This really isn’t that… sorry. It’s a headline I read on the internet.
I don’t have a personal brand. Or if I do, it is accidental. It has been bubbling around in my mind for a while, all this branding stuff. I deactivated Facebook recently, for wellbeing and self-preservation reasons, but as I was in bed this past week with Covid (yes I succumbed, I’m fine) I did still find myself doom-scrolling through Instagram. What I realised very quickly, amidst all the just-so curated feeds (how many people in the word keep pet squirrels?!?) that somewhere along the way, I have not only lost the knack, I have entirely lost the desire to have the knack.
There may have been a time where I was encouraged – by those who think this stuff is important – to think that having a brand was the thing to do to be ‘successful.’ There was a time when I thought that being ‘successful’ was a thing that was important too. There are so many ways that success might be defined of course. But in this culture, we rather universally attribute it to money, status, and recognition. Bigger, better, more. It’s the basis of our economy and it is what drives our social media interactions. Whether we like it, or not.
I don’t ever remember being taught – not in any formal context – that real success was being happy, or fulfilled, or having good relationships, or having a supportive community, or loving and being loved. Someone I know who is good at marketing and considers themselves ‘successful’ ( in the money/status/recognition sense) once said to me that they would never let their relationship get in the way of work. I suppose it confirmed what I already knew…that I would never be successful in that way and that I didn’t want to be. I’m fine with that.
Real Ducks Shit
We all know that branding isn’t real, especially if we have engaged with it in any serious way ourselves. For example, I follow some ducks on Instagram who (appear to) live in a pen with pristine wood shavings and a pond full of crystal clear water and eat beautiful bowls of prepared vegetables every day. It’s all very pretty, and the ducks are funny and entertaining, as ducks are.
Now, I keep ducks. They are noisy and messy and muddy and they shit everywhere. It is almost impossible to keep a duck pen clean. Ducks do this filtering thing with their beaks, and literally everything gets a layer of aspirated mud on it. Everything! I know, in reality, that the pristine duck pen is entirely curated for the internet. But I still feel little pangs of stress and shame that my duck’s pen is muddy. As if I am somehow failing, because look, it is entirely possible to keep mud-free ducks! (it isn’t)
I know all that, and I still feel stressed by it. THIS is how it works. It is difficult to communicate this in a way that doesn’t sound preachy. I always sound preachy, which I suppose is ironically on-brand! (hashtag authentic) But I really want to heavily extoll the liberating virtues of not having a brand. I would love to encourage you to not feel that you need to sell yourself, your image, your pet squirrel*, or your lifestyle in any way whatsoever. Show me your mud, and know that you are loved!
*In fact, please don’t keep wild squirrels as pets to make an Instagram feed out of them! That really would be the best thing.