Updated: Apr 25, 2020
I rarely think about what I’ve accomplished …
I don’t know how to talk about my successes without feeling like I’m bragging …
I never give an opinion about what I know because it makes me feel like an imposter …
If such thoughts are holding you back, it’s time to ask what kind of “brand” are you building for yourself. How do you stand out?
I do get that for many of us, it’s really difficult to put ourselves forward. The very idea of “personal branding” sounds contrived and ego pandering. In some cultures more than others, it’s considered pushy or pretentious to talk about our achievements. For certain, it’s almost vulgar to have to “sell ourselves” that way.
The truth of the matter is that we are selling something of ourselves – every time we go for a job interview, when we chat somebody up for favors, or convince others why our decision is better. We are persuading them to buy into our idea, our skill, our experience, our passion, our trustworthiness and our reputation.
Secretly we know this. Otherwise there wouldn’t be over 400 million results on Google search and more than 1000 listings for books espousing self-branding advice on Amazon.
Don’t Focus on the “Show and Tell”
Part of the difficulty in reconciling the limiting perception we have with what’s necessary is two-fold.
Firstly, most self-branding advice out there is largely about how we should show up, in person or on social media, especially in front of recruiters and hiring managers. It mostly attracts readers seeking better career prospects or selling a service, into creating a dog and pony show. Once the objective is met i.e. new job secured or clients attained, the “branding” activities taper off, sometimes to complete “silence” until the next cycle of need arises. Unwittingly, it is regarded as a promotional mechanism.
Secondly, branding is public by nature. Online career advice easily draws from plenty of highly visible examples for job seekers to copy, emulate and adapt. But once found, what then? We still have to overcome the initial barriers. We still have to feel comfortable and confident to talk about what we’ve accomplished or how we are different in the value we bring.
The work behind this is the aspect of great branding that is easily ignored because it’s invisible and harder to do. It’s also harder to capture in a 500-word blog or short e-book the uniqueness of each individual personality, situation and how they work on their inner self. Ask any company whose brand we admire and they’ll probably attest to investing quite a bit in professional help and time. Striking the right chord is not an overnight feat but a work in progress.
Why then would we expect to invest any less for ourselves – especially when, as humans, we have undeniably more depth than any product or company?
Awakening Our Core Value
Our history, background, influences, culture, beliefs and experience give us layers of complexity that hide our values and what we stand. They drive a reasoning process with decisions and actions that are unique to us. Most of the time, all of this is so meshed up and ingrained in us that we don’t give much thought to them, much less understand their dynamics. Because of that, they require more work to make sense of and to express, in addition to busting any limiting beliefs that cripple our behavior.
So turning such an exercise into a superficial facet of communications and marketing without diving deeper is doing us a disservice as purpose-driven professionals. The process, which I call "awakening our core value" is a conscious and much richer effort in developing a positive mindset, change agency, behavioral adjustment, and brand strategy.
When I work with clients on this, 3 key pillars underline the whole process, which you can try on your own.
1. Re-frame how you think about “strengths” In positive and humanistic psychology, we look to build on the positives, such as our strengths. Sounds simple enough but the drawback of doing this without context is meaningless. Let’s say your strength is in managing multi-million dollar projects. However, you are interested in joining an innovative startup where there is little need for that. If anything, you might be seen as needing huge resources to make things happen when what they want is a creative bootstrapper. In a similar fashion, what you might consider a weakness in certain situations may turn out to be a strength in others. So ask yourself instead, when did you find the most gratification because you saved an impossible situation that created relevant value for your stakeholders? 2. Reconcile your values with that gratification Assess your values with this free and easy test from the Barret Values Centre and do both the exercises. I've found it to be a useful tool to understand what values motivate you in your decisions, and what values you want to live up to in future. Then, based on your findings, go back to those situations where you found the most fulfilment and compare how the value you created or delivered corresponded with your values from the assessment. Be sure not to confuse one with the other. If they do not correspond, there may be a disconnect between what you consider important and what you say is important. For example, if one of your values is caring, but the value you delivered was cost-optimization rather than staff well-being, it’s a red flag to be aware of. This is particularly powerful if you have been asking what your purpose in life is and why you have a strong urge to quit your current cushy job. 3. Practise thinking and writing in story form To own your core value, get used to telling yourself the story of each of these situations. I use a thought writing process that frames the story in terms of Context and Challenge (or difficulty), Alternatives and Action, Relevance and Results – i.e. CCAARR. Context helps identify a pattern of situations for which you’ve shown your best. Challenge talks to how you rose to the occasion despite all odds. Alternatives and Action help understand the reasons behind a particular action. For instance, if you made the tough call of laying off staff, what options did you consider, how did you decide and why. Finally, relevance and results button down the value or impact you created in a qualitative or quantitative manner, from the perspective of your stakeholders.
When you’ve done enough over time, you will not only gain renewed understanding and confidence about your unique worth and purpose, but you would have fine-tuned the way you articulate your value – and with more ease and authenticity. And, you would have learnt skills in telling your brand story better, thanks to practice.
Try it out. Tell me what comes to mind and what difficulties you encountered. If you’d like support in the exercise, let’s discuss your objectives in a free consultation and coaching.