I recently lost an opportunity because I didn’t have much of an online “brand” to back up who I was and what I did. This was a first for me, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I understand why many people focus on “personal brand”, but it was always something that made me deeply uncomfortable. There’s something cynical, sterile and corporate about personal branding; it can feel like reducing being a human to an exercise in self-censorship. Let’s face it – nobody is exactly who their website, Twitter or blog makes them out to be; but it is them in some small part.
Another reason it made me uncomfortable is that I prefer to talk to people face-to-face – I’m just better at talking than writing. There’s something scary to me about writing an opinion down and attributing it to myself in a permanent, long-term way. People make mistakes; they grow, they and change — and so do their ideas. It sometimes feels like this growth is so quick, that words I write today won’t be accurate tomorrow – and maybe that’s true.
In a world where zero-hours contracts give rise to “hustle culture”, there’s a hyper-awareness of the importance of personal branding. In this context, I see blogs and websites and social media as a CV extension.
Personal branding is like a living, breathing CV used to signal a particular set of values to the world about ‘Who You Are’ professionally. Lots of other industries have had various signalling mechanisms for hundreds of years, but they were usually limited to academics, gentleman industrialists and businessmen. Now the Internet gives everyone a voice and the “noise and signal” are equally amplified, professional signalling has become essential in getting ahead.
I’m late to the game for sure (I’m in my 30s!). It is time to face that fear, get better at writing and tell the world who I am and what I can do. Expressing my “professional self” should be fun, and I don’t think it necessarily means self-censoring. A public persona will only ever be a small subset of who someone is, but it is still who they are.
It’ll still be who I am.