“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” ~Albert Einstein
In the age of the perfectly-lit selfie, the algorithm-gamed status update and the never-ending quest for more, we have become lost in the attention economy. We find ourselves in a tiring ‘sharing’ cycle – in an ongoing pursuit to be heard.
How many articles do you come across everyday telling you to create a ‘personal brand’ or build an online profile and following? It’s nauseating.
It’s going to be hard for me to continue writing this with a straight face. I mean, every time I use the term ‘personal brand’ I want to leave the internet forever. But, I’m fascinated by the sociological way we now represent and express ourselves online – crafting our lives in one neat communicable package.
I’d love to share something with you: I had a personal brand and I hated it.
Personal brands are incredibly limiting. They put you in a box that has defined values and then you continue to attract people and things to that box. This noise drowns out your deeper wants and needs. Personal brands grow exponentially and then you end up as a person known for being known, not for what you contribute.
Personal brands aren’t to be confused with reputation – the latter develops from primary sources: from first-hand interactions you have with people. Reputation is like a thoughtful LinkedIn reference from a ex-colleague while personal brand is those annoying LinkedIn endorsements (of which I’ve amassed ~1200 of, for many things I know nothing about).
So, back to the downsides of online profiles. I recommend you start by reading the founder of Lifehacker, Gina Trapani’s post on The Flip Side of a Big Audience. She articulates her experience well and summarises it to:
- You field a weekly flood of pitches
- People who don’t know you make wildly inaccurate assumptions about things you say
- You forget how to share with people who do know you
- You get addicted to the approval of strangers
- Your view of the world gets skewed
- You’re a spam magnet and a troll target
The first one hit home. Before I moved cities, well countries – from Australia, and became a pseudo-recluse, I’d wake up daily to a stream of requests and asks from strangers. Even old school friends I hadn’t heard from in years would send Facebook messages wanting help. Jobs, intros, general promotion – you name it. If I met anyone in a professional setting and they were aware of my background, I’d literally see a change and flicker in their eyes while their brain pondered what they could get from me. For a while, 90% of communication that came my way was people wanting stuff. I became so accustomed to it that I was automatically on the defense, trying to protect my energy. I became completely flooded with incoming that when I needed help growing my company, I had no idea how to reach out or contact people myself.
You also forget which people are your friends and which are ‘industry friends’. Two of the loveliest people I’ve encountered over the past few years include one from a random Craigslist inspection and another on a long-haul flight.
And let’s not get into Gina’s post about being a troll target or how people treat you when you say no to their request.
After spending 2013 purposefully quiet and concentrating internally, I am so grateful for the space that has been created. Space is important as it allows you to experiment away from people’s view. If you’re an entrepreneur you especially need this freedom to explore while your offering finds its true place. And the thing is, you must be comfortable being misunderstood during this time. The people around you might not have any idea what you’re working on. They might not know where to place you. It’s okay – it’s all part of the hero’s journey.
“I believe you have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.” ~ Jeff Bezos
To finish, let’s include an obligatory Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. In the Self-Reliance essay, he discusses the need for ‘each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency and follow his or her own instincts and ideas’. He writes:
“Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
So, here’s to 2014. You’ll find me in the corner – popping up to say hello to share what we’re creating but not for the sake of it.