One of the problems with personal branding is that we tell people that they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We scare people with stories about college students posting inappropriate pictures, employees complaining about their bosses, and search engines remembering everything. Then we tell people that they need to be on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and their own blog if they’re going to have a chance in today’s job market.
And we wonder why people don’t make the most of these tools.
I think the cautionary tales we tell people are interesting. We tell people to remember that search engines have a long memory, so you shouldn’t post complaints about your work or drunken pictures of you at parties. I think that’s focusing on the surface and not the roots. It’s not about keeping rants offline. It’s about getting better at focusing on the good stuff and taking responsibility for shaping your life.
Here’s the difference:
Personal branding tip: Don’t gripe about your work on your blog.
Life tip: Figure out how to make your work better so that you don’t want to gripe all the time. Accept that there will be times when you want to gripe and being frustrated is part of learning. Focus on the positive.
I think people are getting stuck, not because the tools are hard to use, but because people don’t know what to share. We can talk about how personal branding and social networking are great ways to build your reputation and demonstrate your expertise, but many people don’t feel like they’re experts.
I care about this because thanks to connection and opportunity compounding, the gap between the people who get it and the people who don’t get it will get wider and wider unless we do something.
In my case, that something includes demonstrating that you don’t have to be an expert to create value. That you can admit you don’t know something and you want to learn. That you can make mistakes and deal with your weaknesses. That you can build on your strengths and interests, and that the path from mediocre to good is worthwhile. That you don’t have to have a “voice” right away and you don’t have to sound like a polished writer. That you can be human.
When we tell companies to be human, we don’t mean that companies should use toilet humor or lie. We mean the best part of being human – connecting authentically, being real. We should encourage people to be human, too. I don’t want people to think that they need to be these polished and carefully-controlled brands. (Particularly considering we’re telling companies that they don’t control their messages!) I want people to find and share their best – as well as the seeds of what could be great. I want to build a world where people don’t have to worry about the rough, unfinished parts of themselves. I want to build a world where people can learn out in the open if they want to.
I think under-sharing is more of a problem than over-sharing. Yes, it’s a good idea to think before you post, and there are plenty of examples of failure. There’s that occasional exhibitionistic streak—the rebel in us that likes to shock others—that we need to rein in. But the bigger and more interesting challenge is that people don’t know what would be good to share, what other people might find useful.
Sure, thinking about personal brands can help you figure out what you know that other people might find useful. Truth is, practically anything can help someone out there. I’m often surprised by what people pick up from what I do – even little things like the way I use [ ] and [X] and [-] in my weekly review. So there’s a ton of things you can share, and the fun challenge is prioritizing so that you can get more valuable things out first. When you think that way – starting from a position of abundance and opportunity, rather than from a position of fear and anxiety – things get much easier.
So: Stop worrying about personal branding. Focus on what matters. Share. Create value. Don’t worry about whether you’re on all the right social networks and you have a complete profile with lots of recommendations. Start figuring out who you are, what you know and do, why it matters, what you can share, and how you can share it. Don’t worry about whether you look good. Focus on how you can help others. Everything else flows from that.
I left my keys at home this morning. They were hanging on a hook by the door, and I forgot to pick them up on my way out. I realized this after a half-hour bike ride to work–and worse, after saying hi to one of my mentors as he was walking towards the building, which necessitated a quick shuffle and slight embarrassment when I realized that I couldn’t lock up my bike and go inside. Fortunately, he’s an awesome sort of mentor who is likely to see this as one of my growth opportunities rather than incontrovertible proof that I’m permanently scatterbrained.
When I realized I’d left my keys, I started back to the house. Maybe I could get my keys and then come back to the office to get my–oh, wait, I can’t get into the house without my keys. I thought of Plan B: well, I could work from the deck, where there’s an outdoor power outlet and some Internet access. I could stash my bike under the deck if I needed to have lunch, although I could probably get by with just the energy bars and water I had in my bag.
I called W- up and confessed that I’d left my keys. Fortunately, he hadn’t gone all the way to work yet, so he promised to meet me near my building and drop my keys off.
Also fortunately, I brought my netbook, so I could put that waiting time to good use by writing my morning pages instead of fretting. I found a bench at the nearby park, leaned my bicycle against the seat, and squeezed in and started typing.
What can I do to lower the chance of this happening again?
One of the reasons why I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten my keys until now was that I didn’t lock the door behind me. W- was still there when I left, so he saw me off. If I go through the montions of always locking the front door whenever I leave, that will act as a safeguard.
I should also get out of the habit of throwing my keys into the bag, where I can’t immediately verify if I have them. If I clip them onto the handlebars instead, then they’re more visible. So I should get used to the routine of locking the door, then clipping the keys onto my bicycle.
On a related note, I forgot my lock when I dashed to the supermarket the other day. No one stole my bicycle while I was there (hooray!), but it would also be good to make that systematic, too. If I get into the habit of looping my lock around the seatpost or using a bungee cord to secure my lock to the rack, that would make sure that my lock and my bicycle are always together.
Lastly, I used to step through a checklist of my morning routine, which reminded me (among other things) to pack my badge, my keys, and my lunch. I’d stopped doing it because the routine felt, well, routine and easily-remembered, but perhaps that’s precisely when a checklist is needed. So I’ll go back to using that checklist, too.
One of my weaknesses is having these little moments of inattention. This occasionaly gets in my way, so it’s something I need to work on. One way to do that is to work on being more mindful. Another way is to build routines so that my subconscious can get better at telling me when something feels wrong and I need to pay more attention. Sooner or later, I’ll sort this out!
Good thing: I can come up with multiple backup plans quickly. If I do end up locked out and in limbo, I can head home, stash my bicycle, and either work on the deck or walk to the library. Good to know I have options!
Also another good thing: It’s much better to learn this lesson now, rather than in the middle of winter or before a client meeting. =) Always look on the bright side of life!