We all have expectations set by others to meet. For me, getting good grades and doing well in school was an expected requirement.
And, of course, we have our own set of expectations. I had learned early on that if I got good grades then life would be good. So I got good grades, and life was supposed to be good, right?
Unfortunately, this expectation didn’t work out very well.
My good grades made me the nerd at school – actually, a nerd with freckles. My nerd status made me a very easy target. All I ever wanted to do in elementary school was just to fit in, but, instead, I was picked on, bullied, and even beat up. I guess being a nerd was not cool for my school.
It definitely didn’t help that everybody also knew that both of my parents are principals (nerd!). And then on top of that, I would disappear every summer to go to Catalina Island, and I wouldn’t be around. I would show back up at school with a ton of fresh freckles and a sun-bleached bull cut, which is the nerdiest combo possible, making me yet again the center of humiliation.
Being an outsider was tough. It was even worse for me because I had difficulty sharing how I felt at the time. Actually, it’s still something that I struggle with today because what I would do, and what I still do, is internalize all my feelings and just go about my business.
I have one vivid memory of young me standing in line on the playground, eagerly waiting to be chosen for a basketball game. Standing as tall as I could to make myself stand out more, the last thing I wanted to happen was to be picked last.
I would watch the team captain go, “You, you, you.” I’d just stand there, watching everyone else around me happily get chosen. I’d keep waiting, and, of course, I was last. What’s worse is that sometimes I wouldn’t even be picked at all.
That’s pretty defeating – actually humiliating – and when that happens enough times, you just stop doing certain things.
I remember being super sad and eventually just giving up, not even trying to get involved in the games. I’d try to convince myself that basketball was just a stupid game and that those people were stupid, but, on the inside, I was still sad.
Now, my mom is pretty perceptive, and she knew something was wrong. She eventually pried what was happening out of me. Being the problem solver that she is, she looks at me and tells me that we’re going to Sport Chalet to get a basketball.
I’m now in Sport Chalet, and I’ll never forget this moment. There was a white Michael Jordan limited edition basketball, and I just had to buy it. With my new basketball – my key to acceptance – I remember bringing it to school, super excited until I realized that basketballs don’t fit into backpacks. I found myself literally carrying around this white ball, and everybody is just staring at me. But I had no idea what to do with it.
Recess came and it was my time to shine. I announced to everybody, but no one in particular, “I’ve got a ball. Who wants to play?”
I was waiting for someone to respond with “Yes!”
I did get a response but not the response I wanted.
They already have a ball.
That was the first time that I learned that having a ball doesn’t necessarily get you in the game. I had an expectation that my basketball was the key, but, unfortunately, it did not unlock the door to acceptance.
Well in your life, more often than not, people are going to label you in a certain way, either for the better or for the worse. And the reality is that whether on the playground or in business, there will be times where people will not pick you for the team.
People won’t give you a chance to speak up. People won’t give you a chance to even try.
In fact, people are going to judge you by what you look like, how you talk, how you walk, what you wear, and nowadays about what they can find out online or your social channels.
While you may not be trying to secure a spot on an elementary pickup basketball game, you’re likely trying to get picked for something else. Maybe you’re trying to start a new business or being picked for a new raise or maybe even picked for a new date.
The hard reality I learned while I was waiting in line to be picked for basketball was that I was being judged. And still, people judge you and me all the time. People have expectations and if you don’t fulfill them, you won’t even get the opportunity.
Now does that define who I am or who you are?
Not entirely, but it still does matter.
But what do you do people are constantly judging you for everything you do?
You define yourself.
Simply put, your personal brand is what people think about you based on the information that they can find, see, hear, what they hear from other people or what they find online. Your personal brand precedes you.
But that’s only half the equation. The other half of the equation is how you think about yourself and how you carry yourself. Your personal brand is really a combination or the intersection of what other people think about you and what you want to be known for. You want to develop a personal brand that encompasses your values and what others value in you.
Developing your personal brand will take some time, but I have a tool to help you: the rapid reflection discovery process. In 6 simple steps, you will be on your way of building a stronger, more authentic personal brand.
Step 1. Identify Your Characteristic Traits
Grab two different colors of sticky notes. The first color is for you.
How do you want to be characterized?
A speaker. A sailor. A high-energy person. Maybe even a ginger!
Write down all the positive descriptors about yourself. But don’t forget to write down the negative traits – you’ll want to save them for later to reflect on what to avoid for your personal brand.
Step 2. Ask Others to Describe You
You have one more color remaining. This color is for other people to describe you.
Give these poster notes to at least 10 people – friends, family members, or people who you work with – and ask them to put a single word or a descriptor of how they would describe you to other people.
You should try to avoid using a centralized group or just your followers or just your family members because you don’t want to skew the results. The more diverse people you ask, the better data you get.
Also, you need to make sure that who you’re asking know that this is completely anonymous. To maintain anonymity, you can have a designated friend who collects the answers for you, have a central location in your office for people to drop off, or have people mail them to your home in anonymous envelopes. For this to work, the participants need to be completely honest, both with good traits and even maybe some bad traits.
Asking others is simple. Just let them know that you are working on building your personal brand, and you would like them to identify a couple of traits about you or about who you are as a person via poster note or email. Whatever the delivery method is, ask everybody to name at least three to five qualities.
Step 3. Collect all the Answers
Now that you’ve reached out to others, give yourself time to collect all the answers. Before moving on, this step is a chance for you to look at all of the information.
Look at all these traits and see if anybody said something that’s maybe not as positive. Maybe somebody said you’re arrogant, maybe somebody said you are rude, or maybe somebody said that you talk too fast.
While these may be upsetting to read, don’t be mad! This feedback is necessary for you to reflect on how you can improve.
Remember how you were supposed to write down traits that you think you can improve on?
See if others wrote down something similar. If they did, then you know that that trait is something you should definitely work on.
On the bright side, if others wrote down the same positive traits you wrote down, you know that you’re on the right track, so keep being you!
Step 4. Step Back and Look at the Assortment of Traits
After collecting all the responses, it’s time to step back and look at all these traits. You’re going to notice a lot of things.
There will be outliers – traits that others see in you, but you don’t see in yourself. You will also see traits that you see in yourself, but others don’t see in you.
Then, you will see these clusters, traits that you have found in both colored poster notes. These clusters are what you want to focus on in the next step.
Step 5. Filter the Assortment of Traits
What you will do next is removing all of the traits that are outliers. The outliers are the traits that only one side – either you or someone else – sees in you, so they aren’t exactly what you’re looking for. However, you should still keep them for personal consideration.
Step 6. Categorize Your Traits in Clusters
After removing all the outliers, you will have a lot of different clusters. But you don’t want that, so take all the clusters that are similar in meaning and find one word that captures all of them.
For me, I’ve got speaker, communicator, and public speaker.
Well, what do they have in common?
Therefore, I’ll categorize this cluster as “communicator” and put all the other traits that relate to communication in this big umbrella cluster.
As you filter through your traits and categorize them, you will see that there will be traits that are career-oriented, life-oriented, hobby-related, or personality-related. The trick is that you want to pick one cluster from each of these different categories: something about work, something about your personality, and something about your hobbies.
You’ll definitely have more to choose from, but my advice to you is to only pick three.
Because three is a magic number.
There are three little pigs, there are three bears, there are three amigos – well, three categories is just the right amount!
The idea here is that these three categories will be a foundation of your personal brand, what you want to be known for and whether you will be good at basketball. While it does matter what other people think about your basketball skills, what also matters is that, if you want to be known for being a good basketball player, you have to put in the effort. How others view you and how you view yourself as a basketball player complement each other, and together, they create your personal brand.
Now, the rapid reflection discovery process is just one tool that you can use to help figure out how to build a better brand. To learn more about this process, go grab a copy of Ditch the Act!
So we know that people have expectations for us.
But we also have expectations for ourselves.
Merge these expectations and now you have a personal brand to develop.
Work through this rapid reflection discovery process. Write down what you want to be known for and what other people know you as, and put them together. Choose three of the top traits that combine with the intersection, and that is the foundation for your brand, which you already have. You’ve defined it, now you just need to grow it.
Think of it as your limited edition Michael Jordan white basketball. That way, you don’t have to worry about who’s picking you for their team because you can start your own team and you can win at your own game!