As you get deeper into your professional life, it’s easy to fall victim to career fragmentation. Years of chasing interesting opportunities that, in the moment, all seem like they’re part of a bigger story can suddenly feel more disjointed 10 or 15 years later, as you look back at the arc of your career. That’s why I find Greg Monaco’s work so interesting and unusual. Monaco is a branding and storytelling coach who works with people to “design their futures.” If you don’t actively build your future self, he warns, you wind up living in a “default state,” where you’re just getting pulled along by circumstances. I asked Monaco why even very successful people can wind up with careers that are a bit of a jumble and what they can do about it.
“ARE YOU A BLUR?”
When it comes to personal branding, the first question I ask is: “Are you a blur?” By that I mean are you a blur in the eyes of people you are trying to enroll in your idea, people who want to hire you in some way, or to yourself?
To illustrate why this matters, I like to tell the story about my short career as a professional soccer player. In college, I was always considered a “role player,” which was a bit of a blow to my ego, which really wanted to be an all-around star on the field. When an opportunity arose to try out for a professional team, my 22-year-old self felt like I was going to get the recognition I deserved. People were finally going to see all of my many talents.
On the day of the tryout, because of some unexpected car trouble, I arrived just as the practice was about to start. Even though I made it in time, the coach cut me. I look back on this moment as an example of being a blur. While I saw myself as indispensable, it turned out that other people — including people who knew the sport far better than I did — had a different perception of my abilities.
If you’re someone who often feels pigeon-holed, misjudged, underestimated or overlooked, it means you have a brand gap. Getting clarity on who you really are is essential to establishing yourself as one-of-a-kind versus one of many. In other words: brand yourself or be branded.
This level of clarity can be particularly beneficial when introducing yourself to someone. It can be overwhelming to look at the resumes of mid- or large-career professionals, with their various experiences spanning decades all jammed onto one page. It can start to look more like “career compost” than a snapshot that could help you get hired.
I’m in business to help people get focused and precise with a specific aspect of themselves. That’s not to say your other experiences aren’t relevant, but more focus at the outset of business relationships gives you the opportunity to share more of yourself as people become increasingly curious.
SHIFTING FROM THE PAST TO THE FUTURE
Channeling your energy is the overarching idea behind the brand-development process. Instead of discussing past experiences, I work to shift people’s knowledge and skills into future-oriented storytelling. While reflecting on the past is always clearer than musing about what the future may bring, brands are an aspirational, future-oriented story. If we’re not actively designing our future—intentionally shifting our perceptions toward a desired trajectory—then we’re settling into what I refer to as a “default state.”
To begin this process of creating your designed future, I suggest getting together with a “thought partner” to discuss what you do, how you do it, and why. I tell people to look for those internal sparks that are differentiating.
One way to access that unique information about yourself is to look for what I call “hand of god” moments in your life. Recognizing those moments where you were in a state of flow, where you were unstoppable—and cataloguing them in your mind—helps you to create a golden thread through this designed future.
Understanding how you uniquely deliver a product and why you do what you do is the foundation of brand development.
CREATING YOUR ‘BULLSEYE’ PERSONA
Then start to think about your audience. Many talented people get lost in the noise because they are simply trying to speak to too many people. Who matters to you? Your ideal audience member, or “bullseye,” can be real or fictional, as long as you are very clear about the relationship you have with them, their needs, and their priorities. Becoming clear about your audience at this point in the branding process gives you a reference point to relate to that strengthens the bond between what you have to offer and your audience.
Next comes the creative connective tissue between you and your bullseye persona. Using a brand archetyping exercise, we develop a composite that reflects you and how your ideal audience then perceives you. Do you know how you want to be perceived in the eyes of your bullseye persona? If that’s still blurry, there is work to be done. By deep diving into a pool of adjectives, you can start to see how each adjective has a story behind it and how these words create wonderful raw material to work from. For added specificity, start to look at verbs. What verb would best describe you and your mission?
Using these building blocks, you are able to create your story. Storytelling relies on structure: the hero, the villain, and the passion. How do these foundational story elements fit into your journey? Now that you have clearer insights into all of that, you can then create a 100-word story that gets to the core of who you are, what you do, and why you do it in a way that will connect with your bullseye persona.
However, the journey doesn’t end there. Once this work is complete, you can revisit your story to tweak it or use it as a reminder before engaging with others or embarking on a new task. With a clear snapshot of who you are always at hand, you can be confident that your unique essence will set you apart from the crowd.