In today’s world of online business and social media, there are a lot of resources out there teaching us how to “define our personal brand.”
I used to love this concept. Probably because I’m a designer, and I love branding things! In fact, one of my favorite CreativeLive courses taught by Debbie Millman is called A Brand Called You.
But after struggling through a year of burnout in 2019, I came to the important realization that I am not a brand. I am a person. I struggle with overwhelm, perfectionism, and self-doubt. I need rest and movement and lots of food and water.
I learned (the hard way) that constant productivity is not nourishing.
With this realization, I could no longer move throughout the world thinking of myself as a commodity.
I am reminded of a 2019 article by Nikki Shaner-Bradford where she examines the rise of the multi-hyphenate professional. Vlogger-DJ-Instagram model. Writer-actor-producer. Marketing strategist-Community builder-SEO expert.
That the next iteration of the labor market is based on performance and content production seems inextricable from the realities of the internet era. In my own research, most of the individuals I found who identified as multi-hyphenates in their Twitter or Instagram bios could also be considered “virtuoso laborers,” working as podcast producers, photographers, writers, marketing strategists. All are professions that imply an audience. With the internet came an online culture industry, which ultimately became a scramble for monetization through the proliferation of clickbait and branded content.
Heck, I even describe myself as a designer-developer-artist.
And yes, there are benefits to being a multi-passionate person. Flexibility to explore and combine disciplines into something new. A degree of job stability in uncertain times, since you can lean on more than one area of expertise, more than a single source of income.
But there is a dark side to building oneself into an online brand and investing so heavily in creating an internet persona. Ignoring this reality would be shortsighted.
It speaks to a greater phenomenon in which the human desire for self-improvement and common identity is co-opted by capitalism; self-care becomes compulsive shopping, LGBT Pride becomes a corporate marketing ploy, and creativity is a measure of one’s ability to self-brand.
So what’s a creative multi-hyphenate to do with the understanding that perhaps my desire to build a weird, creative business online is, in fact, a result of a cultural movement motivated by capitalism?
My only solution is to stay vigilant and curious. Pay attention to my behavior and my state-of-mind. Remind myself, daily, of my guiding principles and my boundaries. This feels like the only way to ensure that I continue to build a business and a life that is authentic and not motivated by fear.
Here’s what this looks like in practice for me.
I know that if I stay true to myself, and accountable to my online and offline communities, I won’t fall into the trap of thinking of myself as a soulless “creative brand-person.”
If you don’t have a list of personal values (or guiding principles) written down somewhere, I recommend taking some time this week to write them out!
Another way I’m avoiding building a personal brand is by developing my “style” instead.
I took a Skillshare class this week called Find Your Style: Five Exercises to Unlock Your Creative Identity, taught by illustrator and podcaster Andy J. Miller (though you may know him as Andy J. Pizza). It is helping me codify and organize all of the disparate pieces of my identity into my artistic style.
I’m realizing that finding my artistic style, my voice, feels healthier and more meaningful than defining my personal brand. Arguably, they are the same thing? But I’m a person, not a brand or a business, and I think it helps to separate the two.
Capitalism wants each of us to define our personal brand and market ourselves as a business. Toxic individualism wants us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. I’m trying to do things differently, and I hope we can continue to learn together on this journey!