In my recent tweeting past I have been reading so much about personal branding and there is much value in what is being said and taught in these forums. Yet, as I read some of this work, I have a strong feeling that something is missing in this discussion. The purpose of this posting is to reflect on what is missing in popular personal branding forums.
Many people have written about personal branding. The credit of spawning the personal branding movement perhaps goes to Tom Peters, who wrote in a famous article in Fast Company in 1997, “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me, Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called 'You.'" Another contributor to this stream is Catherine Kaputa, author of the famous book, “U R a Brand!” and more recently articles like, “Top 10 Ways to Use Your Female Advantage in Business.”
Two speakers that I have been following on this subject in twittersphere are Hubert Rampershad and Dan Schwabel. While there is an overlap in their message, they do have unique personal brands. I love Hubert’s emphasis on authenticity and expressing the inner genius that each of us has. Hubert teaches social media for personal branding, yet his own tweets are repeats promoting his books or his workshops and lack originality and the spark, in my opinion. On the other hand, you have to love Dan for the activity he is generating around his Blogs, videos, and engaging people with social media. Dan speaks to authenticity but his focus, in building a personal brand is slightly different from Hubert's. His definition, “Personal branding is the process of how we market ourselves to others.” speaks to his emphasis on identifying and articulating your “unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal.”
So many tweets and blog posts about personal branding – what is missing in this stream of thoughts and voices? Even though personal branding is about authentic expression of your inner genius, why is the discussion dominated by managing external expression. Even posts dedicated to expressing our “real selves” describe superficial strategies that appear to be a forced attempt at being unique and different. For example, the post, “Break Out of the Social Media Prison,” on Dan’s Personal Branding Blog, is an attempt to get people to be their “real selves.” Let’s look at the author’s suggestions to be our authentic selves:
1) “ONLY leave a comment on a blog IF you completely disagree with the author’s point of view.” So we are talking about being real, but to be “real” we need to comment only when we disagree? What if I agree and love what the person is saying – would I be more real by acknowledging my appreciation or by not commenting so I can be unique?
2) “Go through your Facebook and Twitter profiles, and un-friend/unfollow people who you are not close friends with.” The author find this very liberating and good for him. But does it mean that everyone in order to be “real” needs to follow him? No, we all go to social media sites for different reasons, to learn, to share, to grow, and we can do all that without being “intimate” with each other.
3) “Find a topic in your niche that is HOT. Find one that is very biased towards one side of the argument and write a post arguing for the other side. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with the other point of view, as long as your argument is well thought out, coherent, and makes people want to debate with you. You’ll not only stir up a great conversation online with your post, but you’ll drive more traffic to your blog and gain a new readership.” Notice that the purpose of the post was to bring out the “real” self in readers and we end up with suggestions to increase readership by writing a controversial post that we may not necessarily agree with as long as it is coherent.
I do not mean to pick on this one post, there are ample examples with other leading writers on the subject who I am sure are also writing with good intentions, but I am amazed at the superficiality and even obvious contradictions in these writings. For another example, please also read, “Top 10 Ways to Use Your Female Advantage in Business” by Catehrine Kaputa.
If indeed personal branding is about clear articulation and expression of our unique selves, where is the discussion about the “self”? Who are you? And how do you get to know the real you? How do you go beyond what these Blogs, your parents, society, or anyone has every told you about you? Even if your personal brand is an expression of service and compassion to the world, how do you know that is who you really are or was that also a desirable identity imposed upon you? There are many blog posts, books, and workshops on using social media and technology to create a consistent brand identity, an impressive identity, and all of these things have their place, they are important tools, but what about the “unique you” that is dying to speak but has been thwarted by all the voices of personal branding gurus telling you how to be and what to say?
I meet people everyday who have something very unique to offer not only because of the natural gifts they were born with, but also the unique life experiences that have taught them many valuable lessons. I believe each of us has something very unique to offer but very often that gets hidden under many layers of conditioning, fears, and expectations. If we jump to a well-articulated and coherent expression of our personal brand without internal reflection of who we are, will we not be depriving ourselves of living our highest potential and a truly remarkable life?
There seems to be such a focus on our external worlds and appearances within these discussions. Reaching for our goals, a constant strife to get somewhere other than where we are right now is what we are taught. While goals are important and hard work is also important, after 40 years of an amazing life, which includes an amazing family, challenges, several academic qualifications including PhD, and professional success, I am realizing what is most important is self-awareness. As I have learnt to get more in touch with who I really am and get rid of who I am not, I am finding myself more peaceful and energized. I am learning that my inner world is creating my outer world. As I gain clarity internally I am able to more clearly manifest my external reality, not by doing, of course there is doing involved, but that doing is a natural outcome of who I am. I don’t mean to get philosophical on you but am speaking from a very practical, and even scientific perspective. If you are not familiar with the work of scientists like Bruce Lipton, I encourage you to do so because they are now showing scientifically how our inner worlds are shaping our outer worlds.
Suggestions to find Self and Purpose
Well, I hope to blog more about personal branding from this perspective of authenticity and mindfulness. In the meanwhile, I would like to leave you with some suggestions and invite suggestions from you as well, with respect to the important step in personal branding about finding your self. I understand this is a journey and not a destination. That being said, here are some ideas for your journey of self discovery:
1) Ignore everything I just said and everything else you have ever read about personal branding and listen to your own self – who are you? Not who you want to be, not what you want others to see, but who you are you?
2) I offer some suggestions to tap into your inner purpose in an exercise I have written about elsewhere. You are welcome to try that. Doing all the steps in that exercise should surface themes that are important to you in your life.
3) Devote some time (I like to spend at least 30 minutes) every day to being with your self alone – use this time to connect with your self through breathing, walking mindfully, sitting in nature, or anything else that preferably doesn’t involve much doing, but just being.
4) Devote some time to doing things that you love – could be cooking, dancing, sports, etc.
5) Try to bring some new activities in your life in the form of doing something new, or reading, or traveling to new places, or even doing the same thing but more mindfully this time.
6) Join a group that is built around mindfulness or study of the self. Being in the company of people interested in the topic will open up new doors for you to view the world and your self differently.
7) Non-judgmental acceptance and loving your self – We often hide away parts of our selves that are not perceived to be desirable by some standards. Being mindful of how we feel, listening to our body, and thoughts, without judging, just observing can be a powerful teacher about our selves. Next time you feel angry or have any negative emotion, do not rush to hide it, move to a quiet place and stay with your thoughts, simply observing and see what happens when you become the observer of your own thoughts.
These are some of the things I do to find myself a little more each day so I can express myself in ways that serve my highest purpose in authentic and mindful ways. This is my first post inspired to write about the missing element in our discussions on personal branding and I am sure there will be more thoughts about this in the future...
I would also love to hear what you do to find your authentic self....