“Don’t compromise yourself, honey. You’re all you’ve got.”
As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with success.
This is not some longing born out of envy or greed but, rather, an innate curiosity: why are some people more successful than others; or why do some people achieve so much more than others, even in, and perhaps fuelled by, tragic, life-changing circumstances?
Of course, I am not the first to explore such mythology.
One of the first ‘self-help’ gurus to plough this furrow was Napoleon Hill in his fascinating and thought-proving book Think and Grow Rich, first published in 1937. However, it was by no means the first book in this genre: you could try reading The Science of Getting Rich (1910) by Wallace D Wattles, The Master Key System (1912) by Charles Haanel or As a Man Thinketh (1902) by James Allen.
I would be doing such eminent writers a disservice if I tried to distil their life’s work in a blog post but the key message is perhaps best summed up by James Allen:
“He conceives of, mentally builds up, an ideal condition of life; the vision of a wider liberty and a larger scope take possession of him; unrest urges him to action, and he utilizes all his spare time and means, small though they are, to the development of his latent powers and resources.”
It seems far too whimsical to suggest that we merely think something and it manifests; but the corollary of this is that too often we self-sabotage by dint of repeated (negative) auto-suggestion:
“I can’t afford to do that.”
“I would love to follow my passion but it is too risky.”
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Perhaps it is a British disease but our rather dour, self-loathing approach to life (sack cloth and ashes) means that very often we dare not to commit to elevated, self-congratulatory language for fear of looking stupid or others talking ill of us.
“What a jerk!”
But, actually, the level of investment of knowledge in this genre doesn’t really give us the right to criticise our American “rose tinted glasses” cousins until we have at least tried our hand at thinking more positively and acting on those thoughts.
Yes, I know that actions speak louder than words but our thoughts precede our actions. But it is in the space between (our) thoughts and actions that most of us struggle with.
You might ask what all this has to do with the ‘idea’ of personal branding?
In short, unless we are living out our life in a way that answers to our true calling (what we think about most of the time – success or otherwise), then we are unlikely to live out a full and meaningful life. And that means changing our thoughts about how we are perceived and overcoming the resistance of change.
For me the whole idea of personal branding can be encapsulated in these few words:
“To become what we truly are.”
Your personal brand should drive your endeavours, whether that is focused on your career or whatever calling you believe will fulfil your potential. For many people they know they have a brand but they don’t think of it as driving forward their work. Many people are living out a personal brand that is perhaps informed, as much, by what other people think – your parents, friends or partner – as who you truly are.
The idea of a personal brand involves coming up with a life plan that is truly congruent with who we are and who we wish to become. It is not about altering the cadence of life, dressing differently, changing your gait or having voice coaching. No it is about aspiring to be the very best of version of you.
How many people do you know who strive every day to live out a life well lived? Too many of us settle for too little and our personal brand is just the outward manifestation of our inward perception.
When it comes to the world of work – something that takes up more of our waking hours than practically everything else – we have resiled from the idea that we might be actively engaged. It seems to be accepted that we are passively engaged or more likely disengaged. But that betrays our innermost feelings. How can you go to work each day contributing an infinitesimally small amount of your talent and feel happy?
Is perception reality? For instance, how many times have you found yourself in a conversation about a colleague where, based on the scantest of information, you come up with an assessment of their character aka their personal brand? The thing is we can’t control what others say about us but we can and should influence how they might think of us, particularly with the on-line tools at our disposal.
Not many of us ever get to find out what people truly think about us but it is important not to be left out in the cold. Like any good corporate brand you shouldn’t leave things to chance. I am not suggesting that you go for ye old focus group, but there is nothing wrong in getting some honest feedback from people on your strengths, opportunities for development and weaknesses.
If you are serious about developing a personal brand then it is important that you align the ‘Who’ [you are] with the ‘What’ [you do and stand for]. Call it congruent action or alignment, but you cannot for any period of time carry on doing something that does not chime with who you are and what you believe in.
I would say it but Brand You works on so many levels.
Just think of some of the most successful people you know. I would wager that very few of them are doing stuff they hate. In fact it would be inconceivable for someone who was putting in 12 hour days, week in, week out, to come home every day and kick the cat and bemoan the lack of fulfilment.
You might think it an alien concept to align professional services with your passion in life – is it really your sine qua non – but that was why I went into law. I wanted to make a difference by helping people. If I thought that my career would be focused on making as much money for the partnership, who were rarely appreciative of the service excellence, then I wouldn’t have entered the world of law.
If you do need to work on your personal brand then you could try Michael Port’s (see Book Yourself Solid) approach. He talks about your personal brand having three component parts:
1. Who and Do What Statement;
2. Why you Do it statement; and
3. Your tagline.
This of course is focused on winning more work but, nevertheless, it gives you a good starting point to understand how a focused personal brand can make all the difference in working with the sort of clients that float your boat.
In addition to the above process it is also important to focus on incremental change. Goal setting is probably the best ‘device’ to move things forward (and doesn’t just apply to Brand You).
As Seth Godin says:
“It’s obvious that goals work and that the only thing holding us back is us.”
In order for goal setting to align with Brand You it is important to include all of the facets of your life and not spend all your time focused on your career. Likewise, if all you do is focus on financial success i.e. I want more clients, then you will quickly find yourself out of whack.
If you haven’t tried goal setting then there is no one right system. But whatever system you use, you have to chose one that enables you to move at a pace that challenges you every day to do better and more (in a smart way) than you did the day before.
It is not a good idea to take on too much.
You might begin with a list that encompasses:
a) What you wish to be;
b) What you wish to have; and
c) What you wish to do.
This exercise, if done properly, is likely to take you at least a week by the time you have cast your net widely, reviewed, added and reconsidered whether what you have written is something you are willing to sweat over for more than a few days.
Once you have got your list, you will then need to think about the areas of your life:
You will often find that you end up with one category bursting at the seams whereas others have very few items. It is not a case of making sure they are evenly balanced but very often it gives you a good idea where your energies are likely to be focused.
Once you have decided on a reasonably well balanced list you then need to work out which ones are higher up the order than others.
This is where you might like to stand back for a while and think of your purpose. In other words some message that you would wish others to refer to when they think of you. It may be as short has “S/he cared” but it must be something that defines your brand in the same way as a vision statement would do for a company’s brand or the way you would describe someone who you admired.
Once you have ironed out the bumps, give yourself a set period (21/90 days are the usual milestones) and go to work each day on hitting the stepping stones that take you in the direction of each of your goals. Make sure that each week you review your progress to ensure you are moving in the right direction. If you start small and focus on one thing at a time, it is far more likely that you will achieve the success that you crave. Bite off too much and you will give up and achieve nothing.
At the end of the day creating a memorable brand is not some sticking plaster exercise. It is something that will help you fulfil your potential, be happier and make the most of the opportunities before you. Like any ‘self help’ programme you cannot expect to crack things in a few days. Neither can you force yourself to do something that is out of alignment with who you are, or wish to become.
If you need support for your endeavours, look around you for a role model. It is not pure chance that they have a strong personal brand. They have gone to work on their lives every day, have developed a vision that chimes with their values and they haven’t got bogged down in the daily weeds. If all you do is end up doing it, doing it, doing it then, don’t be surprised, if, in a few years time, you look back with a sense of frustration at how little progress you have made.
Making the most of your personal brand will leave you feeling energised and self-expressed. Of course, like any process it is not a panacea for all of life’s ups and downs, but it sure beats the hell out of making things up as you go along.