As we live our days, we get consumed with the monotonous… We have to get ready for work. We might be getting others ready too. We eat breakfast (hopefully). We make it to work. We spend 8 or more hours almost consecutively crossing off tasks on our to-do list. Then we reverse this to make it back home to our family, pets, or Xbox. Throughout all of this is a large series of decisions and actions we’ve accumulated throughout the day. How many times did you stop to ask yourself, “Am I capable of doing this?”
Unless today was the day you were forced to begin something new, chances are you didn’t ask yourself that question even once. You didn’t doubt anything you did, even a little bit. This is because what I’ve described is routine. We do this every day. There’s no reason to question it. This is the circular behavior we all naturally fall into.
When we begin thinking about our own personal branding, it often revolves around things we haven’t yet done, and this can be scary. You begin to question yourself in ways like, “What if I get there and I don’t know what I am doing?” You insert reasonable doubt into your own persona. You haven’t been the CMO before, so why would anyone consider you anyway?
If you think you’re alone, you’re not. Everyone has doubts about themselves. Even the most cocky and confident people doubt what they’re capable of. In fact, from my experience, the more confident a person appears to be, the less confident that person actually feels about themselves. The people we’d classify as “cocky” are actually the worst of the lot.
My first lesson in personal branding came in high school. Before high school, I doubt anyone that knew me would have used my name and popular in the same sentence. When I got to high school, I mentally told myself to change my position in life. Even though “personal branding” probably wasn’t yet a term, I decided that I needed to be perceived differently.
I did this in two easy steps, and I continued to replicate this over and over throughout my career.
- Change Your Name
- Don’t Limit Yourself
Change Your Name (Kind of)
This is a hack because you’ll essentially be changing your state of mind to match the persona you’ll be putting out to the world. After all, you don’t want to be known as a liar, do you?
Okay, well you don’t really need to change your name, but rather you need to change the words that people associate with you. This is no different than a company’s marketing strategy during a pivot.
The first step I took to change my brand in high school was to correct people when they said my name. (If you know me, you know my sense of humor, otherwise, please know that this was completely tongue-in-cheek.) When someone would say my name, “Will,” I’d repeat it back to them, saying “you mean ‘The Mighty Will.’” It was always met with a laugh, but it did exactly what I wanted it to do… People began to associate me with being “mighty.” But it wasn’t the name alone. More on that below…
Now, you can’t go around as an adult asking people to call you “mighty,” but here’s a practical example of where the idea worked.
When I first being using the internet, it was during a time where it wasn’t cool to use your real name online. You were supposed to go by a moniker of some kind. As I joined the largest ASP.Net-based open source CMS community in the world (DNN), I used the moniker “hismightiness.” This is clearly a throwback to the success that I previously mentioned. I spent many hours contributing to this community under that moniker. So much so that I was regularly recognized as a top contributor in the world.
Eventually, I found myself at the founding meeting of a DNN user group. We each introduced ourselves. When we got to me, I mentioned who I was and what I did for the community. Someone that I had never met asked me, “Would you happen to be ‘hismightiness’?” When I confirmed my alter-ego, the entire room opened up in chatter. Comments about how I helped them solve issues and praise were coming from all directions. It was a humbling, flattering, and startling moment all at the same time.
I immediately realized a very important thing… I had somehow become important to the success of these people, and they were almost literally “fans” of what I was doing – yet no one had any clue who I was. Hiding behind a moniker was actually preventing me from finding my own success. I immediately rebranded myself everywhere online to use my real name. This has since led to amazing job opportunities, being an author, and more.
What do you think people think of when they see, hear, or speak of you? Is it what you want it to be, or is it something else? Begin by taking a look at the words you’re putting out there about yourself, and work backwards from there.
If you’re constantly publicly posting silly cat videos or selfies everyday, how does this help your personal brand? What mental images and words will be people use to describe you? What new opportunity will they bring to you based upon that? As a professional, don’t forget that each time you post anything anywhere, you’re spending social currency. Budget wisely.
Don’t Limit Yourself – Do NEW Things
This is a hack because you’ll be going against your natural tendency to do what you know, which will change how you perceive yourself. You’ll be increasing your self-confidence.
In most cultures, we began getting stifled from growth at an early age. Our friends and family will tell us we can’t do something. Even parents are guilty of harming your personal brand at an early age. I once told a nephew whose dream was to play in the NBA that he was too short to do this. He should think about another sport. I’ve regretted that statement ever since.
What if Muggsy Bogues was told that and he listened because he was barely over 5 feet tall? The world would have been robbed of one of the most competitive and successful NBA players in the 80’s and 90’s. Muggsy Bogues was the shortest NBA player in history. Despite all odds, he was determined to overcome the perspective that he couldn’t play professional basketball.
Bruce Lee had everything going against him. He grew up in China. He was Asian at a time when there weren’t really opportunities for anyone but whites. In many ways, with the Korean war still on peoples minds, even African Americans had more opportunities at that time. Again, with the desk stacked against him, he decided to do the unthinkable. He starred in movies and co-starred in a television series. Out of determination to brand himself to be something more, he etched himself into history as being one of the most influential martial artists of all time, but he also paved the way for Asians in film.
There are numerous examples of people that have done amazing things, despite the people around them. People will discount you too – they already do. There’s no need for you to do it too.
Changing the name is the first of two things you need to do to move yourself to the next level. When you decide to change this perception, you also need to follow it up with action.
The actions you take can be minor, but the harder you work at this, the more you’ll get out of it. Doing this is surprisingly less for the people looking at you, and much more for you. By putting yourself out there, you’ve basically challenged yourself to do something you haven’t done before. You’ve forced yourself to be great. You’re living your new persona.
The Lesson: Companies Pivot and So Can You
Instagram wasn’t always known by this name. They were originally Burbn and taking photos was only one of the things it did. When the founders realized that they were missing out on opportunity and could be something greater, they changed their name, followed it up with focusing on photos, and changed how people perceived them. They weren’t the experts in sharing photos at first – they achieved this by positioning their brand to reflect this and followed it up with action. This not only resulted in the success they were looking for, but it also resulted in a $1 billion acquisition by Facebook. The second largest acquisition to date.
This is known in the business world as a pivot. Pivots aren’t reserved only for companies.
When I called myself “The Mighty Will” it would have been nothing but a joke if I left it at that. I had to follow it up. I joined sports teams that I never had experience with before and worked as hard as I could to be the best. I did this in every part of my life that I could. This led to people actually using the name, despite it originally being more of a fluke than anything else. I ended up being the District champion for my wrestling team in my weight class.
When I decided I needed to lose about 50 pounds of weight. I put the words out there. I joined Strava so that everyone could see my progress. Like the moniker, I effectively bullied myself to do better. If I didn’t work out, everyone would know, and it would be a form of self-shame, but for a positive cause. I lost the weight.
When I changed my moniker from “hismightiness” to my actual name, it also led to opportunity. I became a public speaker, was hired by the CMS company that maintains the software I mentioned, and I’ve been a published author twice now.
One of my favorite public speakers is Simon Sinek. He too decided that he wanted to be something different. Simon Sinek’s “Learn Your Why” pivot to becoming a world-renowned TED speaker and author is almost legendary.
When you look at this over time like that, you begin to realize something… Even if you don’t completely change industries, you career isn’t on a linear path. You have to constantly reinvent yourself to stay relevant and marketable in the workforce. Like Bruce Lee would say, “Be like water.”
This article is cross-posted from my personal blog.