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Posts Tagged ‘authentic’

Three completely unrelated things came together this past week that individually weren’t all that fascinating but together formed a something  I think needs to be given form to.

1. Fear. I was a guest panelist at Greenville’s Switching: Leaving Freelance for the Corporate ladder and vice versa event. My fellow panelists and I shared insights about the pros and cons of working either inside the corporate machine or outside of it. (Really great topic, by the way.) Because many of the folks who attended were in the midst of a transition – some going back into the corporate world and some coming out of it – one of the themes during the event’s discussions was the role that jobs and job titles play in our self worth. Some of that can be pretty negative so we’ll talk about that in Part 2.

2. Bullshit. Discussions about my last 4 posts (The Last Year, R.I.P. Personal Branding, and the last two bits on how to avoid becoming a cog in the social media / marketing bullshit machine) started to sound very similar: There’s what’s real and there’s what’s made-up. We all increasingly feel pressure to keep up with our peers, to put on appearances and to appear more successful and happy and normal than we really are: Everyone’s a best-selling author now. Everyone’s an award-winning expert. Everyone has worked with Fortune 500 companies and major brands. Everyone is launching startups and raising millions of dollars in funding. Right. Except no. A lot of that is just smoke and mirrors. It’s spin. But because so many people are doing it and because it is amplified by the 24/7 onslaught of self promotion, link-bait SEM content and personal branding on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Youtube, Quora, Foursquare, Klout, blogs and five dozen other overlapping platforms, every little bit of spin and bullshit gets amplified to the point where it becomes not only believable but overbearing.

We’ll talk about that and the impact it is having on all of us, on the business world, on politics, right down to the state of the economy. Bullshit affects everything, and never in a good way. Look around. It’s like someone’s open the floodgates. How’s that been working out? If bullshit helped get us in this mess, do you really think more bullshit will help dig us out?

3. Truth.

This: The top 5 regrets people make on their death beds. Read it. (It’s short.)

When it all falls away and there’s no one left to impress, when you would give anything for another few hours of life or maybe a chance to do it all over again, all that will be left to contemplate is the truth. You want a glimpse into those last few hours of your life when you’ll look back and consider what you really spent your life doing? Here is a stripped down version:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made or not made.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. […] All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. […] By creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

When faced [with approaching death] […] it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. […] It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. 

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what  others think of you is a long way from your mind. 

Hat tip to Zsofia Tallai for sharing that link. We’re going to talk about that article as well.

Those three pieces are connected, and this week we’re going to talk about all of that. No ROI discussions. No social business focus. Just this. Because the problems we are dealing with right now, the reasons why the value of social business is still not clear to so many executives and decision-makers (let alone ROI), the reason why world economies are in shambles, the reason why so many people are divided and out of work and stressed out of their minds is this: We’re addicted to both fear and bullshit. We’re stuck in cycles of fear and bullshit. Everywhere we go, it’s there and we can’t escape it, and it’s a serious problem.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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May 2012 finally sound the death knell for all things “personal branding.”

Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.

That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.

Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”

You know what we used to call people with “personal brands” before the term was coined? Fakes. So here is a simple bit of advice for 2012: Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS. You don’t need it.

If you really want to brand something, focus on your business, on your blog, on your product. If your product is you, I hope your name is Lance Armstrong, Tom Cruise or Lady Gaga, because otherwise you aren’t thinking clearly about this. A brand is ultimately an icon. Are you an icon? No. You aren’t. And if you ever become one, you won’t need to worry about building a personal brand.

Have I seen your face  pop up on billboard ads for Nike, Ford or Chanel? Are you on Wheaties boxes? Do you have your own action figure? Do designers call your agent asking if you would wear their clothes to award shows? No? Then you aren’t a product or a brand.

Let’s walk away from the professional navel-gazing industry for a minute recalibrate things just a tad. If what you’re after is improving your image and your odds of being successful in whatever your endeavor is, drop the personal branding nonsense and give these little tips some thought:

1. Talk less, do more. Let your work speak for itself. Michael Jordan didn’t spend all his time trying to build a strong personal brand. He practiced his craft. He trained. He worked his ass off to be the best basketball player he could be. It doesn’t mean you should stop blogging or granting interviews or making videos. It just means that the ratio of doing vs. talking should clearly favor the former over the latter.

2. Be relevant, not just popular. I know Klout is all the rage these days, but nobody gives a shit. No, really. What was Steve Jobs’ Klout score again?

Go solve a problem. Go cure cancer. Go create jobs for people in your community. Go fight against modern day slavery or spousal abuse or childhood homelessness. Go help Nike or Microsoft or the small bakery across the street build or do something remarkable. I guarantee that the closer you get to doing something relevant, the farther your mind will be from the latest popularity metric.

3. Reputation is more important than image. With a little work, anyone can create an online persona that exudes success and brilliance. Anyone. Image is nothing more than marketing. Here’s something you need to know: The people who will actually be in a position to help you in life understand this. You won’t fool them with superficial image design. They don’t care about it and know how to see right through it. Be what you say you are. Build a reputation for yourself. See #1.

4. Speaking of image, find a good tailor. You want to look good in person? Take whatever money you were planning on throwing at personal branding seminars or webinars and spend it on a good tailor instead. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on clothes to look put together. Believe it or not, most of the time, H&M and Target will do just fine. The trick is in getting whatever you buy altered to fit you properly. A good tailor can make a $75 sport coat look like you spent $750 on it, so spend the $25 extra bucks on the alteration. Nobody cares how much you spent on your clothes, but they might care that you have sense enough to know how to wear them like an civilized adult.

What you should have tailored: Pants, dress shirts, jackets. Always. No exception. For men, everything you need to know about this can be found in Esquire’s Big Black Book of Style (usually released twice per year – in the spring and fall).

5. Just be yourself. If I have learned anything from Facebook’s new Timeline feature, it’s this: It’s fun to be yourself. It’s easy to forget that, especially when the “personal branding” industry would have you shift your focus away from the little flaws that make you… well, you. Remember that thing about authenticity and transparency earlier? The more you have of the first, the more you can get away with the second. If you’re an asshole, the solution is simple: either work on that, learn to be a funny asshole, or spend less time on Facebook. If you’re a kind, pleasant, remotely interesting person though, just be that and everything will be okay.

If you’ve ever interviewed applicants for a job or held open auditions, you know the drill: Some people walk into the room and show you only what they want you to see. Others walk into the room and show you something real about themselves. Guess who stands no chance at all of getting a callback. Fakes need not apply. Trust is far too important a thing to gamble away on personal branding schemes. The more honest about who you are around people, the  more they will respond to you. It’s that simple.

The worst thing you can do for your career (and your relationships) is to try and build a personal brand.  It will get in the way of real success, of real connections with people, of real opportunities. It will distract you and divert your focus away from work that matters. It will warp your sense of self worth. It will flip your values upside down until what you care about the most is what you should be caring about the least.

If you really want people to know your name and take notice, go build something. Make something good happen. Create. Invent. Help. Rescue. Solve. Improve. Apply yourself to any of those endeavors and in time, you will earn some measure of respect and even perhaps notoriety or fame. That’s how it works. Jules Verne is known for his stories. Steven Spielberg is known for his films. Richard Branson is known for his success in business. Author. Film maker. Entrepreneur. Compare that to “online personality” or “social media expert.”

So here is wishing “personal branding” safe journeys and a heartfelt farewell in 2012. Thanks for visiting. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

So what are you guys working on this year already? What’s your next project? What will this next 365-day chapter be about for you?

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Oh, I almost forgot: Social Media ROI is now available in German! Check it out.

For the English-language Social Media ROI portal, click here. To buy it directly from Amazon, click here.

For the German edition of Social Media ROI, click here.

I’m kind of psyched about that.

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