I Need a Personal WHAT?!

Personal-BrandDo you remember the first time you heard the phrase ‘personal brand’? If you’re like me, you thought, “That’s gross. I am a human, not a business or a product.” Reading the plethora of related articles in Forbes and being told by the New York Times that I need professional photos instead of selfies turned me off even further.

Well, I have since come around on the concept of personal branding. Like networking, I think the semantics and connotation are negative, but the principle is undeniably positive. I believe that building and maintaining your identity — both the public version that you share with others and the private version that you keep to yourself — is critical, regardless of your aspirations.

So, let’s scrap the expression ‘personal brand’ for a moment, and let’s instead talk about self-awareness and storytelling. Those are at the heart of personal branding, and they are valuable skills for all of us.

When we are self-aware, we not only know deeply what we care about, what gets us out of bed in the morning, and what talents and expertise we have, but we also know how our actions and presence affect the people and environments around us. We can fine-tune our energy when it’s negatively impacting a situation, and we have an internal compass that aids us in decision-making.

And when we are talented storytellers, we can communicate genuinely and compellingly about who we are, what assets we bring to the table, and what we care about. We can help others to know us like we know ourselves, and — yes — to know our ‘brand.’

Here are some tips and exercises for building self-awareness and storytelling proficiency:

Remember. Echoing Green’s Senior Vice President Lara Galinsky ’96 tells us to Start at the Beginning because “your early years are critical to shaping your core values and authentic, untarnished self.” And what are your core values and authentic self? You guessed it — your personal brand.

Reflect. My colleague Rob Rosenthal assigns reflection exercises for his students because he has seen how learning and experiencing are not enough on their own. For maximum growth, we need to look back with a critical eye and ask, “What did I learn? How did that make me feel? What might I have done better?” In practical terms, you can incorporate reflection into all of your personal and professional endeavors. Keep a journal, not just about what you did, but how it influenced you. Schedule a debrief conversation at the end of your student group meetings. And simply give yourself time and mental space to think about things that are in the past — not just things that are happening right at this moment or what you have on your jam-packed schedule in the days ahead.

Pitch. Uh oh, this sounds awfully business-y, right? Well, bear with me for a minute. Pitching is not just what you do on Shark Tank (shout out to Director Ken Fuchs ’83); it’s a multi-purpose method of concisely explaining something and inspiring action from another person. In terms of developing your own self-awareness and storytelling aptitude, the key is being comfortable pitching yourself, not actually doing it.

(Try this exercise. Pretend that you are applying for colleges, except instead of the traditional materials, you only get to submit one thing: a 2-minute video of yourself speaking to the camera. You will be selected not on what makes you exceptional, but what makes you — well — you. In other words, your goal is to leave your viewers feeling like they have known you forever. And don’t worry, you don’t have to show your video to anyone in order for it to be effective. In fact, preparing content, watching yourself, and re-recording until you are satisfied are what will make this exercise most fruitful.)

Once you get in the habit of remembering, reflecting, and pitching, you’ll be surprised by how they help you to learn more about yourself and connect meaningfully with other people. In turn, you will have a stronger sense of who you are and what you want in life — and others will too. So, while Inc. will tell you that a Personal Brand is Not a Dirty Word because it can bring you clients, recognition, and prestige, I’ll tell you that it’s not a dirty word because it will help you to find happiness and have impact.

Not so bad, huh?