I recently attended a writers’ conference and listened to a panel teaching us “Brand You.”
Not the hot metal mark seared into your butt kind.
The “I’m unique because” kind.
I’m lousy at sound-bite self-definition, which is driving American business as never before, thanks to Twitter, (which I don’t use), Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media.
And tomorrow in Manhattan I’m attending a huge blogging conference, BlogHer, where I’ll have to tout yourself in a few pithy syllables.
I was raised, culturally (Canada) and by my (accomplished but quiet about it) family and by my profession (journalism) not to toot my horn all the damn time.
Have you ever heard of “tall poppy” syndrome? In Australia, the tallest poppy — i.e. the boastful braggart — gets its pretty little head lopped off for its temerity. The Japanese and Swedes have their own expressions for this as well.
Canadians just find chest-beating socially gauche, and assume you’re a pushy American. So that whole brand-building thing, there, is often considered about as attractive as passing wind. Modesty is highly prized, so how to “be a brand” and do so in a low-key way, somehow escapes me.
(Being modest is easier in a smaller nation with tighter social and professional networks. There are more than 300 million Americans, some of them breathtakingly aggressive. Remaining invisible often means professional suicide.)
I still think (yes, I know I’m wrong!), that the quality of my body of work should speak for itself. This constant, tedious “watchmewatchmewatchmeeeeeeee!” of a three-year-old at the pool — now considered part of “building your personal brand” — remains a behavior I find a little infantile. Even after 20+ years in the U.S. and near New York City, where sharp elbows are a pre-requisite for survival.
Here are a few phrases I think define me and my work:
I love this song, Helplessness Blues, by Fleet Foxes:
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see
What’s my name, what’s my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
Do you have a brand?
What is it?
How did you arrive at it?