes from the financial term "short selling". However, when used in everyday language, it is metaphorically applied to situations where a person undervalues their abilities or potential.

  • Can the phrase used professionally and personally?

Yes, "sell yourself short" can be used in both personal and professional situations. It is often used when someone is not acknowledging their worth or potential, regardless of the context.

  • Does it always indicate a lack of self-confidence?

While "sell yourself short" often implies a lack of self-confidence, it can also indicate a lack of self-awareness or a modest, humble nature.

  • Does the idiom describe self-deprecation?

Yes, in many situations, "selling yourself short" can be a form of self-deprecation, where an individual is not recognizing their true worth or abilities.

  • What are the potential consequences of "selling yourself short"?

When someone "sells themselves short", they can miss out on opportunities, fail to achieve their potential, or feel dissatisfaction with their achievements. It can also affect others' perceptions of their competence and abilities.

  • Is "selling yourself short" a common habit?

Yes, many people, consciously or unconsciously, "sell themselves short" due to self-doubt, imposter syndrome, or a desire not to appear arrogant or overconfident.

  • Is there a positive aspect to "selling yourself short"?

While generally seen as negative, selling yourself short can sometimes indicate humility and avoid overconfidence. However, consistent undervaluing of oneself is detrimental to personal growth and self-esteem.

  • Is it a universal concept?

Yes, the concept of underestimating one's worth or abilities, encapsulated in the idiom "sell yourself short", is universally recognized, even if the specific phrase is not used in every language or culture.

Final Thoughts About "Sell Yourself Short"

"Sell yourself short" refers to the act of undervaluing your abilities, accomplishments, or potential. It is a common phrase used to remind people to recognize their full potential and not to underestimate their worth in both personal and professional contexts.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Sell yourself short" signifies the act of underestimating one's worth, abilities, or potential.
  • The phrase is often used in advice or encouragement, urging people not to undervalue their abilities or achievements.
  • While it can indicate a lack of self-confidence, it can also be a sign of humility or a lack of self-awareness.

Recognizing our worth is crucial for personal growth and fulfillment. The idiom "sell yourself short" serves as a reminder to give ourselves credit for our abilities, to acknowledge our worth, and to strive for what we truly deserve.

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