Why do we have this thirst to go out and “make a name” for ourselves? Why does it matter how we present ourselves to the world? Why use a package, a simple wrap-up that’s easy to pick up and retain? Why not just let people figure out WHO and WHAT we are through experience?
Shakespeare once (supposedly) wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Deep, right?
To anyone who has ever come in contact with a rose, smell is a HUGE part of their personal notion of what a rose actually IS. But it’s not EVERYTHING, is it? Ask anyone to fill in the blank for “Roses are _____,” and they’ll undoubtedly respond with “red.” But not ALL roses are red, and not all red flowers are roses. So now we’re back to wondering, what IS a rose?
Then again, if you tell your wife she’s getting a dozen roses for Valentine’s Day, and you bring home red flowers that smell good but are NOT roses? I guarantee you she’ll be disappointed. That’s the thing about branding. When you get it right, no one notices why it’s right. But EVERYONE notices when you get it wrong.
For all intents and purposes, roses are a brand name. Because to most people, roses ARE red. Roses smell sweet. And if you buy a woman roses, you’ve either done something very right or very, very wrong. Enough about roses, though. Let’s talk about YOUR name.
Why your name needs a BRAND to go with it.
To a certain extent, a name tells us what to expect. It doesn’t just tell us WHAT, but WHY. Why go to someone named Doctor Jones when you’re feeling ill, instead of someone like Helen, your neighbor who went to nursing school and did an internship in Africa caring for diseased orphans, who also works at the diner on weekends to raise money for dog shows, where she sometimes wins with her prize poodle, Macy?
Because it’s not just about the name, or the experience, it’s about how you PACKAGE it. It’s about the LABEL.
And when it comes to labels, it’s not about comprehensiveness. It’s about CLARITY and COHERENCY.
Growing up, we’re first taught that labels help us identify things. “A is for Apple,” or “STOP means you look both ways before crossing the street.”
Nowadays, kids are learning a slightly different alphabet. Google the word "apple" and tell me whose logo comes up first. I'll bet it's not a surprise.
Notice anything else? When you look at the logos of successful brands, they all share a certain simplicity. Also, if you look at them very small (thumbnail size), you’ll notice that it’s easy to tell them apart at a glance. Because, as simple as they are, no one logo is exactly like another.
You might not have realized the point of all this yet, but here it is: YOU are also a brand. Your life, your experiences, your personality, every little detail that makes you an asset or a burden to the world around you is operational detail in a corporation of one. Every time you build a relationship with someone, it’s a mini merger. Every time you gain a new skill, that’s a new department in your company. But that doesn’t mean you can just waltz out into the market and start doing whatever it is you do. Because, while you might have everything it takes, you haven’t yet BRANDED yourself.
Think about this:
Apple doesn’t share its developmental schematics with the world at large, until after they’ve been prototyped and perfected.
Amazon didn’t start out by “doing it all.”
And twenty years ago, when I was a kid, nobody knew what a Google was or what you were supposed to do with it. But today Google is now officially in the dictionary as a noun AND a verb.
All of these companies started with a clear, coherent brand. THEN slowly, over time, they grew to let the world see more and more of what they were capable of. But not until they’d first been recognized for doing ONE thing, and doing it very, VERY well.
It’s time to SIMPLIFY. Who ARE you?
Like any important process in life, this one begins with taking a serious, honest look at yourself. Then you’re going to ask yourself some questions.
Starting with the most important one: WHO?
Who are you? (Hint: you only get three words to describe yourself.)
1. What is the ONE word that encompasses the most dominant characteristic of your personality? Take your time. Really think about it. Grab a dictionary if you have to.
Example: I am a calm, rational person who prefers common sense over risky, flashy solutions. I am a PRAGMATIST.
2. Where do you currently stand in the world you want to live in? How long have you been a butcher/baker/candlestick maker? Are you experienced? Eager to learn? Bored because you’ve been doing the same thing for long?
Example: I’ve been a grunt worker for years, but I’m ready to step up and take the wheel. I am PREPARED.
3. What makes you different than any other person/company in your community?
Example: Unlike many of my associates, I know when to fight and when to concede. I am DIPLOMATIC.
Now, condense those answers down and put them together:
Who are you? You are a pragmatic, diplomatic candlestick maker who is prepared to prove yourself in a managerial position.
Boom. Done. Next question: WHY?
1. Why are you doing what you’re doing? (i.e. How did you come to do this?)
I started making candlesticks in college, and found I really enjoyed it. (KEEP IT SHORT.)
2. Why do you like what you’re doing?
I like working with wax, and enjoy the way it can be shaped into anything you could possibly desire that is also made of wax.
3. Why do you want to continue what you’re doing?
I can’t fathom leaving a life of wax. I am far too passionate about it.
Note: This “why” part might seem unimportant, but it’s actually the MOST important part of this whole exercise. Because if the answers to these questions aren’t inspiring to you, then they won’t be inspiring to anyone else. The lesson I’m leaning toward here is that you CAN’T build a brand out of just doing something because you’re being paid to do it. Or because it provides you with the illusion of stability. Nothing is ever truly stable, and security is NOT a mission statement for a happy life. (Unless you’re selling security systems, I suppose, in which case I apologize for my sweeping judgments and please feel free to carry on.)
1. How are you going to do what you do from now on? (This is your #1 goal, for the present time.)
2. How are you going to grow into doing MORE than what you do right now? (Five year plan time, folks.)
3. How do you see yourself impacting the world as a whole, at the end of your life?
Put those three sentences together and you’ve just written the first draft of your personal mission statement.
What is your BRAND NEW mission in life?
Whether we’re talking about your career, your family life, your personal passion, it doesn’t matter. Well, actually it DOES matter. It’s really ALL that matters. And here’s the secret: All of those things are and should be one and the same. There is no more work/life balance. There is only LIFE.
All of these questions apply to EVERY aspect of your life. Which is why your PERSONAL BRAND should also apply to every aspect of YOU. But it doesn’t have to be the other way around.
When you become a brand, you are suddenly the perceived equivalent of a ROSE. You might not always smell sweet, or be red, or come in bouquets of twelve, but that’s what people think, when they think of you.
As the saying goes, “perception is reality.” Reality might be messy, convoluted and always changing, but branding is the opposite.
So let’s simplify your life by creating a brand that you are always 100% clear on. One you feel confident with. A brand of your OWN.
Twice in the last week, I’ve been called a show-off.
This is nothing new for me, but it really ticks me off.
Especially now, with all that’s happening.
Let me tell you why.
Even before I started school, I loved to read. Books were my only friends, for a long time. I was a weird kid.
Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price. These were my heroes.
Although I was arguably a bit young for some of those, no one had ever told me about reading levels. Yet.
So I went to school, and proudly read aloud in my first grade class, without stumbling once.
My teacher called me a show-off, and said I was making the other kids uncomfortable.
I wasn’t allowed to read aloud in that class anymore.
Before high school, I loved math. As Vanilla Ice would say, if there was a problem, yo I’d solve it.
For me, it wasn’t about proficiency, but the thrill of discovery. Back then, like reading a new story, figuring out how numbers worked was like a mystery. I would go from despair to ecstasy in a single moment, every time my brain felt that magical click--wait a minute, I think I’ve got it!
In freshman algebra, there was this girl named Rachel. Everyone called her Britney, though. She was pretty, in that bleach blonde way that was huge in the 90s. Britney--I mean Rachel--her catch phrase was, “I don’t get this.”
“I don’t get this!” she’d cry, as if making an important announcement. Every guy in the room would turn to look, including the teacher. None of them bothered to help her, of course, but they loved to commiserate. "Oh, Rachel. It's not your fault. You're probably not going to ever use this, anyway." Conversely, when I’d answer a question correctly in front of people, or finish my homework early? There it was again. Discomfort. Resistance. Unease. Especially on the part of the boys in the room.
Not long after that, I stopped doing math homework. I’d half-ass my studies, particularly in male taught (and historically, male dominated) subjects like math and science. Eventually, I lost that feeling of challenging myself, of seeking to dominate those thought processes that didn’t come easily to me. Ironically, no one ever corrected me for not trying.
Here’s why I’m especially pissed off about this: I can guarantee I’m not the only girl with a dozen stories like this. How do I know? Because it keeps happening, year after year.
As women, we are told that it’s not okay to be more than good at something, and proud of it. When women excel, we’re told to be humble. Gracious. Don’t publicize the results of all your hard work. Make sure to mention how difficult it was, while you’re at it. Stop “showing off.” Let someone else have a turn. Nobody wants to see you being excellent. It will make them feel uncomfortable.
But why? All my life, I’ve looked up to excellent people--especially women. Especially, especially the ones who made me feel like I was barely trying by comparison. Because, unlike men, our egos aren’t based on a sense that we have to be (or at least appear) to be the best in the room. As women, our self-esteem comes from what we know, deep down, to be true: that we are capable of true greatness. Not just goodness, or better-than-others-ness, but conscious, continuous evolution from the person we used to be.
Sometimes we forget this lesson, or it’s actively un-taught throughout our lives. But women have this unique ability to inspire greatness, merely by striving to be great. Maybe it’s in spite of what they tell us, or maybe it’s because of that. I’m not really sure.
I’d rather be the person who makes someone want to try harder and be better. I would rather NOT be the person someone else looks at to say “well, at least she can’t do it, either.” Call me a “show-off” if you want.
You’re not qualified for that job.
Well, neither is he. And look--he applied, and got it, anyway.
You shouldn’t brag.
What is “bragging,” exactly, if not just saying true things which happen to also be accomplishments?
(Also, have you ever noticed that “bragging” tends to be considered bad for girls, but normal for boys?)
Girls should be ladylike.
Spoiler alert: You can do anything, as a lady, and guess what--it’s ladylike.
Nobody likes a show-off.
Actually, I do.
Writer. Agent. Lover of wine and smelly cheeses. Solver of problems. Drinker of coffee. Champion of real life HEAs.