Have you hated some vegetable all your life till one day, like a lightbulb being switched on, you start liking it for some inexplicable reason?
It happened to me. I have hated capsicum all my life. Or, I thought I hated it, most probably because I may have tried it when I was much younger and formed an opinion in my head that I do not like it.
Till one day, in 2018, in Valparai’s wonderful Sinna Dorai estate (where we were, for a vacation; and it is the place that I’d like to go for vacation first, once things better), the wonderfully warm caretakers of the place served us, as part of lunch, a salad consisting of fresh vegetables from their own garden – carrots, cucumbers, capsicum, tomato… with salt and pepper sprinkled over them.
As my wife and kids dug in, I couldn’t help being enticed by the incredibly and beautifully green capsicum. So I took a piece and ate it, much to my wife’s shock. And the lightbulb switched on inside my head! I was in love with the crispy texture and a taste that I presumed to have hated all my life (that is 40+ years). From that day onwards, I have sought capsicum in every dish where I previously used to not even touch it. When previously I was blind to the word ‘capsicum’ in menus in restaurants, I was now acutely conscious of it! (I can’t stand raw tomato even today, however.)
What is the point of this? Wait. Read the next story as well.
About 6 months before our daughter was born (when we didn’t know it would be a girl), I decided one day that I do not want to be seen or remembered as a lazy slob for our kids and started to diligently spend at least one hour every day doing some form of exercise. I started with running. And for 10 years, I have been sticking to some kind of running (started with outdoors and then settled for the treadmill in the apartment gym) as a visible (for the kids) exercise every day. This is in the hope that they too would (eventually) feel that a day is not complete till you spend at least one hour for your exercise and seek inspiration for this habit from their father.
I have gone through a lot of indecisions on getting up in the morning, making time for exercise/running over the years, but have managed to stick to this daily habit for a decade now, somehow… with a lot of hacks (like watching my TV shows while running on the treadmill).
In both the cases above, I had a change of heart. In the capsicum story, I was holding on to one notion and refused to consider changing it. One day, I did. The lightbulb switching-on moment. And then went on to include it as part of my eating habits.
In the second, I consciously decided on something – the lightbulb switching-on moment but went on to make it conducive for me to persist and make it a habit.
Deciding to take charge of your personal brand is a lot like that too.
You may think – “why bother? There are people I know, they know me. I have my network. They know what I’m good at. That should be adequate. Plus, I cringe talking about myself in the name of personal branding. Heck, I have made fun of people who do that online… so I can’t start doing it now myself. And anyway, how much can I talk about myself?“
This is a perfectly valid set of thoughts. Just that they are born out of incomplete information and a misguided sense of what personal branding entails, particularly in the digital space.
Much like daily exercise, it also involves genuine effort. To read 10X more than you form opinions is the equivalent of eating-right in physical health. If you are not clued in on your space/sector/industry, your ability to form cogent and meaningful opinions will also be stunted. And this sector-specific awareness doesn’t happen by coincidence or serendipity – from your random LinkedIn or Twitter scrolling ‘when you get some free time’ or stumbling on an HBR article some random day.
This awareness is built by creating a habit. By forming habits of content consumption, day after day, week after week. The more diligently you read, even without saying anything online, the more you expand your worldview and form opinions that mean something, first to you, and then to an audience.
And that audience is the direct result of your personal brand. That audience is the one that would connect you to opportunities. No, not at a time when you want it, but at a time when you least expect it. Personal branding is not a performance marketing activity – you spend X and expect Y as a result. It is not even ‘marketing’. It is, instead, a brand-building activity.
When you get into the groove of personal branding, you start looking at the world around you from that lens. This is not very different from how it works for certain professions.
For instance, a professional photographer looks at everything around her from the camera lens perspective. Everything is a frame and a wonder, ‘How can I capture that?’.
A painter looks at everything from a painting’s perspective – how can I paint that?
A film reviewer looks at movies from the perspective of sentences even while watching it. Words, phrases and sentences start to form in her mind even as she is seeing the film for the first time.
A chartered accountant is acutely more observant about numbers all around her – in news, on TV, in people’s utterances etc.
A very easy to relate example – Instagram influencers look at everything around them from the point of view of an Insta post!
Or, stand-up comedians are hyper clued-in to everything they hear because they are always framing funny sentences in their mind by simply observing their surroundings.
If you are a regular office-going person, what frame would you use to look at things around you? This is the first question in personal branding. You find your brand’s crux. What do you want to be known for that is not just your employment status or your company name? Why would you choose that particular theme/topic (whichever you choose)? What would that choice lead you to, or help you in?
And once you arrive at something, how equipped are you to be abreast of new updates on those subjects?
This is personal branding! And not ‘talking about myself’.
Think about it. And make that lightbulb moment happen.