I really don’t like this term “personal brand.”  I find it de-humanizing.  Companies need brands. But individuals? It implies a sort of crafting and maintenance of how we are presenting ourselves that makes me tired.  You know that friend who has a constant stream of smiling, adventure filled Instagram pictures who in reality complains to you about their boredom and discontent? This represents the worst case version of creating a personal brand. As an exacerbation of the distance between who we are and who we are selling to the world.

I know my cringy-ness around this term is not unique because I regularly watch people’s faces wilt at the mention of their personal brand. Or they mention their need to craft their “personal brand” with resignation while making air quotes with their fingers.

A quick google search of personal branding will turn up 24 pages of offers to help define and maintain you or your company’s brand. Indeed the fact that we are, or can be, or perhaps even should be an on-line presence creates a need to be deliberate and clear about what will be found there. For performers, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, most companies, there’s no way around it. A clear and specific on-line presence is required. But for most individuals, we can take all this maintenance and crafting down several notches.

In most settings, managing a personal brand entails discovering and digging into what we bring to the table; to what we can do that will create the most value for others and the most fulfilment for ourselves.  It’s the work of actively defining and seeking out what’s important to us and what we are good at. Our brand is crystalized through discovering what differentiates us from our peers, how we can lean into those strengths and make them visible to others. Managing our brand means being aware of the multitude of areas in which we are creating a perception in others, and recognizing that we have the ability to influence most of those perceptions. Jeff Bezos says that our personal brand is what people say about us when we are not in the room. An awareness of how people perceive and talk about us, as well as a willingness to change our behavior if it’s hurting us, is important. Our ability to get and maintain fulfilling work and relationships depends on this self-awareness.  Managing our personal brand is being deliberate about how we’d like to be perceived at work and what we’d like to be known for.

What do I mean by being deliberate? I talk to a lot of people who have been busy honing skills and acquiring knowledge who wish this could be enough. Often, there has been a period of time, at school or work, in which they have been able to rely on their hard work, discipline, and general good sense to be successful. But they are realizing that to advance their careers, they also have to understand the impressions they are making. They have to think about why people do or don’t want to include them for certain meetings or projects. What unique strengths and qualities do they add to a dynamic? They have to think about what kind of jobs and projects they want more or less of and how to make that known. How can they get people to think of them for the work they want to be doing more of? How can they make sure the right people know what they are working on and achieving? Finding a way to do this that feels natural can be challenging, but being able to make it known to the right people where you are succeeding and what value you offer is key to effectively managing personal brand.

This is very different than the work of curating quips and images that make people identify, relate to and like you. This work is a discovery process. It’s finding the right balance of brave and humble for you. It’s cultivating awareness and being deliberate about what you are doing and how you are doing it. It’s recognizing where behaviors and patterns are holding you back so you can make adjustments to enable the most effective, authentic version of you. The version that leads you to the kind of work you want to do while being the kind of person you want to be. This is how I would encourage the bulk of us to think about honing our personal brand. It’s rich, productive, fulfilling work.