The Internet is chock full of advice about how to develop and promote your personal brand.
The first step is usually pretty straightforward: you tell people what you do (or aspire to do) professionally. This is often followed by sharing interesting tidbits about yourself that establish you as an authentic, approachable, interesting human with whom other humans might want to interact.
It’s often that second part of your brand people glom onto the most. For many, those interesting tidbits —your Myers Briggs score, your fondness for kitten videos, your passion for chicken farming, your hatred of grammatical errors—are the things people remember about you the most. Over time, those tidbits can even become the deciding factor in whether your personal brand is memorable (and maybe even successful) or not.
That isn’t always a good thing.
Most of us create and embody personal brands that reflect our real lives, (or we live lives that reflect the brands we’ve created for ourselves). Problems can arise when the brand revolves around unsustainable or unhealthy behaviors or forces us to be a specific kind of person all of the time. When that happens, it can cause a disconnect between our public life and our private one that can potentially destroy both. For example…
- The person who promotes that they have a personal passion for drinking premium scotch, so people start giving it to them as gifts, buying glasses of it for them at dinners, and forwarding all of the fun news they can find about it …until the day comes when that person realizes scotch isn’t just a cool thing they like, it’s become something they need because they are an alcoholic.
- The person who is a ray of sunshine, always posting positive quotes on Facebook, always offering a shoulder for friends in crisis to cry on, always projecting an image that they are adept at persevering through any hardship… who finds themselves in a deep depression, struggling to ask for help (or asking for help and being told, “You’re a positive person. I’m sure you’ll snap out of it soon.”)
- The person who likes to tout their personal motto of always giving 110%. They post pictures of themselves working on the weekends and on vacation, they take on huge projects and continually post about how swamped they are, they respond to emails in the middle of night, (which only leads to more emails in the middle of the night)… who eventually has a heart attack, a rude wake-up call informing them that they have been sacrificing their health in order to maintain the illusion of success.
I’m not saying any of these personal brand choices automatically lead to these kind of negative results. Not every person whose brand identity revolves around loving scotch becomes an alcoholic. However many alcoholics will celebrate their love of scotch (or vodka, beer, wine, etc.) as part of their brand identity. It’s not unusual for people who have personal demons to inadvertently create brands with those demons firmly entrenched in their center.
The problem is, as we learned from the recent example of the Instagram account for Louise Delage, those of us on the outside looking in don’t always see these branding choices as potentially dangerous. We simply see them as fun, cool and quirky tidbits. This can make it hard for the person who has saddled themselves with an unhealthy brand to make changes. Now their Achilles’ Heel is the one thing people remember about them most. How do they walk away from that?
If your brand is unhealthy for you, I suspect on some level you already know it (or you’ve noticed that “keeping up appearances” in person or on social media is taking an emotional or physical toll on you.) Whenever there is a disconnect between who we really are and who we market ourselves to be, it causes stress.
If you’re not sure, ask people in your network to describe what they see from the outside. Aside from your job title, what is their perception of who you are? Then, ask yourself two questions…
- Is that who I want to be?
- Is this way of being sustainable and healthy for me?
If the answer is “no,” start making some small changes. You don’t need to transform your brand overnight, but you can start talking/posting/sharing less information about the things that are causing stress and harm in your life and more about new, healthier habits you’d like to introduce in their place.
If you’re at the beginning of your career and in the midst of building your personal brand, this task is even easier. When it comes time to write that bio or create that personal website, opt to share more neutral quirks and tidbits about yourself. For example, Seth Godin is known for his mismatched socks, Ann Handley for her glasses, and Joe Pulizzi for the color orange. All of those things are unlikely to destroy lives.
Just remember, your brand-worthy quirks are not YOU. They are affectations which market you. The YOU inside is still the same whether you like kitten videos or not, whether you drink alcohol or not. THAT is the part of your brand people will connect with the most.