What’s authenticity got to do with onions?

We’re a lot more like onions than you think. Yes. Really.

If you’ve recently started working for yourself, one of the challenges you’re likely to come across is finding your true voice, your authentic self. Connecting to who you really are and what you really want is not always a straightforward process. One thing I have realised working with my clients is that the people that find it the hardest are those that were working in corporate environments that didn’t encourage them to be themselves. They’d spent so long trying to change who they were to fit in that they lost site of who they really are. This might have been because the organisational values and theirs were not aligned, or maybe they were doing a job that didn’t fulfil them or make use of their talents and strengths. Whatever the reason, once you’re free of the corporate machine you’re next biggest task is to do decide what to do next. And in doing so you’ll need to define yourself. In other words; develop your personal brand.

In making your next move, the chances are that you’ll use the online space to do so. Whether it’s on LinkedIn, ecademy or if you end up with your own site or blog. If you’re going to present yourself online, you’re going to need to make a call as to how you want to appear and what you want to say about yourself. That’s in addition to being clear about what you’re trying to achieve so that you know who you’re trying to talk to.

So, back to onions… like onions, when we’re an employee in a hostile environment we develop a thick skin to protect ourselves. It protects us nicely from the dirt that surrounds us; you know the politics, the falsities and all the other corporate BS. Then, when we get plucked free, the bit that people really want is the juicy fleshy bit. But to get to that, we need to shed a few layers first. How many layers will depend on how hostile corporate life was. Over to you Shrek…

Shedding these layers can take quite some time. I know personally, it took me well over a year to find my true voice. And believe me, the journey isn’t over!

The thing is, once you’re well on the way to finding your story you are blessed with the ability to really carve out a niche for yourself. Because in discovering your authentic self comes with it a renewed sense of confidence. This confidence enables you to inject your personality into what you do in a way that you’ve not done before. And once you get to do that, you’re on the road to uniqueness. The one thing that you can be sure of is that no-one else has got your personality. So, no matter what you end up doing for a living, if you do it YOUR way, then you will be unique and stand out from others. One of my favourite examples of this is Danielle LaPorte of White Hot Truth

Once you do this you will naturally attract others with similar values to you, which means you’ll probably enjoy working and being with them. And when you get to that, work doesn’t feel like work. And that my friend is success!

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Finding your personal brand

There are lot of articles about on personal branding, with the majority talking about how important it is to have a personal brand. The rest of them talk about all the ways that you can increase the visibility of your personal brand in the online environment. But, before any work can be done to raise your profile, you need to be clear as to what your brand is. And working it out is not always straightforward. Well sure, it sounds straightforward when you talk about it

“… a personal brand is a blend of your strengths, personality, passion, values and goals….”

Working all that out takes quite a bit of time and effort. Let me just look at each one of these in turn.

Strengths
How many of us know our strengths? If you’ve been through corporate training, it’s likely that you’ve been subjected to a Myers Briggs profiling or similar. So, for you guys, it’s a bit easier. But for the rest of you, identifying your strengths can be difficult. Why?

  • We don’t always realise that we’re good at something, because for us, it’s natural. We don’t know what we know. Often, it takes someone else to spot our talent.
  • We’re usually much better at identifying our weaknesses.

It’s always worth starting a list on your own, but ask your friends, family and colleagues for their comments. You’ll probably have a few surprises: things that weren’t on your list, and those that were that are questioned. Be prepared for this

Personality
This is an interesting one. I bet that if we were to do a straw poll, we’d find that our ideas about our personality are not that close to the reality. Do whining negative people consider themselves to be so? You might think you’re confident, but others think of you as arrogant. You get the picture. This is one aspect of personal branding that is crucial to get some outside help with. After all, your personal brand is how others perceive you, and your personality is the crux of this. So, again, ask friends, family and colleagues for some hints.

Passion
What are you passionate about? Do you know? Understanding your passion is mega mega important! It could even be the key to your personal brand. If you spend more time than is healthy taking photographs of roundabouts, then you might have hit upon a niche. A niche whereby you could become an expert. Think of Gavin Pretor-Pinney who just loved looking at and taking pictures of clouds. He went on to form The Cloud Appreciation Society and is now a recognised expert in the cloud world. His book, The Cloud Spotter’s Guide, was a best seller.

Values
Your values are those things that are really important to you in life. Things like recognition, honesty, health, love and achievement. You probably have a clear idea of your values. If not, just ask yourself “what has been really important to me in my life?”. Some people find they have around 5 values, while others have five times that. If you have that many, you need to be clear about what the top ones are though, as these are the invisible drivers in your life. The things that control your behaviour, whether you like it or not. So you may as well be aware of them.

Goals
If you were to ask around, you’ll probably find that most people have dreams not goals. The difference? Goals have actions and timelines against them. The other thing about goals is that they are reviewed regularly so you can track your progress. The level at which you decide to clarify your goals is up to you. Some people give themselves a couple of goals to achieve over a few years, while others have 1, 5 and 10-year plans with goals for each sector of their life (financial, relationship, career etc). So, wherever you want to be on this scale, just make sure you’re on it. Because if you’re not, your personal brand is a going to have a great big hole in it.

Having said all this, the key thing to understand is that your personal brand isn’t what you want to project; it’s what others perceive. So a high level of self -awareness is important because no matter what, you will need to be consistent in the application of your personal brand. As with great consumer brands, consistency is key. Your brand represents the promise that you’re making to help others to understand what to expect from you. You keep changing and people won’t know what to expect, and they’ll go elsewhere.

So, have you figured out your personal brand?

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