Get Excited about Saying Goodbye

Henrik Lundqvist
Image Credit: Bridget Samuels

A flood of mixed emotions are racing through my head this morning. It has nothing to do with Monday, going to work, or other everyday obstacle. It’s a new situation; one that will certainly play out again in the future. A child is leaving the nest- not permanently but for the longest stretch of time in his life (five months). And, he is going far away (to The Netherlands). His semester of study abroad will pass quickly. I know because my semester as a college professor invariably moves fast… seemingly faster as I get older. It was not a long-term goodbye, but nonetheless a parting that led me to rethink my role as parent and teacher.

Saved by a Goalie

Feelings of sadness over my son’s departure were soon replaced by comforting words that I read when I needed them. And, of all of the sages who could have uttered timely words, it was a hockey goalie who spoke to me. Henrik Lundqvist is a star National Hockey League goaltender. Lundqvist plays for the New York Rangers and has played for his native Sweden in the Winter Olympics and World Cup of Hockey. By all measures, Lundqvist has made it.

Despite his successes in hockey, Lundqvist acknowledges there is a person who can be credited with an assist in his accomplishments: his father. Lundqvist recently authored a letter to his eight-year-old self. In the letter, he touches on the influence of his father. Lundqvist shares that his father encouraged him to dream big, to see himself playing professional hockey and for his country.

Lundqvist observed the following about his father’s impact in shaping his destiny:

My job as a parent is to prepare my children to say goodbye because they have achieved their dreams. By extension, my role as a teacher is to do the same for people studying under me.

It Doesn’t Feel Like Sacrifice

Henrik Lundqvist observes the true meaning of sacrifice is to help position people we care about to succeed and expect nothing in return. As I think about his words and what I have done for my three sons, I realize it does not even feel like sacrifice. The first time I heard about 6:00 a.m. hockey practices when my youngest son took up the game I thought to myself “that’s crazy- we will never do that.” It may be crazy, but we have done it many times… and many other crazy things, too. But, my wife and I have never sought sympathy or Parent of the Year awards. We do it because we are preparing our son for that day when he says goodbye.

Enjoy the Ride

I am going to follow my own advice I shared with my middle son as he departed today. Many possible words of wisdom crossed my mind, but I kept returning to one idea: Enjoy the experience. I have the opportunity to enjoy it with him through photos and stories. I will focus my energy there, and not dwell on his absence or count down the days until he returns. Such thoughts are selfish and do not help him (or me) grow. Saying goodbye can be taken as a signal that our work as a parent or leader was well done. Thus, it is not a sad time but one of growth possibilities.

 

Personal Growth Requires Small Thinking

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It’s easy to associate growth with big thinking. You have to imagine possibilities that stretch previous accomplishments. It requires higher aspirations in learning, relationships, and personal accountability. In short, it is assumed that to get better we must think bigger.

I came across a different way of looking at personal growth in a quote from Pope Francis. Instead of thinking big to grow, Francis suggests we must think small. At face value, the idea is counter-intuitive. To do, have, or be more wouldn’t you have to reach for more and see a “bigger you?” Not according to Pope Francis.

No one can grow if he does not accept his smallness

What Does It Mean to be Small?

The words of Pope Francis were constantly on my mind for days. Accept my smallness? What does it mean? What must I do? As a marketer, I advocate for brands and people to stand out. Is accepting one’s smallness counter to brand building? While the question of what does it mean to be small has branding implications, it is a much larger issue.

What does it really mean to be small? Three ways of looking at it:

  • Estimates of today’s world population run about 7.5 billion people. I imagine a circle containing 7.5 billion dots and realize I am but one of those dots. My smallness comes through loud and clear in a visual way.
  • The dots in the circle are interchangeable. We will all die and replaced by new dots. The world can get along just fine without any one of us. My important brand is not so important after all.
  • Most accomplishments do not come from grand performances or events. They accrue from daily interactions with the other dots in our own world with whom we serve, teach, or love. It’s the life equivalent of “small ball,” a strategy in baseball of focusing on singles and base-running to score, not relying on belting home runs.

Small Thinking and Personal Branding

From a personal branding standpoint, a question that arises is whether accepting one’s smallness in order to grow clashes with personal branding practices. If an aim of personal branding is to rise above competition, is it possible if I am just one of 7.5 billion dots? The answer is a resounding “yes.” A brand in general and personal brand in particular is vulnerable. It is not a programmed machine but rather a living being influenced by emotions and relationships. Those vulnerabilities, emotions, and relationships contribute to the stories that are your brand.

Accepting smallness does not diminish the potential impact of a personal brand. The value of a personal brand is not found in vanity metrics of likes, followers, and connections. It resides in the value you provide others through daily encounters… the “small ball” of life, if you will.

The Humility of Smallness

Smallness is not a personal brand weakness. Rather, it is a default setting. A closer look at personal brands associated with being successful, distinctive, and big usually reveals someone who consistently creates value for others. They entertain, inform, support- to serve and benefit their audience. A common trait that can be found in most distinctive personal brands is that a sense of smallness has never been lost.

It is humbling to accept our smallness, but it is also essential for preparing to grow.

Personal Branding the Antidote to Crowds

Many people seem to have a love-hate relationship with crowds. I have no hard evidence to support that claim other than you can find crowds in many different settings- sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, and stores, to name a few. However, being part of a crowd does not necessarily mean you like being in crowds. You just happen to share an interest with all of the other people there.

I am not a big fan of crowds, but one characteristic of crowds I like is the ability to blend in among the throng of people. In some ways, it is as if I am not there. It is possible to enjoy anonymity in a sea of faces. While the freedom to get lost in a crowd might be appealing when shopping, it would be disastrous to creating a distinctive personal brand.

Be Found, Not Lost

This week, I am focusing on a quote attributed to leadership expert Lolly Daskal. She cautions against allowing yourself to blend in with the crowd. Simply put, when it comes to your professional identity you cannot afford to get lost in the crowd. You can be more educated, more competent, or more engaging than others who do the same work as you, but those advantages are negated if you are unknown.

The antidote to the harmful effects of following the crowd is personal branding. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I define personal branding as “a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value.” Personal branding does not allow you to reside in the comfort zone of a crowd. It leads you to focus on how you genuinely stand out by adding value to others.

Get on the Personal Branding Train

As a new year begins,  now is an ideal time to commit to managing your brand. A brand is a “name, symbol, or other marks that distinguishes one seller from another.” The phrase “distinguishes one seller from another” is a call to manage your personal brand. It comes back to Lolly Daskal’s suggestion that we must stand out.

In my upcoming book Brand New Year: 52 Ways to Create a Distinctive Personal Brand,  I share three reasons for taking control of your brand:

  1. A brand must have a defined meaning. Think about a brand you admire or that you connect with on an emotional level. It is likely that the brand resonates with you because of its values or priorities. Similarly, you will attract people to you when they can relate to the core of your brand that defines you.
  2. Differentiation is essential. Most businesses avoid at all costs finding themselves in a situation known as Commodity Hell. It refers to an inability to distinguish a business’s offerings from other sellers (the definition of what a brand is meant to do). Differentiation must be real and relevant. You could dye your hair purple or wear polka dot clothing every day and be different. Still, the difference would not be meaningful or add value to other people.
  3. You have competition. Differentiation would not be so important if the need to stand out was not so great. Competition exists to get a foot in the door to start your career, to move up in an organization, and to branch out into new opportunities.

To Be or Not To Be Known

Some people are reluctant to embrace personal branding because they see it as “tooting their own horn.” Yes, personal branding requires self-promotion (i.e., communicating your unique value). Why you? I’m not going to do it for you, nor will your boss, teachers, friends, or mother (OK, well your mother might but that does not count). Make branding about your value contribution to others to convey how you benefit others through your skills and abilities.

The good news is most people do not manage themselves like a brand, making your personal branding quest easier. The decision to manage your brand does not guarantee success, but it puts you ahead of many would-be competitors. The choice is yours to fit in with the crowd (and likely get lost) or stand out.

Forget Making New Year’s Resolutions

The calendar flips to a new year, and along with this milestone comes a tradition practiced by many people: making New Year’s resolutions. Evidence of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back as far as 1671, with more specific mentions of the practice found as early as 1813. A notable characteristic of New Year’s resolutions then (and still today) is they seemed to excuse or acknowledge undesirable behavior in the run-up to a new year. New year’s resolutions offer a fresh start… at least in theory.

Resolutions Fall Short

If you have made New Year’s resolutions for 2017, you need to know that the odds are against success. A study on New Year’s resolutions found that only eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them. Maybe the low success rate explains why only 45 percent of Americans usually make New resolutions.

So what are we trying to accomplish when making New Year’s resolutions? Google search data are revealing about what we long to be, do, or have. According to digital marketing firm iQuanti, the top New Year’s resolutions based on search queries include:

  • Getting healthy
  • Getting organized
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Learning new hobbies
  • Spending less/saving more.

The goals are worthy; that is not the problem. New Year’s resolutions fall short of their intended outcome so often because of the absence of a plan to reach the destination. We would not get in a car and drive from Memphis to Miami without directions. Yet, New Year’s resolutions without an action plan is the equivalent of blindly making that long distance drive.

Set Goals Instead

Replace New Year’s resolutions with personal goals. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss how setting goals is essential to managing your personal brand. Setting goals offers two significant payoffs. First, goals align action with purpose. Pursuing goals is a way to to spend your time in ways that are consistent with the big picture you see for yourself. Second, goals give focus to how to spend time and energy. It is easy to fall into a trap of working on projects not aligned with your goals. Setting goals and identifying actions needed to achieve them can minimize getting sucked into other people’s priorities.

Set personal goals with two criteria in mind:

  1. Goals for different life parts
  2. Goals with different time horizons.

Life Parts

Pursuing goals could get you to the destination you want, but will you be happy once you get there? Colby and I caution against putting too much emphasis on a single area. Instead, we advocate setting goals for six different life parts:

  • Career goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Wellness goals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Financial goals
  • “Bucket list” goals.

The idea is setting goals in multiple areas can help create balance in your life. None of us is one dimensional; our goals should reflect the various roles we concurrently take on. For example, it might do little good to reach career goals if the actions taken to get there ruin personal relationships or damage your health. Setting goals for different life parts serves as protection against self-sabotage.

Time Horizon

In addition to setting goals for different life parts, we need to set goals with differing lengths to achievement. Why? Not every accomplishment we pursue requires the same amount of time. Set goals that are:

  • Short range- 12 months or less
  • Mid range- one to three years to achievement
  • Long range- More than three years to achievement.

Also, use short-range and mid-range goals as stepping stones to reaching long-range goals. A long-range goal might be that end destination you envision but requires a lengthy journey to get there. The relationship between short-range, mid-range, and long-range goals is evident in the question “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.” You are more likely to achieve long-range goals set when broken down into smaller “bites.”

Do Something

Despite the preceding discussion on the limitations of New Year’s resolutions, it is OK to set goals or make resolutions. The point is do something that will spur personal growth. If you are among the eight percent that can see resolutions through to achievement, then go for it. Keep in mind that resolutions are essentially short-range goals. Complement them with more ambitious, longer range outcomes. And, set outcomes in multiple life parts; do not zero in on a single aspect of your life and ignore others.

Good luck pursuing your goals (or resolutions) in 2017!

Plan to Plant the Seeds of Personal Growth

The time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my favorite stretch of a few days in the year. So many good things can happen- spend time with family, see friends, catch up on rest, and reflect on the year that is drawing to a close. One other priority for me during this time is to plan for the new year. What do I want to achieve? Are there changes I would like to make? How can I overcome obstacles in my way of a prosperous year ahead?

Chinese proverb

Planting Time

The Chinese proverb above crossed my path a few days ago. It could not have been more timely! If you use the new year as a time to plan a course toward realizing goals, this simple but powerful thought can be a reminder of the payoffs of using the present to start something new. Yes, twenty years ago (or twenty months ago or even twenty days ago) might have been better in that you could be further along toward what you want to be, do, or have. But, you cannot go back and plant- you can only control your actions now. Rather than lament about missed opportunities in the past, get off your butt (and Facebook) and take action. Please don’t be offended; I’m talking to myself. If the message applies to you, too, feel free to be impacted by it.

Weeds in the Plan

The new year is an ideal period for planting (i.e., laying out a growth plan). We must be careful about the environment in which we plant. Desired results might never be realized if weeds are present where we need to plant. What do these weeds look like? Some of the more common ones are:

  • Weeds of doubt. “I don’t know if I am disciplined enough to eat healthier to lose weight.”
  • Weeds of denial. “I don’t deserve the promotion to general manager- it will surely go to someone else.”
  • Weeds of disdain. “I can’t believe how lucky Steven is- money and success seem to fall into his lap.”

The “3Ds” of weeds are hazardous to our health. They can delay, if not discourage us to take the actions that will move you closer toward goal achievement. Doubt, denial, and disdain can be very persuasive in convincing us not to waste your time planting new seeds. In reality, the 3Ds sabotage growth plans by keeping us firmly entrenched in a comfort zone. Unfortunately, not much greatness occurs in comfort zones.

Plant and Grow

I plan to live this quote in 2017. Some people who read this might have been a young child 20 years ago. If you are like me and have far more than 20 years in your rear view mirror, the message is a call to action. Regardless of your current age, the time to plant is now. May 2017 yield great results because of your efforts to plant seeds for your success.

Make Time Work for You

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Image Credit: Gerd Altmann

The most valuable and scarcest resource I manage is time. Unlike money, relationships, and other key resources, the amount of time available is fixed. The bad news is that it will not grow—you will not acquire more hours in the day. The good news is that time will not be taken away from you either… unless you allow it. So, the challenge for maximizing time is not making more of it (that can’t be done) but rather make the most of available time. Is time working for you or working on you?

The thought I am going to keep top-of-mind this week is attributed to poet Carl Sandburg. His analogy of time being like money is a comparison with which we can relate. We would not grant others authority to spend our paychecks; why should we enable others to decide how to spend our time? Time maximization (which I prefer to time management) is an area of my life that is a work-in-progress. However, two practices that make a noticeable difference for me are setting priorities using a to-do list and having a morning ritual.

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Write It Down

The best chance I have of completing necessary tasks and follow-up actions is to write it down. The combination of being busy and getting older make relying on memory an increasingly ineffective project management system. Managing time occurs daily, but it begins by setting goals—what do you want to be, do, or have? Starting with the end in mind gives direction to how we spend our time.

My system for managing time using a to-do list is a two-step process. First, every Friday I spend 30 minutes or so writing down all of the major actions that must be done the following week—advancing a research project, preparing class meetings, scheduling meetings, and more. Mapping out the week before it begins gives me a feeling of being in control over my time. Even if I have a lot to do, there is a plan for getting it done. The plan is not always met or followed, but at least I have a starting point that orients how I spend time.

Second, the to-do list created before a new week begins is updated daily, adjusting priorities as needed. New tasks or obligations can pop up; allow some flexibility in your schedule to absorb unplanned additions. I have made the mistake of over-scheduling, not acknowledging realities like a surprise project from a boss or personal matter that needs attention. Give yourself room to breathe.

Start Your Way

Planning your day by writing down what needs to be done gives direction to your time. However, even the most carefully crafted to-do list can be derailed through no fault of your own. One way to guard against your time being spent by others is establishing a morning ritual. A great deal has been written about how successful people start their day. They can accomplish more in the first hour or two in the morning than most people get done in half a day.

The activities that make up a morning ritual vary from person to person. You set the agenda of what works to create momentum for your day. For some people, it is a time to knock out work when others will not bother them— reacting to emails and advancing work-related projects. Other people use their morning ritual for self-care. Reading, meditation/prayer, exercise, and personal creative projects are some of the interests pursued in a morning ritual that have nothing to do with work.

Two observations from my experience with a morning ritual are that consistency and preparation are keys to success. First, a morning ritual is most productive for me when I follow the same schedule. I recently came across the daily schedule Ben Franklin followed. He rose at 5:00 a.m. daily and set aside the first three hours for planning, reflection, eating, and study. Following a morning ritual becomes a habit, just as not following one is a habit. Second, the available time for the ritual is maximized when I plan the night before what to do the next morning. It would be easy for social media and other online content to consume the limited early morning time. A plan for how to spend that precious time window reduces the threat of such diversions.

Practice Time Security

We go to great lengths to protect our financial resources, but we often leave our time unguarded. I do not allow people to take funds from my bank account, yet I grant permission for others to make withdrawls from my time. I take Carl Sandburg’s quote on time as a call to strengthen time security. Make it harder for others to steal your time, including yourself. No one else has access to deciding how your time is spent like you. Be sure your time thief is not staring at you in the mirror.

Practice the Dance of Personal Growth

Wayne Dyer quote

In our quest for personal growth, we often lock in on the finish line. An unfortunate result is we can fail to realize the beauty, wonder, and joy around us. The “scenery” goes beyond observing physical objects. It  also includes learning the backstories of people, places, and things around us. The fruits of goal achievement can be rewarding. However, is it a hollow victory if we are so focused on results we miss out on some of the joys of the journey?

The quote by the late Dr. Wayne Dyer grabbed my attention. Dr. Dyer is one of my favorite thought leaders, so anything he said grabs my attention. This week’s One to Grow On quote is something I had not read by Dyer until recently. It stopped me in my tracks; I read it again and again to capture the message. It spoke to me. My goals and daily to-do lists are oriented to reaching a finish line, a certain place on the dance floor. They are essential for making progress toward the accomplishments I need and want to achieve. They also can hinder enjoyment of each step in the dance along the way.

Blinders

A realization that came over me as I reflected on Wayne Dyer’s quote was being goal-focused can be like wearing blinders. Goals orient us to look forward, even if it is just to make through today. Goal setting has positively changed my life, but I have not always enjoyed each step in the dance along the way. And, I know exactly who to blame: the guy in the mirror. I chose to put on blinders- “I don’t have time for that other stuff”- I often say to myself. That “other stuff” is called life, and I need to make more room for it. Thinning out that to-do list would be a great place to begin.

Enriched Growth

A mindset locked in on reaching a desired destination (goals) could be thought of as straight-line growth. You certainly can get where you want to go. And, you may get there faster with an obsessive focus on what you want to be, do, or have. But, that approach could be like setting a goal to visit a unique place like Paris, going to the Eiffel Tower, and leaving after five minutes because you have a full list of places to visit. Can you check off your list you visited the Eiffel Tower? Yes. Were you enriched by the experience? Probably not.

The quote by Wayne Dyer about enjoying each step in the dance is a call for us to pursue enriched growth. Instead of racing to cross off to-do list items, we must allow ourselves to slow down. Enriched growth comes from experiences and relationships. It adds an additional layer of benefit and meaning to knowledge gained or action taken.

Time to Dance

Reflecting on this quote is especially timely for me. I am attending a conference this week in a city I have never visited. I will see old acquaintances and make new ones. My to-do list will be as long as ever, but I need to build in one more item going forward: Be sure to enjoy each step of the dance.

The Value is in the Experience

Quote from Don Roy "Life is an experience, not a transaction."

I have been teaching in higher education for twenty years. It has been incredibly rewarding and truly a life changing experience. At the same time, it has frustrated me in some ways. The main source of frustration is a sense that many students miss out certain elements of value that attending college offers. Oh sure, they (usually) follow the list of prescribed courses that when completed will make them eligible to graduate. They check off their requirements like a to-do list. When all of the items on the list are checked off, they receive their diploma and move on.

The scenario I described plays out often at my university and virtually every other one. Many students lock in on completing the transaction that is a degree program and miss out on benefits that other elements of the college experience entails. I feel a sense of sadness for them. At the same time, their focus on the transaction opens my eyes to the fact I do the same thing in certain aspects of my work and life. Life is an experience, not a transaction. We must be open to having experiences while in the process of completing the transaction.

A Transaction Mindset

Completing transactions versus enjoying experiences is not an either-or proposition. Some aspects of our lives are suited for transaction consumption. For example, the process of fueling your car with gasoline has been reduced to a transaction. You pull up to the fueling station, make a payment (probably to a machine without having human interaction), pump the gas you bought, and leave the station. The added value that was once a staple of a full-service gas station now can be received elsewhere  (an oil change service or a tire store) if not a do-it-yourself task. We do not seek an experience from every action we take… nor do we need to.

When we have a transaction mindset, the focus is on goal completion- fill the gas tank, cash a check, or get through a day of classes. We’re so fixed on the outcome that we can miss out on other sources of value (benefits). One of the greatest missed opportunities is building deeper relationships with the people around you. A transaction focus can prevent us from getting to know more about the people around us. For example, I recently learned that a lady at my church  worked at my university for 29 years. I have known her for 16 years and spoken to her on many occasions, but I did not know this fact about her background. Her revelation served as a reminder that too many interactions with people are limited to transactions (e.g., greetings and small talk).

An Experience Mindset

Adopting a transaction mindset can help you accomplish what needs to be done. Unfortunately, it can occur at the expense of missing out on experiences that add perspective, bring joy, and become part of the stories of our life. Experiences add an extra layer of benefit, joy, or satisfaction to a task or transaction. In the world of brands, Starbucks and IKEA are renowned for the customer experience created. The transaction of buying coffee or shopping for furniture is transformed to a multi-sensory experience people will seek out and look forward to engaging.

In our daily lives, we do not need a Starbucks or IKEA to create experiences for us; they are there to be enjoyed if we will avail ourselves to them. I think back to my oldest son’s baseball team some twenty years ago. The team had to be the worst in terms of wins and losses for any sport team which our three sons ever played. One game was particularly brutal, with Chris’s team being on the wrong end of a 19-0 score. On the ride home, he blurted out from the back seat “that was a great game, wasn’t it?” My wife and I looked at each other with the same thought: Was he talking about the same game we just watched? He was because he found joy in the experience of playing baseball, regardless of the outcome of the game (transaction).

Move Beyond Transactions

This week, the goal is to not limit focus to transactions. Look for experiences that come with transactions to get more benefit and fulfillment from the daily steps taken in the journey.

Act “As If” to Shape Your Personal Brand

Norman Vincent Peale quote: "If you want a quality, act as if you already have it... and as you act and persevere in acting, so you tend to become."

When you were young, did you ever dream of being the star pitcher, rock band lead singer, or teen idol movie star (or maybe you still do)? Perhaps you did not imagine yourself in one of these roles, but you may have envisioned yourself on a public stage in some other role. As you get older, the focal point of your imagination may change to your ideal occupation or organization or even the type of person  you want to have as a life partner. These dreams of a future state are common. What is less common is making dreams reality by making the choice to act upon them.

It’s about Congruence

How do you prepare for accomplishment later? You must first have the mindset of someone who expects to accomplish. We often hear of athletes visualizing success- draining clutch free throws, blasting the game winning slapshot, or making the game saving tackle. Athletes that achieve those moments don’t just show up and do them; they practice countless hours and prepare mentally by envisioning success in crucial situations.

These achievement examples suggest that actions are congruent with expectations of our actions. Zig Ziglar was quoted as saying “you cannot perform in a manner that is inconsistent with how you feel about yourself.” In other words, you cannot make the game winning shot if you do not see yourself capable of succeeding in that pressure packed situation. Similarly, if you do not allow yourself to envision being an effective salesperson, you may lack the confidence to engage in a difficult negotiation or have the persistence to deal with a stubborn prospect. Act “as if” becomes a prerequisite for success rather than a whimsical idea.

It’s about Reality

Another quote associated with the notion of act in order to become is “fake it until you make it.” This statement possesses a certain amount of liberation- you do not have to be an expert or perfect in what you do before attempting to do it. And thank goodness that is the case! I have been a college professor for twenty years. Every time I go to class I realize that I know only a minute fraction of what one could know about being an effective professor. Yet, I am able to go into the classroom and do my job. After twenty years on the job I still am faking it because I will never know everything about my chosen profession.

However, we must be cautious not to use “fake it until you make it” as a free pass to be unprepared. An act “as if”  mindset grounds us in reality, encouraging us to adopt the practices and governing behaviors of someone in the role we aspire to have. Act “as if” has many implications for personal growth. We must answer questions including:

  • What is the most effective use of my time?
  • What books, magazines, websites, or blogs should I read?
  • Which organizations should I follow or join?
  • What skills must I develop or strengthen?

Act “as if” is not daydreaming. It focuses us on reality by directing our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Act “As If” and Your Brand

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s quote on acting as if you already have a quality can serve you well in all three dimensions of your personal brand: Meaning, Makeup, and Message. If you want to be viewed as a person of integrity and unwavering values (Meaning elements), you do not wait for others to compliment you on showing these traits, you embody them in your daily actions. When you want to “speak the language” of your chosen field (a Makeup trait), you simply dive in to the works that people in your field consume- you do not need permission! If you feel ready to join the conversation about topics and trends in a field (brand Message), then join conversation. You will invariably make a misstep… and that is OK. After all, you are a human, not a machine. Humans act; machines run. Thus, take advantage of the freedom to act “as if” to position your brand to compete.

Why ‘Get a Job’ is Excellent Personal Branding Advice for Class of 2016

Jon Acuff quote

Late spring is an exciting time of year for many people as graduating college students experience a rite of passage into the next phase of their lives. The National Center for Education Statistics projects 1.8 million students will receive bachelor degrees during the 2015-2016 academic year. Throw in master and doctoral degree recipients, and an estimated 2.6 million people will  celebrate reaching an education milestone. Their graduation begs the inevitable question: What’s next? For the sake of personal brand development, the best answer to that question could very well be “get a job.” It’s time to move from the classroom to the front lines of your career, sharpening skills that are at the heart of the value you offer others.

Get Job Experience- Literally

A professional career is more like a winding road with unexpected turns than a straight line. Many people find themselves in a fulfilling career that is removed from their field of study in college. I make this point to bring out the importance of getting a job… any job to launch your career.

In his book Do Over, author and career expert Jon Acuff says the purpose of your first job is to learn how to have a job. Reflecting on my first professional job thirty years ago, I see that Acuff’s message is spot on. Your education exposes you to concepts and knowledge in the discipline of your major. But, when you take your first job you realize there are many situations and tasks that were never covered in Chapter Eight or on the final exam. How do you resolve conflict within an employee team? What is the best approach for soothing an irritated customer? Why do all project team members  not share your focus on meeting the deadline? You will not know the answers to those questions until you gain experience dealing with them. Heck, you may not even realize those questions exist until you face them on the job.

Skills Development and Your Personal Brand

Skills are a key component of the Makeup dimension of your personal brand. While certain abilities or competencies are obviously important to one’s professional success (e.g., a web developer’s knowledge of relevant programming languages), other skills are not necessarily taught formally like hard skills but are important, nonetheless.

Jon Acuff calls these abilities “invisible skills.” They tend to be skills applicable regardless of your position or industry. Examples include critical thinking, resolving interpersonal conflict, and empathy. These “soft skills” are more difficult to teach using formal methods than hard skills. Yet, soft skills are essential to effectively working with others.

Beat Your Competition

Enhancing invisible or soft skills in your brand Makeup is a prime way to set yourself apart from other early career professionals. Differentiating yourself through strengthening skills can accelerate advancement in an organization or make you more marketable if you look for opportunities elsewhere. Remember those 2.6 million graduates this year? They represent competition. So do the graduates from 2015, 2014,… not to depress you, but you have a lot of competition.

If you are a member of the Class of 2016, accept my congratulations. You did it… now get a job! Not for the same reasons your parents might have for you to be gainfully employed (although paychecks can come in handy), but for the sake of developing skills and ultimately, your brand.