Learn to Live with “No”

No

The old saying that there are only two things certain in life—death and taxes—should be modified. A third certainty we can expect is rejection. Our world can be turned upside down by a single word: “no.” Thankfully, rejection usually does not inflict emotional pain like death or financial pain like taxes. But, rejection can damage our ego and dent our spirit. Sometimes, rejection stings for only a few minutes, then we move on. Other times, disappointment and anger affect us for years.

Rejection may be a fact of life, but how we deal with rejection can make the difference between bouncing back or getting stuck. This week’s One to Grow On quote from Steve Jobs serves to explain why rejection occurred. Rejection can do less harm to our outlook if we frame a “no” response in a way that maintains proper perspective. Think of Jobs’ statement as a variation of the infamous breakup line “it’s not you, it’s me.” It is less a matter of your shortcomings and more about issues residing with the other person.

Why We Hear “No”

It is a fair reaction to question yourself when rejection happens. Did you say something wrong? Did you offend the other person? What could you have done differently to change the outcome? We can ask these questions and more after the fact. They are part instructional, part therapeutic. You may have a gnawing feeling inside that you could have done something to reach a different outcome. These thoughts are normal, but they will not yield an answer on how the situation could have had a more desirable ending.

When your idea or business proposition is rejected, the root problem is usually traceable to the other person. Some possible reasons for rejection attributable to the other person include:

  • “I don’t care.” The other person is often satisfied with status quo. Your idea would be new in their lives, something with which they can live without having or doing.
  • “I am afraid.” You can be rejected because you rattle cages. The other person is uncomfortable because they know you are right. They need what you are offering, but they are worried about the change they would have to adapt to by accepting your idea.
  • “I am weak.” I doubt anyone would ever cite this reason for rejecting you or your offer, but it could be an underlying problem. They cannot imagine themselves deserving and enjoying the benefits your idea delivers. It is for someone else but surely not them. Their problems run much deeper than anything you said or did.
  • I don’t like you.” I admit it; I was wrong. One reason you hear “no” is personal; the other person does not like you. You are too young (or old), too attractive (or unattractive), too friendly (or aloof), too something for their tastes. Just as a brand like Starbucks does not appeal to all consumers, your personal brand will not resonate with everyone you meet. That fact alone makes rejection normal.

Your Answer to “No”

So how do you respond to rejection? Our comeback to “no” can validate the other person’s beliefs or strengthen our resolve to stay the course. Let’s embrace the latter, shall we? If “no” doesn’t mean I can’t do it, what must I do to take the focus off the rejection? Here are three possible responses.

  • Prove them wrong. Rejection can be a powerful motivator to show someone they were wrong about you or your idea. At the beginning of my academic career, I was passed over for a position at my alma mater. The rejection crushed me at the time, but it also pushed me to become a more productive researcher. I no longer felt the need to prove them wrong once  I realized I could “do my thing” in other places and with other people.
  • Reframe the message. Rejection is not due to an inadequacy about you. The rejection is a perceived lack of need based on information available to the other person. Address this problem by ensuring your message focuses on what is in it for them. People buy ideas because they will make their life better in some way. Some people will still reject an idea positioned as good for them. Others you are losing now could be reached with a clearer answer to the question “what’s in it for me?”
  • Empathize, not sympathize. When people oppose or reject you, do not automatically dismiss them. Understand where they are coming from (empathize), but do not accept their beliefs as your own (sympathize). Who knows—an empathetic response could win them over. At the very least, you maintain beliefs in your idea and can agree to disagree about its utility to them.

A Matter of When

You will be rejected (perhaps even a lot). Rather than playing it safe and avoiding situations in which rejection is possible, understand that a “no” is not about you. More importantly, it is not a verdict against your idea. Rather, it can be a signal to look for opportunity elsewhere.

Become a Master Biscuit Maker

2014 Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge winner Travis Squire (bojangles.com)

A serving tray liner at a Bojangles restaurant was the last place I expected to get a personal branding lesson. But, I have come to realize that learning is possible in the most unlikely situations. On a recent breakfast visit to Bojangles with my youngest son, my chicken biscuit came with a side of personal branding. More specifically, the tray liner featured winners of the company’s biscuit making competition. At first, I thought the “competition” was a witty means of persuading diners how delicious Bojangles biscuits can be. I quickly realized it was no joke; there are skilled employees practicing the craft of biscuit making at Bojangles.

A Master Biscuit Maker- Really?

The information on the tray liner about the Master Biscuit Maker Challenge intrigued me, so I researched it further. First, the name Master Biscuit Maker is not just something made up for a contest. Bojangles certifies employees as Master Biscuit Makers. The process includes passing a written exam about the company’s 48-step biscuit making process. Second, certified Master Biscuit Makers compete at the store, area, and regional level for a chance to go to company headquarters in Charlotte for the finals. The 2016 competition included 17 finalists representing  a mix of corporate owned and franchise locations. Each finalist received $250 while vying for a grand prize of $2500. Two grand prize winners included one employee one from company stores and one from franchise stores.

Perhaps I am too easily impressed, but the concept of a Master Biscuit Maker kept crossing my mind in the days after my breakfast visit to Bojangles. Could it be envy? After all, my definition of achievement when it comes to biscuit making is successfully popping open a can of biscuits. No, I don’t think it is envy that attracts me to this story. I think it is awesome that Bojangles elevated the process of biscuit making to something akin to a craft. The significance of biscuit making in Bojangles’ brand experience is reinforced by the Master Biscuit Makers certification program.

Working on Skill Set

A takeaway from learning about the Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge is that skill development is indispensable to personal branding. One of my favorite sayings is “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.” This idea applies to personal branding, too. No amount of tweets, blog posts, or slick web pages can conceal an under-developed skill set. Skills are central to your personal brand Makeup. They are at the heart of your “product” offering.

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to skill set development. A blend of hard skills (i.e., measurable competencies or knowledge) and soft skills (indirectly measurable abilities like critical thinking and communication) are essential to differentiate your brand. Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers invest in strengthening their hard skills by elevating biscuit making from task to craft.

Do the Work

A Chinese proverb says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” When it comes to enhancing the skill set of your personal brand, it could be argued that the best time to develop expertise has passed. The good news is that the next best time is now, followed by tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. Too many people aspire to be the pro or expert. They forget to plan for the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book Outliers. To be among the best in your field requires work… a lot of work. Consistent practice and repetition is where you build your “muscles” in the skill or job you have chosen.

A fierce commitment to skill development can have another positive impact beyond getting better at what you do: It can fan the flames of passion. Despite all of the calls to “follow your passion,” you are more likely to experience a passion awakening by becoming better at what you do. You can be energized by successes, recognition, and especially realization that you are creating value for others.

I am impressed by the commitment and ability shown by Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers. Their story illustrates you do not have to be in a high profile environment to perform at a high level. The kitchen of a quick service restaurant might seem like an unlikely place to find people sharpening skills, but that is exactly what is going on. Bojangles biscuits taste even better knowing the commitment of the company to the skill of biscuit making.

Choose Your Focus or It Will be Chosen for You

hourglass

Time is the great equalizer. For all of the variation existing in resources such as education, experience, and income, the one resource that you cannot multiply is available time. We all have 24 hours in a day with which to accomplish how much (or how little) we want to do. Moreover, time has the upper hand in our lives as we do not know when time will be called and life on earth is over. Time is clearly a precious yet finite resource. Time scarcity makes choices about how we focus our attention and thoughts all the more important.

The One to Grow On quote this week is simple, but it is a message that I often need to be reminded to follow. It is a call to make a priority of people and situations that are truly important and recognize the rest for what they are—less important.

I came across this quote at a time when some of my co-workers were hurting. They did not tell me they were hurting, but they did not have to say a word. Setbacks occurred in projects in which they were heavily invested. They had a right to be disappointed, frustrated, and even angry. It saddened me to see them dejected. It also saddened me to see them stewing in so much negative energy for situations that do not matter much in the big picture.

Recognize the Distractions

It is not too difficult to become ensnared with issues and situations that do not matter much in the long run. We do not set out to do let small matters rob us of growth opportunities, yet that is exactly what can happen. We fixate on small things that do not go as we want, dragging us down to the point it impairs our ability to work on big things. You can cite many explanations for succumbing to these distractions:

  • You want to do right. If you have strong beliefs about how an issue or project should be handled, you may feel led to get involved to do something about it. But, if the outcome does not go your way the personal investment you made can feel like a loss.
  • You want to win. Sometimes, our competitive spirit overcomes us, and we take on a non-priority project or issue because we seek the satisfaction of being on the “right” side of the outcome.
  • You forget there is more than one way. Becoming sidetracked with matters that are not related to your true priorities can occur because we think we have the best solution. You may have the best solution, but is it an issue worth your investment, or will someone else’s solution suffice?
  • You welcome the distraction. If you regularly become distracted by low priority issues and projects, are you seeking them out as diversions? Shifting your focus to tackle a project that is low priority might feel good to you. Perhaps you justify the diversion by convincing yourself it must be handled… by you. The unintended effect can be you spread yourself too thin, causing more important projects to suffer.

Goals = Focus

How can we avoid falling into a dark hole of anger and discontent when something does not go our way? Set goals. Priorities are established when goals are in place. They give focus to how to spend your time, attention, and even your money. Pursuing those outcomes that will contribute to your growth leaves little room for distractions in the form of unimportant issues to creep in to your life.

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to setting goals. The practice of personal branding is pointless without having clearly defined outcomes. In Me, we urge setting goals for different life parts. We are not one-dimensional beings, and your goals should reflect your varied interests. The life parts for which goals can be set include:

  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Wellness
  • Spiritual
  • Financial
  • “Bucket list”

When you set goals for multiple life parts, you set priorities for what is important to you and in turn, demands your focus. You will be too busy to be dragged down by the minutiae of low priority or non-priority matters.

Short Indeed

We are wired for accomplishment. The thrill of achievement is one of the greatest feelings we experience. Realizing achievement and success in the right areas can be easier said than done. Resolve to focus on what matters most and let go of what doesn’t. Life is short, and time is limited. Decide what your priorities will be and enjoy the journey of pursuing goals.

Your Outlook Determines Your Outcome

starry sky

When our oldest son, Chris, was seven years old, he played on a baseball team… a bad baseball team. I know, at that age it should be all about having fun. Parents were not having much fun, though, as the team struggled to improve. The low point of the season was a 19-0 blowout loss. I dreaded the ride home- how would I console my child who had just been on the wrong end of a resounding defeat?

The game is memorable because of something Chris blurted out from the back seat. He exclaimed “that was a great game!” My wife and I looked at each other wondering what game he was talking about. It couldn’t have been the one he just played! Yet, in his mind it was a great game. He never explained why he felt that way, but I am glad he did. Chris’s outlook determined the outcome of the game in terms of its impact on him. Others were keeping score, but he felt a different outcome because of a different view of what made for a great game.

Oscar Wilde quote

Life in the Gutter

I often think of that lopsided defeat Chris’s baseball team experienced and his refreshing take on the outcome. Chris’s outlook is echoed in the words of playwright and poet Oscar Wilde. We are all in the gutter, perhaps not all the time, but we face adversity and setbacks that place us in that gutter. Sometimes, we wonder if it is possible to get up and out of the gutter- a lost job, failed relationship, or unsuccessful business venture- and some people take up residence there.

It is helpful to realize that falling into the gutter is normal and is not a matter of your life being jinxed. They say two things in life are certain: death and taxes. We should add a third thing to the list because adversity will land your doorstep. There is nothing akin to an ad blocker or do-not-call list to keep adversity out of your life. You will take up residence in the gutter. The frequency of visits and length of stay will depend largely on your outlook toward the situation.

Gutter Talk

What is the deciding factor in how things turn out when you find yourself in the gutter of adversity? Your outlook on the situation. As much as you might want to blame a boss, a bully, or the government for your woes, none of them will pull you out of the gutter. No one else has more at stake for you to bounce back than you.

The gutter can be a slimy, unpleasant place. I want out as soon as I realize I’m there. The content of your self-talk can be the difference between looking at the stars or getting acclimated to your surroundings in the gutter. I find three reminders helpful to help pull me out of the gutter:

  1. Being in the gutter is normal. I would be more concerned about someone if they told me they had never faced adversity or felt like they were in the gutter. If you never find yourself in the gutter, you are not trying hard enough!
  2. I’ve been here before. Since being in the gutter is normal, you should expect to find yourself there from time to time. It is an acknowledgement that is easier to make the older and more experienced you are. You can recall setbacks and remember you were able to overcome them.
  3. I have control over when I get out. This point can be the hardest to accept. And, it can also be the hardest to implement. Realizing adversity is normal and that you have felt it before takes self-awareness. Buying in to the idea you have control over managing the effects of the adversity you face is more challenging. Unfortunately, in extreme cases some people refuse to believe they have control. Someone or something wants to keep them down; trying to fight it is futile.

Embrace the Gutter

The words of Oscar Wilde will come to mind anytime I find myself in the gutter of adversity. Being there is not uncommon, but I have an opportunity to craft a unique response to the adversity. It will not only free me, but the response to adversity will shape my personal brand story. While I don’t seek out chances to wallow in the gutter, I will not be fearful when it happens, either. Open your eyes, look up toward the stars, and see the possibilities beyond the adversity.

Curiosity: The Seeds of Talent

curiosity

How do you see yourself? Is the way you see the person in the mirror the same as how the world sees you? Sometimes, a wide gulf exists between perception and reality. A very smart person reminded me of this difference. That smart person was Albert Einstein. He once said “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

If Einstein had no special talents, is there any hope for the rest of us? His name is synonymous with intelligence, scientific rigor, and talent. Yet, in his mind he had no special talents. One of the most distinctive personal brands to walk the earth was not lacking in talent, as he suggested. But, he possessed a greater gift that led him to accomplishment: curiosity.

 Why Curiosity Matters

All great accomplishment comes from an unease or dissatisfaction with the status quo. We question whether things could be different or better. Then, if the discomfort is significant enough we embark on a journey to come up with a solution. Alternatively, we could turn away from the current situation and let it remain as is. Growth requires a willingness to accept risk; curiosity is a form of self-permission to pursue accomplishment.

Curiosity is at the root of this transformation. If we are unwilling to question why we accept things as they are, what an alternative would look like, and how to get to that alternative state, we will continue to reside in a comfort zone. The digs are nice, but who knows, we could be in a much nicer “neighborhood” if we allow curiosity to work for us.

Build Curiosity Muscle

Can you become better at allowing curiosity spark personal growth? I hope so because using curiosity to spur growth is a personal weakness of mine. Years of conforming to rules and systems will do it to you. Conformity and curiosity can be at odds sometimes. It is a relief to realize curiosity can become a personal growth tool rather than a liability.

I recently read an article on curiosity by Donald Latumahina. In the article, he discusses why being curious is an important personal trait and how you can develop it. Four tips for becoming more curious stood out:

  1. Keep an open mind. This practice can be harder to follow today as we can fall into an echo chamber of reading and listening to like-minded people. Embrace other perspectives if for no other reason than to deepen your understanding of other people.
  2. Don’t take things for granted. “It has always been done this way” is not the best justification or guideline. Be willing to consider if there is a better way.
  3. Ask questions. Make questions of Why? When? Where? What? more prominent in your vocabulary. I wrote a post on the importance of asking questions in our personal growth. Leveraging curiosity is one of the most important roles asking questions can play.
  4. Learn from different sources. We can deepen our understanding of the world around us and spark curiosity by broadening our information sources. Don’t limit learning to the same newspapers, magazines, or websites. Moreover, don’t limit learning to sources from one field or industry. If you are an accountant, make a point to read works about architecture. We can learn from other fields and question assumptions we make about our own field.

Grant Permission

What I learned from reflecting on the role of curiosity in personal growth is simple: I must give myself permission to be curious. You have heard the saying “curiosity killed the cat.” That thought does little to encourage curiosity. Although some people may be naturally more curious than others about the world around them, the good news is we are not limited to a natural inclination to be curious. We must overcome indifference and apprehension and be open to what we can learn about people and the world around us.

People Don’t Like You and That’s OK

Your brand is not for everyone. The sooner you stop worrying about being liked and focus on the people you can best serve, the sooner you will create a distinctive personal brand.

crying child

Acceptance is a basic human need. Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed love and belonging (i.e., having relationships with others) as being one of five types of needs we strive to meet. In Maslow’s hierarchy, these social needs sit squarely in the middle, pursued once physiological and safety needs are met. When we are satisfied with relationships and acceptance from others, we are freed to pursue higher level needs: esteem (feeling of accomplishment) and self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential). Please don’t leave; the psychology less is now over!

I share a brief review of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with you because it has implications for personal branding. Our pursuit of fulfilling the need to belong and feel loved could lead us to try casting a wide net. At an extreme, you want everyone to like you. Forget that extreme—everyone will not like you or me. Once we embrace this marketing fundamental we can focus on creating value for the people who matter most.

Hit the Target

Identifying a target market is a default marketing strategy. That means targeting is not a question of should you do it but rather how should you do it. If that is disheartening to you, think about it— a brand cannot be all things to all people. When it comes to product brands, even highly successful products and services do not appeal to everyone. For some people, the price is too high. For others, they do not see the brand’s image as being compatible with their self-image. Yet others do not like a brand because of negative information held in memory, whether it be from first-hand experience or word-of-mouth. I could go on to create a lengthy list of reasons people do not buy a particular brand, but you get the point.

Free yourself from trying to be a brand for everyone. Instead, focus on serving a target market. By definition, a target market is a group of people most likely to be interested in what you have to offer. Knowing your target market is important because it enables you to make two important decisions:

  1. How to best utilize your talents to create value through your work, content creation, volunteerism, and other ways you have impact.
  2. Gives direction on how to allocate two precious resources, time and money, to serve other people.

When you embrace serving a specific target market, it will give you clarity in how to use your resources. More importantly, you will feel less pressure to try to please everyone.

Finding Your Target

Understanding the benefits of serving a defined target market is one thing, figuring out what that market is can be a more daunting task. My favorite approach for determining your target market is to ask three questions that give insight into the people you serve. They are:

  1. What benefit or unmet need can I help people realize or fulfill?
  2. What are the personal characteristics of people I can help (i.e., age, profession, geographic area, life situation, etc.)?
  3. What are the best communication channels to reach and engage these people?

Effective marketing involves asking questions, lots of them. Defining your target market is no exception. Ask questions about the people you serve, and you shall receive clarity on your target market.

Take a Stand

Creating a distinctive brand entails taking a stand to be the real you. It is this choice that will turn off some people from your brand. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk is known for having one of the most powerful personal brands in marketing and social media. His direct, sometimes profane delivery at the same time attracts and repels. People turned off by his style can go elsewhere to consume and learn. Gary will do just fine without them. Why? He has clear answers to the three questions about the people he serves. Gary creates value for those people; his message resonates with them.

Taking a stand means you will have non-fans, detractors, and even haters. The alternative is indifference because your brand does not elicit reaction. The former is preferred to the latter. Don’t let a quest to gain acceptance dilute your convictions. Stay true to your brand.

Questions, Questions, Questions—Keep Asking

The answer to creating a better life depends on the questions you ask.

Questions

My wife, Sara, has been my better half for thirty years. She has many admirable qualities, but one that I often observe is her penchant for asking questions. Sometimes, I do not perceive it as a desirable trait, such as having to explain that it is a penalty when a defensive back wraps his arms around a wide receiver before the ball arrives… even though the defender’s job is to tackle the offensive player. Doesn’t everybody know that? Of course not, but when we forget to walk in someone else’s shoes we lack empathy and awareness of others.

When I read a quote from personal growth expert Tony Robbins recently, it changed my view about the questions people ask. All questions matter regardless of depth or perceived importance, at least to the person asking them. Questions serve valuable roles in our life, and instead of questioning the questions we should be thankful they are asked. Moreover, we should consider how asking questions can spur personal growth.

Tony Robbins quote on questions

Why We Must Ask Questions

It only took thirty years, but I now understand why my wife asks the questions that she poses about football, current events, and more. And, the reason has nothing to do with ignorance or lack of knowledge. We ask questions to raise our quality of life, as Tony Robbins states. Asking questions is not an indicator of inadequacy. Rather, a willingness to ask questions means we are open to growth.

Asking questions powers growth in three ways:

  1. Questions fill in the blanks. It is impossible and unrealistic to think we can know everything we need to know to get by in daily life. Differences in upbringing, environment, experiences, and more mean we have knowledge gaps. We simply have not been exposed to all that there is to know. Questions are a natural vehicle for closing knowledge gaps. My wife says she asks questions for this reason. She has a curiosity that she seeks to overcome, and asking questions is the ideal way to make it happen.
  2. Questions challenge our assumptions. Asking questions aids in understanding our beliefs about the boundaries in which we operate. Not asking questions could lead to us accepting things as they are… but they could be better. One of my favorite stories related to this point is about a family gathering in which the women of the family are cooking a meal. One of the women prepare a ham to put in the oven. They cut off the end of the ham. When questioned by her daughter why she always cuts off the end of the ham, the mother responds “because my mother always did it.” Well, her mother was there, so the reason for this practice could be uncovered. The mother’s answer? “I cut the end off because my mother always does it.” The matriarch was in the room, so she, too, was asked this question. The secret was finally revealed: “I cut off the end of the ham because my pan is too small.” Failing to ask questions could lead to us continuing to cutting off the end of the ham, not really knowing why we do it.
  3. Questions move us beyond status quo. Once we challenge assumptions by asking questions about why things happen, we can ask more questions to effect change and in turn, growth. Returning to the family gathering, the aha moment when everyone learns the end of the ham is cut off because the baking pan is too small should lead to follow-up questions. Is there a reason we never got a larger pan? What size pan do we need? What options are available? Answering these questions could lead to taking action… and discontinuing the practice of cutting off part of the ham.

What Holds Us Back

Given the benefits of asking questions, shouldn’t we be posing more of them? Unfortunately, we often pass on the chance to ask and as a result miss growth opportunities. As I think about it, I let far too many chances to ask questions slip away. It helps no one and negatively affects quality of life as Tony Robbins suggests. What is holding me back?

  1. Pride. One of the biggest deterrents to personal growth is pride. How can that be, you might wonder. Why would anyone stand in the way of his or her own development? It can happen when we are too proud to admit we do not know very much. Instead, we should adopt a mindset of if we do not know, ask.
  2. Indifference. Another obstacle to asking questions that we foolishly erect is indifference. We do not know something, but we have survived just fine so far without knowing. So, why bother asking questions? Yes, I may be able to live in blissful ignorance, but at some point that crumbles as a personal development strategy.
  3. Fear. In contrast to the laziness associated with pride and indifference, fear of asking questions relates to what we might have to do based on answers to questions we have avoided asking. Will I expose a glaring weakness I must confront? Am I going to have to admit inadequacies that make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach goals? We must be brave enough to ask questions of ourselves regardless of how uncomfortable answers could make us feel.

No Question about Questions

I have reflected on Tony Robbins’s quote several times since first reading it. That one sentence has changed how I look at asking and answering questions. We give ourselves permission to , learn, understand, and grow when we ask questions. It is one aspect of our growth for which we are in charge. We do not need permission to ask questions, nor are we limited in the number of questions to pose… no question about it!

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.

 

Three Questions Behind Your Personal Brand

question marks

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with instructions. Sometimes, we follow instructions for a while but stray from them when they become too complicated or vague. Other times, we forgo instructions altogether under the belief that we can “figure it out.” And, we may be able to figure it out with some success. Ultimately, the choice not to follow instructions can leave us with a less than ideal outcome, like assembling a piece of furniture with a couple of screws left over. We do not know what to do with the screws because we did not follow instructions and hope that the unused screws do not come back to haunt us later.

Your own brand is too valuable to be left to chance or following only those instructions that you find easy or comfortable. Instructions can answer questions you do not even know you have. You may want to transform your personal brand. Or, you may come reluctantly to personal branding because someone has made it a requirement- a teacher or boss has given you an assignment to complete.

Regardless of where you are coming from, reflect on three important questions that inspired Colby Jubenville and me to share our instruction set for personal branding in Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World: 1) Why me? 2) Why not me? 3) If not me, then who?

Why Me?

It is possible you are taken aback by our book’s title: Me. If you are a millennial (often defined as persons born between 1981 and 2000), you are tired of labels associated with your generational group of “self-centered” and “self-absorbed.” A book about “me” seems to play to those labels. Contrary to that notion, a decision to proactively market yourself has positive connotations. First, no one else in this world has the incentive or urgency to manage your brand that you have- not parents, spouse, friends, or boss- only you. These important people in your life can support you as you build and maintain your brand, but they cannot do it for you as well as you can do it for yourself.

Second, managing your personal brand creates value for the people with whom you interact or serve. The personal benefit to you in terms of professional growth, income, and satisfaction are by-products of the value you add in others’ lives. So, far from being a venture in self-indulgence, personal branding is an ongoing process of creating benefit for the world around you.

Why Not Me?

Personal branding is an ongoing concern just as brand management is an ongoing concern for companies and products. However, do not look at managing your brand as a burden to bear or price to pay. Rather, you will enjoy the fruits of proactively managing your professional and personal identity. You should not be excluded from the potential growth that managing your personal brand offers. As you observe others who have “made it,” consider that they most likely earned whatever success or status they have attained- it was not handed to them. Similarly, you can be that person other people notice moving up and ahead because of your commitment to nurture your brand. Give yourself permission to grow through building a distinctive personal brand.

If Not Me, Then Who?

It is not surprising that many people hold themselves back through fear of failure. They cannot fathom what will happen to them or what others will think of them if they do not land their dream job, do not get the promotion, fail at a major project, or lose their job. Some level of fear is natural and can even be motivational, driving you to overcome limiting fears to achieve goals. But, another fear that may be more surprising is fear of success. “How will my relationships change if I am promoted?” or “What will my new goals be if I reach my current ones?” Yes, we can be afraid of what we will encounter if we actually get what we want.

The combination of fear of failure and fear of success can serve to sabotage our growth plans, ensuring we do not get hurt… except that is exactly what happens when we limit our own growth. Could someone else step up? Yes, but do not shortchange yourself. Do not defer to others at the expense of your own growth and advancement. A clearly defined personal brand will give you confidence and direction to deal with and overcome the dual threat of fear of failure and fear of success.

The Only Dumb Questions…

You have heard the expression that the only dumb questions are the ones never asked. This timeless saying applies to personal branding, too. You should be asking “why me,” “why not me,” and “if not me then who” daily. These questions keep us oriented as to why our brand matters and how proactively managing it can create value for others.

Personal Growth Requires Small Thinking

small small small

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.