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  • [BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] Rethinking Personal Branding
[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] Rethinking Personal Branding
Written by
Jill Jepson
October 2015
Written by
Jill Jepson
October 2015

The word “brand” came up in my life recently—again. “You need to think about branding yourself,” a well-meaning acquaintance said. “All writers must develop their personal brands.” I’ve heard similar advice hundreds of times.

I’ve never been comfortable with the notion of personal branding. It's always seemed like advertising terminology run amok to me.This conversation didn’t help. When I mumbled that I didn’t like thinking of myself as a brand, my acquaintance was adamant. “You have to brand yourself,” she replied. “It’s the only way to put yourself out there.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my training as an anthropological linguist, it’s this: The moment you tell yourself there is only one way to think about something, that’s the only way you’ll think about it. Limiting yourself to a specific phrase, notion, or model eliminates a universe of possibilities. So, rather than convincing me to focus on my brand, these words encouraged me to find other ways to think.

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There are several things I don’t like about branding.

For one, it’s more about image than reality. BusinessDictionary.com defines it as “The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme.” AudienceBloom CEO Jason Demers writes, “It's the culmination of your company's identity, packaged and presented in a way that's pleasing, familiar, and attractive…”  In other words, it’s about what a thing appears to be, rather than what it is.

Second, branding aims at getting people to think a certain way. Branding came about when “Marketers realized that they could create a specific perception in customers’ minds,” writes Jerry McLaughlin on Forbes.com. I don’t like the idea of meddling in other people’s minds or molding the way they think. I’d rather just be who I am and do what I do.

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Instead of asking how to brand myself, I ask three questions to help me understand what I am doing and how I want it to be seen. These questions don’t come from the corporate world. They arise from my experience as a writer, teacher, and coach. They are: What am I giving? To what am I bearing witness? For what am I holding space?

What am I giving?

Writers write because we have something to offer the world. One of my core questions is: What is my offering? Why is it important? Am I truly providing what I think I’m providing? The answers to these questions are at the heart of how I think about my work. They aren’t about creating perceptions—they are about offering the world something.

To what am I bearing witness?

In Writing as a Sacred Path, I explore writing as keeping history and safeguarding human knowledge. F. Scott Fitzgerald called writers “part of the consciousness of our race.” We bear witness to the experience of Being, to what it means to be alive on the Earth.

A crucial question for me is whether I am fulfilling that sacred duty. Am I truly bearing witness? If so, to what? How can I be a better witness for the beings with whom I share the planet?

For what am I holding space?

The notion of holding space has blossomed in work on care giving in recent years. It is important in writing as well.

As teacher and author Heather Plett puts it, holding space means being “willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.” When we hold space, we allow situations to unfold, remain fully present in the moment, and allow others to be who they are. 

Asking myself whether I’m holding space means noticing the judgments, assumptions, and expectations that limit myself and others. It means making sure I’m truly open and accepting. Holding space enables me to embrace the totality of what is happening in the world, which is essential in both my life and my writing.

Marketing experts may not approve, but I find that my “Three Questions” technique offers me a wider, deeper, and more complete picture of my roll in the world than the notion of branding. When I answer my three questions with thought and candor, I no longer have to worry about my “personal brand,” because who I am and the work I do come through in my every action and word.

What do you think about branding? Are there questions you can ask yourself that are more powerful than creating a brand?

Jill Jepson is the author of Writing as a Sacred Path.

Photo credit: © Stevanovicigor | Dreamstime.com - Portrait Of Beautiful Woman Questioning Photo

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