Friday, December 10

Being Yourself: An Anti-Personal Branding Introduction

shadow management
The usually adept Jonathan Fields wrote an interesting commentary inspired by a comment made by Paulo Coelho, which had attracted more than 37,000 "likes" in agreement.

Coelho had written "what other people think think of you is none of their business." Fields then contended it might be the opposite. In the real world, Fields says, what other people think IS your business.

The Paradox Of Personal Vs. Public Images.

In his book, Life, Keith Richards mentions that he is entirely aware of the image that is Keith Richards while still remaining true to himself, the real Keith Richards. Think about for a moment.

You don't have to be a rock star, especially online, to appreciate that many people have both. It's the core premise of "personal branding" and "image consulting" that if you look your best and project your greatness, you will attract greatness. The theory is sound and provable anywhere communication (verbal and nonverbal) interconnects — even politicians learn that there is a time to wear a suit and a time to wear a blue shirt, sleeves rolled, and khakis as if to say "I'm not with the suits; I'm one of you."

Working in advertising and communication is one of the best professions to see this stuff play out on a regular basis. People expect account executives to wear suits, creative professionals to be hip and cool (or unaware, almost anti-socail, and reclusive), public relations pros to be in between, and social media types to adopt something in between cool and tech. And, for the most part, many people dress the part.

We don't learn this stuff in college or anything. When you really think about it, we learn it in high school. At a certain age, our peers demand some semblance of sameness in sometimes cruel and unusual ways, reinforced by scads of ugly duckling movies that transform otherwise dismissed boys and girls into beautiful, popular people with a little makeup and a wardrobe change much like Ally Sheedy did in the movie Breakfast Club, despite the underlying anti-stereotype messages. A little bit of sameness can go a long way.

Sure, there is some truth to that. Not everyone can thrive in a lifestyle carved out by someone like Charles Bukowski and be happy. But neither should anyone expect to be happy putting on a mask every day because that is what people expect.

You don't have to wait for the world to catch up; it's really about you, anyway.

I appreciate that Fields says someday the world will catch up and allow people to be whatever they are, but I don't think they have to. There is a different dynamic at work. The world seems more than capable of accepting whoever we might be, as long as we're true to who we are.

It's the very reason someone like Don King can tease their hair up into a crown and make it work while other people would seem too buffoonish. Can you imagine Bill Gates sporting a King hairdo? But that is the point. Gates would look silly because it doesn't fit him as person.

Where personal branding people get it wrong is they often tell people to adopt stylings that reflect what's expected and accepted. Ergo, if you want to fit in, adopt the corporate culture, even if that isn't who you are. Hmmm ... is it any wonder the most extreme cases, musicians and artists and actors, are the most likely to suffer personality snaps and drug addictions?

Coelho is right; Fields only partly so.

Coelho provides some truth in less than 140 characters, but it's not enough to give people some indication of how to do it. It requires several steps, with the most important step being the one step that many people don't know. Be true to yourself.

There are a surprising number of people who don't know who they are, so they struggle with it. (That's okay. I did too, at different times, years ago.) But that is the first step. If you don't know who you are, then chances are nobody else will either.

Where I am sometimes disenchanted by personal branding experts or image consultants is because they seldom consider the first step. Instead, they tell people to imagine some famous fantasy as the end result. Business owners do it too, trying to emulate companies like Apple or JetBlue even if they aren't anywhere close to those companies.

It's one of the reasons we help companies (and sometimes candidates) develop core messages. We help them find out who or what they are, find the differences that make them unique, and then encourage them to stop trying to be vanilla because consumers (or employers) seem to have taste for that flavor. After that, it's a little bit easier.

So unless you're someone whose nature is to go against the grain, you can find ways to be yourself while demonstrating that you can meet the group or corporate culture halfway (a lack of empathy, after all, is a different sort of problem). In other words, embrace and promote your differences while demonstrating that you respect their sameness. It's a much stronger position, and allows you not to care so much what other people think about you.

You might even consider "anti-personal branding" of sorts. It's an awareness that character (who you are) and reputation (what people think you are) are two different things. If you want to succeed, all you need to do is diminish the space between the two.
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