01 Jan Your own personal culture
I remember the day I spent a full hour talking to an advertiser about creating my own personal brand. It was like if your uncle Phil who just started jogging spent an hour talking to your friend Jody the ultramarathoner about the importance of having the right running shoes. I did not know the concept at that time, but I was deep in my research of the printing press in the seventeenth century. What I was learning was that most writers of the time had a strong sense of branding. They understood their books as objects in themselves and so they cared about every little aspect of them. They usually would include a self portrait in each of their books. Those portraits, man! They were quite literally an intellectual coat of arms. Everything had a meaning and everything was there for a reason. No contemporary nobel prize winner has ever thought so deeply about the cover of one of their books. The cool thing for me is that there was no pretense that they did not care about material, venial, graphical, or commercial things. They put themselves out there and they wanted people to understand them exactly and fully as they were. The advertiser I was talking to looked at me and with a duh-but-warm smile and said: “yeah, it is all about personal branding.” My head exploded a little.
It took me some time to re-adjust my mind to this view. I am not a product, and thinking of myself as a brand sounded fake. It seemed vain to me. It felt like I was calculating who I wanted to be instead of simply being me. But then again, the humans I admired the most had a well-developed sense of identity. They each had an intentional stance about who they were. The all worked actively towards who they wanted to be, and constantly tried to express that in everything they did. As a matter of fact that is probably what I admired the most. That changed my relationship with my own persona and I started being intentional about who I was.
Creating and understanding your own personal brand is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. It is meaningful and impactful and it will make your life more fulfilling and better. Designing and engineering your own self is the ultimate project. The best way I have found to do this is again by emulating what branding people do for companies. The first thing to know is that this is not about being fake or duplicitous, that’s how brands fail. Quite the opposite, this is about being brutally honest with yourself and genuine AF. In the commercial space, in order to do this, specialists align the culture of a given company with the brand they are trying to create/curate. This is fundamental. Do you currently work or have you ever worked in a toxic workplace? Chances are there is a big mismatch between their culture and their brand. The same applies to you; in order to fully constitute your own personal brand you need to refine and adjust your personal culture. The next set of questions will help you with that.
How to build your personal brand?
- What are your values and principles? What is your personal philosophy? This might seem touchy-feely to you. I understand, you might not see any functionality in this other than creating rosy words. However having principles and values clear makes your life much better. Taking time to write them down and have them ready is a solid investment of your time. Are you just surviving in life? Are you living a life of fulfillment and joy? If you were to look at your life from the outside would you like what you see? Would you like who you are? Are you doing the things you want to be doing? Give yourself some perspective. Make sure you are not living randomly. Make sure you have a clear measuring stick, and make sure you designed it. This is your north star.
- Where are your money and time going? Logging how you spend your time and tracking where your money goes are some basic habits most people don’t do. Logging is awareness, and awareness is control. If you have ever logged your food intake, you know first-hand how eye-opening logging can be. The juxtaposition of what you think you are doing and what you actually do is always informative. With the plethora of tools we have today to easily track both, the little effort this habit requires is well worth the benefits. Making sure you are spending your time moving towards your north star is the simplest form of self-care.
- Which of your behaviors do you recognize? Asking yourself this question is fundamental. Do you give yourself some recognition when your behaviors and actions match your values? Most times doing what’s right is not pleasurable. It is hard and unsatisfying. Recognizing when you do “shit right” is fundamental. I am not talking here about rewarding yourself — just like you would not put yourself in time out when you do something you are not proud of, you don’t really need to reward yourself. Recognition means reflecting on your behaviors and observing what you are doing. If you are like most people, you probably don’t recognize most of what you do. That means you are not paying enough attention to your actions. Start by recognizing what you did right in a day, and your behaviors will start changing for the better immediately.
- What are your personal sacred cows you never touch? I used to believe I was shy. I never questioned it, until I had to. Before I did, it was a useful narrative. It allowed me to stay close within my circle of comfort. You see, it takes a lot of effort for me to socialize in new situations. New people, new spaces, new languages, that was my nightmare. So I avoided it. I could explain it like that to all my friends and family. It was easy and useful for me, I did not have to change and I could avoid the avoidable. It was highly unproductive though. But then one day I moved to another country, and new places, new people, and new languages was all I had. That’s how long my narrative lasted. I learned that just because something is hard does not mean I am bad at it. Just because it drains the shit out of me does not mean I cannot learn how to do it better. I also used to have sacred cows regarding the people I love and admire. Now I question those too. If it is sacred, it has not been reflected upon for long enough. Sacred cows are there to be demolished. Demolish your cows and your personal culture will suddenly become flexible and manageable.
- What are your personal legends? Think about the people you admire and the legends in which you are the protagonist. Legends have villains, heroes, and victims. Those are fictional creations. In life there are not heroes or villains, just humans doing human things. Look at your legends and bring them back to reality. Relativize them by looking honestly at what they have done. Admire the humanness but analyze the behaviors and values those legends represent. Do they align with yours?
- What happens when you make a mistake? What you do here will tell you a lot about personal culture. How well you tolerate and learn from mistakes tells you everything about your growth mindset.
- Do you value vulnerability? Vulnerability is courage. Being good at being vulnerable is what allows you to take risks, to be yourself freely. Trying to comply only to your measuring stick is a scary, difficult thing to do, it leaves you out there easily seen by anyone. That takes courage. If you don’t value vulnerability chances you don’t let yourself be seen for who you truly are. That’s tiring and it means you are living up to others’ measuring sticks.
- What’s your tolerance for discomfort? How often do you try new things? Do you seek out the opportunity to learn new skills and have new experiences? It is true that change happens outside your comfort zone. It is also true (which is what the motivational quotes don’t tell you) that you have to be intentional and structured about your discomfort. Going out to do the grocery shopping in your underwear is certainly uncomfortable but it will be as productive as your intention behind it is. However discomfort should be normalized in your life.
- Do you have time for reflection and clarification? Answering the above questions, observation and reflection, require space. If you want to start taking full ownership on your personal culture, start here. Create a weekly event in your calendar. Give yourself the gift of a weekly hour in which you clarify what’s in your mind, reflect on what you have been doing and thinking and steer the boat forward. This space is sacred and its function is fundamental. Observe and reflect.
This list is a work in progress. I will keep updating as I refine my knowledge and gather experience. My intention is not for you to go through it once and do it. It is meant to be a reference point. You can check one aspect one day and focus on that for a while. After that you can focus on the next point. The project of building your ultimate self is a never ending process, keep coming back to yourself!