Personal branding, accountability, and how to just be yourself already

I’ve worked hard over the past two years to change my image. I used to dumb myself down, play my looks up. It was easier that way. I didn’t have to buy any drinks in college, for instance. That was my brand, an image that wasn’t who I was or wanted to be. But it worked, so I kept on.

Until my boyfriend told me I wasn’t interesting enough. Until I came home from a meeting one day, furious for not speaking my mind. Until I had one scary frickin’ visit to the ER. Yeah, those life-threatening events, they’ll get you every time.

I sat down to think about who I really was, proceeded to have a quarter-life crisis, and made some tough decisions. They weren’t decisions that were visible. I didn’t quit my job, or become celibate, or move across the country to pursue reality television. But I did slowly, painfully, change and start to brand myself differently.

Personal branding is your personality, who you are as an individual and “the sum of other brands that you either own, work for or touch in some distinct way.” It’s about being you, and marketing the heck out of it.

You, who is reliably manipulative, can’t make a commitment if your life depended on it, and won’t go to bed until you clear the next level in your video game. You, who is only working until you have a baby, hopefully two, so you can stay at home and take care of your family. You, who works eighty hours a week and must separate your jelly beans into color-respective piles before eating.

Branding is marketing those very gems of your personality. That’s not hard to do. Just be yourself. If you’re acting like someone you’re not, then it will come back to haunt you, like when the infatuation wears off in a relationship, and it is at that moment your girlfriend finds your box of hair-regeneration pills in your underwear drawer. Whoever you are, it’s really hard to change, so you win by just being you from the start.

And sometimes, inevitably, you lose. Like this guy.

Branding is inextricably linked to accountability. If you do a good enough job of marketing yourself a certain way, people will start to believe you. So much so that when you mess up, or step out of your brand, it will make others uncomfortable.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Instead, focus on how you define accountability and your own comfort level with your actions.

Our lives are out in the open for all to see. Who you are at your job is who you are at the bar is who you are at the gym is who you are during sex is who you are at the company picnic is who you are at, well, you get the idea. Politicians do cheat on their wives. CEOs are bad parents. Artists are erratic friends. So, what? They’re good at their passions, and at the end of the day, we’re all doing the best we can in the circumstances given.

Your image reflects on your company, friends, and family. You, however, need to be accountable to yourself first. If you’re dancing on the tables at the bar, and worried about getting caught, either you have something personally wrong, or you need to find a different job that accepts your lack of inhibition. If your Facebook photos might get you in trouble, take them down, or decide you want to work at a place where they don’t care about that sort of thing.

The lines between work and play are increasingly blurring, and if you’re one person during the day and a different one at night you have to be proud enough to market the heck out of it. If you’re not comfortable, you need to learn more about who you are. You are in control of your brand.

My mother used to tell me, “Remember who you are,” whenever I left the house. People with integrity and confidence don’t worry about “getting caught,” because they know who they are. They know that dancing on tables is acceptable to them, or that their Facebook pictures show another layer of their onion. And if it’s not okay to them, they act accordingly.

In summary, to rock the branding/accountability boat:

1. Know yourself.
2. Be yourself.
3. Love it.
4. Repeat.

By the way, I still enjoy receiving free drinks, because I’ve realized I’m okay with using my looks… Sometimes.

Be yourself, or perish, yo.