advice, life, thoughts, university

Who are YOU?

I was having a conversation with a friend on the walk home from University a while ago and we were discussing a particular activity.

And I said: “I would never do that. It’s not really me. That does not fit my personal brand”. Needless to say, she looked at me as though I was crazy. For most people, referring to yourself as a “brand” may seem like an alien concept.

Whether it is a conscious choice or not, everyone has a personal brand. A brand can be anything – from a colour, symbol, sound, reputation to even an emotion and much more that separates one thing from another.

An example of this in practice would be Adele declining to perform at the Superbowl a couple of years ago. She knew her personal brand lay mainly in being a stripped back powerful vocalist which arguably does not fit the aesthetics of the Superbowl which usually has a high added performance value.

Like she said: “I mean, come on, that show is not about music. And I don’t really — I can’t dance or anything like that”. In that moment of declining the offer, (despite the speculation as to if there really had been one), Adele knew what her personal brand was and made choices that would maintain it.

To me, personal branding is essentially just a cross between how you see yourself and how others see you.

Over the years, my “brand” has been formulated by different things. When I was at secondary school, it was by certain clothes and styles (let’s have a moment of silence for my year 8 “scene kid” phase). In sixth form, it was all about academia, grades and awards. Then in University it became more about my interests, hobbies and future career.

However, all these different ways of formulating our “brand” and identity are transient. They are momentary – they come and go and are susceptible to change. Therefore, I would suggest we should become a values based people. So now my identity is shaped mainly by my core values.

So the focus of this post will not be about how you can effectively develop your personal brand (although I am happy to write about that in a different post in the future if you all are interested), this post is more about re-conceptualising how and what we use to perceive ourselves.

This has become particularly important for me as I get closer to graduating. The things that had made me who I am in the past are changing. Soon, I will no longer be Dammy the Law and Business finalist who dances, performs, goes to the theatre, is on the SU board of trustees and goes backpacking over summer, etc.

Some of the things that make me who I am will remain the same but most things will change. All these “labels” are easy to spout out when someone asks me about myself. They are the CV or ‘Twitter bio’ version of myself. They provide a useful snapshot insight into some of the things I do but they are not really who I am.

I have seen this issue time and time again in friends that have graduated before me. I have also seen it when some of my older friends and family get married or have kids. Or even when people’s financial situation changes. If who you are is based on transient things such as other people, what you do or what you wear or have, then it can become problematic and can really affect your identity and self-worth when those things change or are put under pressure.

For example, if you are the kind of person whose “brand” is all about having the latest gadget, whilst I am not judging the desire for material things, what happens if you can no longer afford the latest iPhone or fanciest designer clothes? Or what if your brand is all about being really intelligent, then how will you handle a bad grade or being in a situation where you are not the smartest person? Or if your identity is based on your job, what if you lose it or decide to change career paths?

Or what if you see yourself as someone who is good at playing a particular instrument or a sport and that is how you get your validation, what if you are no longer good at it anymore or something happens and you cannot play? Likewise, if your whole identity is being a mother or father, how will you feel when your children move out? Or if you see yourself as just someone’s girlfriend or wife, what if you break up or something tears you apart? Or if your identity is all about your physical appearance and looks, what happens when you get old or when beauty standards change?

This might seem like I am being pessimistic or even morbid and looking at the worst case scenarios. However, it is apparent that many of the things we use to formulate our identity, our “brand” and in turn get validation from are not the best. Instead, I try to maintain all things that I think are important to me e.g. academia, theatre, travel, family and friends etc. However, I mainly focus on the values and characteristics that make me who I am.

For example, I am Dammy. My values are largely based on the importance of time and the use of words. That is how I show I care about people. I believe in demonstrating my character through my actions, in doing so I strive to live a life that can inspire others. I value kindness, trustworthiness and taking ownership of choices. My sense of morality is largely shaped by my Faith and I often have a high standard for myself which can make me critical of others but I am working on that and learning to manage my expectations.

These are just a small part of my values but focusing on these things helps me to maintain a sense of balance when things around me change. Yes, our values can and should evolve as I will talk about in my post next week which will be titled: “Did you get the new software update?“. Nevertheless, I still feel as though values and characteristics are a better way to formulate our identity.

Focusing on your values can be such a freeing process, especially when you realise you are more than a sum of each individual transient thing. I have written before about how I have begun to understand that I am more than my degree and exam results but extending this premise to all aspects of my life has been so liberating and made me truly confident in who I am.

So, take the time to really think about what lies at the core of who you are. If everything else was removed, what would you be like? What do you stand for? How do you see yourself and how do you want to be seen?

Often when we meet people we immediately ask them about their jobs or hobbies. I used to do this a lot myself and “what do you do?” would be one of the first things I would ask. I know trying to find out about a person’s values during a first interaction is a big ask, it can be a bit weird and is also not always appropriate depending on the context.

However, in the future why not try to re-frame your thinking and make the idea of values more central? This is a better way to find out who people truly are. For example, I still ask people about their jobs as for most people, this is what they spend most of their lives doing so it is important. But I try to use it as a stepping stone to find out what is on the inside e.g. hopes, dreams, journey so far.

Likewise, I know identifying your core values is not an easy task so perhaps I will write about how to define them in a future post. However, in trying focus on your own values rather than transient things, you are more likely to understand and be better secure in your identity. Which in turn will make you more likely to make better decisions and be content with your life.

It’s just me, Dammy, who are you?

xxx

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