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In today’s world, there seems to be competition everywhere. Competition to get into schools, to get into companies, to get ahead in companies… One friend of mine was talking recently about competition between non-profits for the charity dollar! And when you think about it, it makes a certain sense that we are all competing to get the best for ourselves and our families. We want to succeed and make the most of our lives.

This situation of constant pressure isn’t always fun or pleasant, but it does bring into focus the need for clarity — clarity about what it is that makes us special. What makes us stand out from the competition. And some aspects of competition can be positive, because they can ask us to strive to reach higher, loftier goals and be ambitious about what we’d like to achieve.

Big Brands have long known that a strong, differentiated brand is required to compete in the wider marketplace. Since John Pemberton first invented Coca Cola and found ways to talk about its unique properties to pharmacists in Atlanta, Brands have been looking for those rare attributes that can catch our attention as consumers. Companies spend millions to share and communicate those features to us. And it works. We buy Brands that are strong, unique and special. We buy Apple, and Coke, and Amazon. We buy into the ideals of these brands, because they stand for something special, and we identify with them.

“But I’m a PERSON, dang it! Not a brand!”

True! We aren’t products, sitting on a shelf and requiring broadcast channels or loud labels to tell our stories. We are complex, beautiful, messy, constantly learning, sometimes conflicted, and imperfect people. And that fact frees us to be even more deliberate as we think about our personal brand, because we not only have to know it, and be able to describe it, but actually LIVE IT as well. The things that differentiate us are also things that we form relationships with in those around us. And as we live, we create stories about ourselves that show ourselves uniquely. If you wrote down all the stories that have happened to you in your life, you’d start to get a clear picture about what is at the heart of this Brand you carry with you. Because it forms the heart of how you interact with the world.

That’s why your personal brand has to be authentic to you. Not a whitewash of what you think you should be about, but a concise statement of who you really are, and how you connect with the wider world. Figuring out your brand isn’t about being perfect. It shouldn’t be a mask, or something that hides the real you. It’s about knowing yourself, and being able to offer that to others. And I use the word ‘offer’ on purpose, because we don’t have to be reductive about what it means to be human, and the idea of all this competition driving us doesn’t have to be “zero sum” and heartless — we can cooperate, and be helpful to each other.  As a matter of fact, I think it’s critical that we are helpful.

Because in our world we depend on each other. And to get things done, we have to make judgements about the people around us. We have to choose who to put on our teams, and in our companies, and up the corporate ladder based upon what special qualities we think they have to bring success to our endeavors. To make these and other decisions, we look for special qualities in people like: Mary has great leadership skills, Joe has spectacularly sound judgement, Matt is caring, Daniel is considerate, Laura has great foresight, Michael offers a critical eye — I could go on and on. These qualities are the essence of a personal brand. Your personal brand is all about how you fit in and offer something special for others.

In today’s world, managing your own unique, personal brand is more important than ever. In order to reach your goals, you need clarity about who you are, and about what makes you special. It’s important both for yourself, and for those around you who depend on you and what your personal brand can offer.


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