Personal Branding

There’s a hyper focus on personal branding, and it’s become especially present on social media sites such as LinkedIn. Career coaches and “experts” tell us left and right that we need to make ourselves into brands. Through this process, we dehumanize our complexities and condense ourselves into masked individuals seeking a clearly-spun outcome.

I expect that personal branding is a thing of the times of social media, and that people will stop cornering themselves in like this once the needs for privacy, authenticity, and interpersonal transparency overcome the need for public showmanship and calculated exposure. In long-winded cases of personal branding, I see many factors that unify the act of personal branding. While individuals try to differentiate themselves to the point of creating their public and online lives as a spectacle, they render themselves undeniably within a specific category of people who seek outer acknowledgement as an entity.

In personal branding, individuals use their names and a carefully manipulated version of who/what they want the public to see. Through this, they build a following based on specific notes that they want to accentuate, leaving out anything they would rather not be part of their personal brand. The thing is, people are not brands. They can advertise themselves under the guise of brands, but in doing so, they limit the range of reach they have. All too often, we see that people remain fixed on singular tones. People are not brands because people are not salable. However, we currently live in a society wherein their talents, endeavors, outputs, and abilities are.

mountains photo by samsommer

The issue is that people aren’t able to distinguish their names on a social media website like LinkedIn, with the person that they are off of it. In this, I mean that people who are very active on social media seem to make a false, and internalized connection between their interactions on there with their in-person interactions. They get offended when others do not abide by their internalized protocols. Social media is dissociative and altogether dependent on arbitrary connections, assumed or blatant tactics of false resourcefulness, and heightening of self importance. With the invention and propagation of the personal brand as it is currently, people come to create more fractions in their already muddled identities. This is especially pertinent as conversations about mental illness, health, ethnicity, and more open up and we liberate some of the deeply engrained, malicious ideas we have held onto for so long.

In personal branding, individuals attempt to sum up the most succinct, regulated, and neutrally-provocative version of what they think will appeal to others.

By this I mean that people adopt a foreign sense of themselves within the terms of what is deemed socially acceptable for their circumstance. Those actively looking for positions at a company turn their personal brands into a tale of unwavering loyalty, displayed results, and minimized self-expression. They pawn themselves off as salable figures to already established cultures and environments that may not be conducive to the individual’s real goals and persona. But through personal branding, the brand trumps the persona. The brand rules and holds the reigns. It does so even if it misrepresents the actual person behind the brand. This incongruence between the two hosts an altogether different set of implications that are not thoroughly discussed here but are worth consideration.

Personal branding is focused on singular aspects, without so much allowing for the intellectual and evolutionary human-level practice of change and alteration. We cast ourselves the roles in this society that we want to play, and we do so by branding our appearances. And these appearances hold presence on social media. The personal branding narrative is fraught with the idea that we need to make ourselves outwardly appealing to an audience. This in turn continues to diminish the growths we have claimed in our society through individual expression and the journey of growth. We have come so far as to tell children that they do not need to worry whether or not others like them, while hopping onto Facebook for a quick rush of approval.

Personal branding has turned us into stale mock-ups that are designed, groomed, and maintained under particular pretense.

Attempting to meld some personality attributes (“hey girlies”,  “Mountain Dew addict”) into personal branding also comes off as sheepishly inhuman or outlandishly irrelevant. Displaying normalized “quirks” on a professional platform is one of the trademarks of personal branding. Another avenue of personal branding is claiming and aiming to satiate a niche group. Blog and news outlets regularly advise that those seeking to make an impact or begin a business must find their niche. This principle lies in antiquated ideas of callings and remaining at your station. We are told to become experts in a singular arena of our choosing, and to ensure that there is a market there for the information we are going to formulate to sell.

mountains photo by Nathan Dumlao

The outcome of so much personal branding is the selling of impotent information. We buy information from personal brands, believing that there is something proprietary, easier, faster, and more effective about the content. But the information we buy often holds little to no more power and pertinence than that which we could have obtained through purchasing a book or doing some independent research.

We are being sold on the idea of personal branding, when many of the existing personal brands take advantage of their sales formulation to repackage otherwise free, cheap, or easily gotten information.

Personal branding is an unfortunate ideology that is clinging on through the turmoils of our existences on social media. We had better come to terms fast with the fact – we are not our social media selves. That self is no closer to our true selves than if we were to make a bobble head figurine in our likeness. Perhaps the reason why personal branding has gotten so popular is the social power that individuals harness through these means. Some people find it rather lucrative to sell the idea of their online selves – oiled, toned, and trim on the beach sells a workout DVD.

Others take too personally the online happenings, getting high off likes and comments. The attention feels good. They claim expertise at the slightest indication that someone has benefitted from something they have posted. Still others claims that their lives have changed as a result of a single post, video, or song. If this is true and that incident has indeed changed their lives, they see it not as part of a series of catalysts that have lead them to make change, but as an isolated moment of reason or encouragement.

We need to begin to see personal branding as a function of hiding. We have come to believe over the past few years that we are safe if we are behind a company, title, monetary worth, or other. And with personal branding, we feel safe behind an outer-facing persona. All criticisms are funneled through this entity, and in this, we can dissociate the criticism from reaching our core selves. Instead, we can calculatedly reposition our personal branding to accommodate for the inadequacies that are proposed by our audiences. We can say that others do not indeed know what we are really like, and the wall of branding can serve as an easy barrier mitigating the  slights of the outside world versus our vulnerabilities.

The Learning Tug

The learning tug is what I call the potent energy that comes with learning something new. With new information, spaces open in time and place. Your barren patio becomes the nest for your newly acquired gardening knowledge. An empty word document becomes the bottomless listener for your story. When I enrolled in a coding bootcamp a few months ago, I had resolved to learn something that was tremendously unfamiliar to me. There was no doubt that I was getting myself into a situation that would demand a lot of my mental energy. I began dreaming in code and set the goal of coding daily. Part of the excitement of code is the same as the excitement of writing. That is, you take a blank slate. If you’re working on a computer for writing or coding, you’re starting off with an empty document. You may begin the project in a similar fashion, but the narrative that you construct is individual to the particular purpose of the exercise.

Learning is not always an intentional act, but when you seek it out, you can find a particularly powerful side effect. Basically, whatever you are learning can apply to something else that is currently residing in your life. For example, coding has made me more passionate about writing. And writing has given me a leg up with coding. I find that I am able to practice constructing my own playground of code in a JavaScript, HTML, or CSS document because I have experience fabricating stories onto word documents. The power in learning is world creation – on and off the computer. The learning tug is what makes you feel alive when you discover something new. It moves you around into the spaces of your mind, and helps you recall your other interests.

mountains photo by Marcus Wright

It is unclear sometimes how particular components of our lives connect, but bringing in fresh knowledge can only strengthen the networks we already have at play. We are not finite beings who only have the capacity to learn so much. Neither are our talents, creativity, and capacity to learn ever depleted. The learning tug is that tremendous strength that we draw from adapting new knowledge to our pre-existing talents. Even if the lines of interconnectedness between knowledge are not completely clear, they are still at work. It does us no harm to continue to learn and expand our knowledge base. Inter-disciplinarian thought and methods of approaching a project point to the strength of diverse knowledge bases. Excelling at a singular talent or industry can only be helped by bringing on seemingly unrelated information and skills.

Curb Your Incompetence

Judgments of incompetence are a dying remnant of hierarchical interpersonal systems that place weight on manipulation and fostered sub-ordinance. Rather than working harmoniously in a cooperative style, incompetence labels encourage viewing individuals based on assumed capability. These judgments forgo admittance of capability to learn, grow, and work in a work, home, team, or other setting. Many people are capable of placing their opinions on the same track as fact. This burden of misattributed source of information makes for complex convergence of misjudgment and outright mishandling of capabilities attribution. In this, it is best to stray from being accountable to our misjudgments, and fail to relay our opinions about those we perceive as incompetent. There is simply no place in interpersonal dealings for clotting opinion of capabilities, especially when there is a task at hand.

When you are asked to curb your incompetence, in this case in a classroom setting, you start to ask yourself some odd questions. What am I doing to indicate that I am incapable of completing a task? On what basis are my classmates judging my capability to learn this material? Or further, what right do my classmates or even teachers have to tell me that a task is too difficult for me to accomplish? The core of learning is in cooperation and not in judging the capabilitiesof the people around you. It is not in diminishing your fellow learners, classmates, and teachers. It is in fostering their ideas and methods, so as to encourage their growth. We cannot underestimate the impact of individuals who set out to learn a completely new skill. Neither can we sink when we receive continuous negative feedback and pushback from someone who we are meant to work in cooperation with.

mountains photo by Seth kane

Dictating someone’s level of incompetence is not a weapon that people should use against another. Nobody has all of the information available so as to be able to come to that conclusion, especially in a classroom setting. Trivializing someone’s ability to contribute can only point out the ego of those diminishing it. Individuals should not have to fight to contribute. They should not have to make themselves lesser in order to appease someone who is all too ready to define them. Incompetence is not the incapabilities of a particular person. It’s the surrounding feedback that an individual receives to make themselves believe in their incapabilities. Whether we receive direct feedback claiming our incompetence or we receive no indication that we are working towards our goals, we can feel defeated and hollowed by the process.

On whatever goal we work on, it is not the duty of others to tell us that we are not good enough and that we are not capable of moving forward. We must remember that those who claim our incompetences reveal much more about themselves than they reveal about us. If someone undervalues or diminishes your capabilities, it is not your job to prove them wrong. Nor is it your job to make them proud of you, show them your abilities so as to convince them differently,  or really begin to question your place.

Implicit Conduct Codes

Implicit conduct codes are often modes of behavior that are deducible through context. They make for smoother interactions and help in determining individual instances of appropriateness. These codes help people entering an unfamiliar situation gain some information about how to act. For example, it is generally understood that libraries are meant to be a place in which people act quietly. Explicitly, visitors can be given this information. However, with minimal effort, it can also be deduced that quietness is the norm by entering the physical space. Humans are capable of making situationally appropriate decisions that will keep them in-line with the environment’s implicit conduct codes. But there are more convoluted instances, and particularly these stem from individuals creating their own implicit conduct codes within interpersonal contexts.

When talking to some individuals, it seems there is a particular manner in which they expect to be spoken to. There is an underlying conduct codes that they want you to pick up on. In his book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, Jon Ronson says during one of his encounters with a religious leader, “I realized that people who were in proximity to Dr. Paisley were required to adhere to a protocol that I had no knowledge nor understanding of.” This confusing attachment of unknown yet implied ruling is seen in social contexts and especially appears in workplaces. These fabrications can only really be expected to be found out by testing the relationship, whether purposefully or not. Their existence can emerge instantaneously and provoke reexamining of the situation.

mountains and water photo by Michael Dam

In an advice-driven article by Liz Ryan called “Ten Ways It Hurts You To Do Your Job Too Well”, an individual relates that he began a new job. It was going well at first, and his manager Angie seemed to approve of his work. Several months into the job, his manager asked him for an inventory report during a meeting. Glenn said “I automated most of that report, so I can get you an updated version every day if you want one.” At once, the manager’s attitude changed and “Angie glared at me like I said something horrible.” Regarding the situation, Liz Ryan says that “It’s a sad fact of life that the corporate and institutional worlds were not made for standout employees.” The outstanding employee threatens the baseline of performance and shakes the confidence of the self-conscious manager. But this principle applies on a larger scale. Those who internalize implicit codes of conduct that others are meant to pick up on miss the tonality of human interaction, regardless of the context.

Tempered, implicit conduct codes are reasonable given that there is enough contextual information to detail the expected behaviors of a participant in an interaction. They are also reasonable when they meet certain threshold of cooperation. For example, you cannot have a reasonable set of implicit conduct codes that require subservience of one participant. Holding onto these codes in itself may well signify that one person views themselves with more importance. That’s in the particular scenario and perhaps beyond. It is not sound to demand, especially without explicit saying it, that some people with which you interact must make themselves smaller in your presence. No amount of power or authority makes it reasonable to formulate these deeply internalized codes. Further, when such people who do formulate these codes are met with an unexpected response, it is not reasonable to measure their appropriateness within the situation. This is because appropriateness can only be measured against explicit and contextually-apparent codes of conduct.

The Ethics of Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting is the act of creating written material that will appear attributed to someone other than the actual author. This method of creating content places value of name over mastery of penmanship. It is inauthentic and misleading. Writing is a deeply personal act. It requires simultaneous orchestration of two persistent thoughts – what to put in and what to leave out. It’s a play of social maneuvering at its most sophisticated. And that may just be part of the reason that people choose to hire ghostwriters instead of do the work themselves.

Writing is highly revelatory of the author. Deeply-ingrained beliefs and insecurities inevitably leak out onto the page. The author may not even be able to perceive the very things he is revealing to his readers. The study of intentions and underlying psychological potency in writing is the dual-speak. In a written selection, there is both the text itself and all of the thoughts of the reader as he perceives the text. Those seeking ghostwriters may seek to mask conveyance of aspects of themselves that they want to hide, much like Dr. Jekyll kept up the appearance of being morally pristine, while relegating his unsightly traits to Mr. Hyde.

mountain photo by Jake Sloop

Ghostwriting is not ethical because the individual receiving the attribution provides an alternative version of himself that does not come from him. Yet he claims the words as his own. Additionally, readers cannot properly determine whether or not the text was indeed ghostwritten. And thus far, it is not a requirement to disclose this. With the amount of ghostwriting jobs available in the freelance community, it’s easy to see that ghostwriting has become a norm. It is not frowned upon, and often the excuse for seeking a ghostwriter is that the individual does not have enough time, or they do not have the natural ability for writing. I have spoken previously about the invalidity of the time argument. As for the propensity of some towards writing better than others, I think this is a fallacy that we wrangle en-masse.

Ghostwriting wrangles with authenticity, souring the landscape of authorship.

The words of some of those we look up to are not their own. Ghostwriting allows that the name of the author is more important and relevant than the material itself. Sticking a specific name on the writing of another shows that we value name over content, when it comes down to it. The underlying networks of publication ensure that names are well represented and that they appear often enough in print so as not to become irrelevant. Ghostwriters are people like me, who have no weight to their names yet are capable of writing in a particular preferred manner. The ethics of ghostwriting point to a clear portion in our culture – authorship is not equivalent to text. This means that associating material with the individual attributed as author rests shaky ground. We simply cannot be sure of the true wordsmith.

The implication of questioning the ethics of ghostwriting are vast, but are not likely to be addressed on a larger scale for quite some years. We currently live in a media age that prefers quantity to quality, as I have previously pointed out. So it will continue to be important to those developing personal branding around their names to use ghostwriters for some or all of their content needs. Their commitment to creating a quota of content has placed them into perhaps a seemingly unavoidable situation that requires them to seek beyond themselves for help with producing at such volume. We gain from this quota, consistency, and branding a shell of an individual. Authorship is not directly representative.

mountains photo by Colton Brown

Authorship has not always existed as it does now. At times in history, it was used in assigning accountability to the content disbursed to the people. Authorship was connoted with taking responsibility  and pride in the workings of language, art, and ideas. It starts now on more disbursed grounds, with people more readily publicly excusing themselves for past text. Highly-branded individuals release overly-formulated and sanitized statements. These hardly convey personality, and rarely appear untouched by ghostwriting. Language has hit a state of normalization, and part of the issue with it is in ghostwriting. Inauthenticity as a prime argument against ghostwriting stands with the belief that a person’s words hold importance.

We need to look past the levity of names attributed as author and assign more weight to the authentic representation of content as it relates to true authorship. This industry of ghostwriting may well have been born out of the new age of personal brand. And this is ironic in itself, because the purpose of personal branding is to represent individuality. However, readers may be more concerned with material that is approved by the branded individual and less concerned with whether or not the individual sat to write down his or her own thoughts.