In part one, I wrote about how “just being yourself” is a myth that I believed. In this article, I’ll share how I uncovered deeper meaning behind “just be yourself” and how to translate that into a personal brand.
YOU SHOULD CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK
Seeing myself through the lens of others is new for me. For too long, I was proud to not care what others thought of me. I was today years old, as I write this, when I realize I actually care a lot AND think it’s a good thing.
In 2018, I attended a series of presentations on personal branding, hosted by my job. My department brought in Carol Blymire, Communications and Personal Branding Consultant. During these sessions, my colleagues and I learned about perception and how to identify our brands at work through exercises that focused on values, intentions and authenticity.
I won’t give away the content because her sessions were thought-provoking and quite eye-opening. However, I will share some key things that I learned or more accurately, confirmed about myself.
Session attendees completed multiple worksheets and prompts to uncover elements that inform a personal brand. During an exercise that instructed me to list 20 people I admire, real or fictional, I was struggling by 15. I only listed two men, one of whom was Barack Obama and I crossed out his name and put The Obamas. This showed me two things. First, I don’t admire many people. Only four of them were people I actually know lol. Second, women clearly impress and influence me more than men. Bonus, everyone on my list was Black, except two people, but I’m not digging into that today.
Using this list, we were asked to further indicate why we chose each person and then observe trends in the responses.
I listed mothers in my life, my own, my best friend’s, my manager, and associated them with strength, excellence and poise. I listed several entrepreneurs and creatives and associated them with leadership, risk-taking and resilience. Finally, I listed a few celebrities and TV show characters like Beyonce, Rihanna, Beth Pearson, Charlie Bordelon-West and yes- NeNe Leakes. For them, I admired their unapologetic attitudes, authenticity, and work ethics.
This single exercise revealed my personal values to me in the clearest way. The second most impactful exercise was a brand assignment that required us to send out a set of questions to people we know, get the responses back and again, observe the trends. Disclaimer: one of my respondents recommended sending the questions in a way that would allow people to respond anonymously so that they would feel comfortable being honest. I actually agree with this because I received majority favorable responses. That wasn’t surprising but I would be curious to see if people responded differently if it were anonymous. Anyway, a lot of people did not respond, mainly my coworkers, but those who did were very thoughtful in their answers and if you’re reading this, thanks and I appreciate you!
From 10 people, a mix of men and women, some coworkers, friends, exes, etc., people associated the following words with me:
- Passionate (multiple times)
- Bold/daring (multiple times)
- Unorthodox/original/out-of-the-box (multiple times)
Multiple respondents identified that I care about women, children and my community and that I’m interested in personal growth, writing, making connections with people and maintaining those relationships. It was almost unanimous that my one of my personal barriers is time-management, in addition to prioritizing, patience, focus and overthinking. I think the respondents know me pretty well. Sometimes, it’s hard to think about myself and the impression I have on people, but hearing from others confirmed some things I am proud of and others that I could definitely improve. Overall, I don’t disagree with a lot of the feedback.
WHO ARE YOU REALLY?
These responses translate to my brand. This is not the brand I decided to market. This is me. This is how people see me. My respondents listed many qualities that I value, some that even align with what I admire about other people. Now that I have a clearer sense of my output, I can better manage my brand. I am cognizant of how I am being perceived and can better understand why people relate to me or don’t.
I learned in a graduate course that companies and organizations establish their mission, values and guiding principles to remind employees of what is important and what is expected of them as members of their community. Identifying your brand and your values can serve as a personal set of guiding principles. When faced with a dilemma at work or in a relationship, think about what makes sense for you. Your coworker’s suggestion or your friend’s advice may not be aligned with your brand.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do my actions fit my brand?
- Am I doing this because it is what makes sense and feels right to me?
- Does this decision reflect the person I am?
Think about some ways to measure your brand. Look up some personal brand exercises or message me and I’ll send you the questions I used. Do some research and see what people really think. Maybe a Google form survey instead of an email will be more conducive to getting honest answers. After reviewing the responses, ask:
- How close is the feedback to what you know about yourself?
- Did you learn anything new?
- How does this information inform how you maintain your brand moving forward?
BE AWARE OF HOW YOU PRESENT IN DIFFERENT SETTINGS
My next steps involve transferring my personal brand in a work environment. I have no plans to leave my job in the near future because I feel like it’s a great fit for what I want to do and where I see myself growing. I want my colleagues to know me as a professional, but also get a sense of the real person that I am. Sometimes that person is inappropriate or petty, so I have to swallow my words and settle for an inconspicuous facial expression. I don’t need those elements to be associated with my brand among my colleagues. It doesn’t mean I’m being fake but I prefer to make positive impressions on people. One day, I’ll reach a level in my career where I can be my total self and it will be embraced or at least tolerated because of my value to that organization. I want to switch from being the person that holds back to accommodate others’ comfort to being the person whose comforts are accommodated, like several of my senior-level colleagues. My friends understand how crazy I can be and that’s more than enough for me to feel like myself.
Every day, I work to position myself as the person I want to be without deviating from the person I actually am. It can be challenging. I want to say “no” to some people and their requests, but I feel obligated to relatives and close friends. I want to scream in frustration at work some days. I want to quit caring about unfavorable situations from the past that still bother me. It takes self-care and intentional management of your personal brand to do what you can until you can do what you want. Next time I hear “just be yourself”, I’ll respond, “I’m working on it.”
What are three words that describe your personal brand?
Charlia is dedicated to helping others overcome various forms of social isolation through community-building programs and efforts. She currently works as a Project Manager in AARP’s Public Policy Institute, focusing on the development of resources and programs to empower family caregivers in multicultural populations. She is obsessed with understanding identity to promote effective communication that will lead to compassion and healthy relationships – the key to establishing emotional intelligence. Outside of work, Charlia spends time with her daughter Jayce, pet chiweenie Desmond, and as a Girl Scout Troop Leader for two troops in Washington, DC.