The hardest things to see in life are those that are right in front of us. It’s why we don’t tend to notice a family member gaining or losing weight, or the gradual increase of salt in the once all pepper hair. It’s the proverbial frog in the pot of water gradually being brought to a boil. The frog keeps adjusting itself to the increased water temperature until it’s too late and can no longer spring itself from the pot.
But there’s more to it than that. We’re taught from a young age to measure ourselves by comparison to others. We celebrate sports, but more so, we celebrate individual achievement. Even great team accomplishments are taken as confirmation of our betterness than the other team or the other school.
The grade point average, the popularity, the Facebook likes, how pretty is his girlfriend or how handsome is her boyfriend, and it continues into our professional lives. We measure by how well we do in comparison to others.
For many, the rush to be better becomes a comparison against ourselves. “Am I better off than I was last year, or last month?” “Am I doing better now than I used to?” There’s a gazillion books written about how to succeed, how to get ahead, how to build wealth, and all of it is positioned from the perspective of, “I do this so that this can happen.” I follow this prescribed path, this system, these recommended steps, and then I will achieve something of perceived value.
However, all of our efforts of comparison, all of our pushing towards achievement and accomplishment is missing the point. “What point?” you ask. The point of our existence. Who we are and why we’re here.
Are we here merely to achieve, to affirm our betterness than others, or to be able to self-justify that we’re doing better now than we were before? “It’s about having a comfortable life,” you might say—to be able to provide for ourselves and our families, and so on and so forth. Yes, but no.
The entirety of this kind of a life’s trajectory presupposes that the single most important thing in life is measurement: more money, more popularity, more accomplishment, more accolades. And yet, there has never been a single study into the human psyche that confirms that more is better. In fact, there are lots of studies that corollate the quest for more with increased anxiety, depression, insomnia and addiction. Here’s just a few on that: here, here and here.
“Okay . . . what does this have to do with personal branding?” you may be thinking. Absolutely nothing if your objective is the pursuit of more. And for a great many people, that’s the focus.
But for a growing number of people, it’s not. A budding group of non-associated, non-communal people who suffer in the silence of feeling they’re an anomaly, an outcast to want more from life than merely “more.” The “more” they seek is not the exterior reality of accumulation and accomplishment, but the interior reality of meaning and purpose. They seek to feel something of depth toward their work—that it’s not just, “I do this, and in exchange I receive this pot of gold.”
The great irony of this non-associated, non-communal group is that they have a huge advantage over the other group: the more associated, communal and commonly accepted culture of those who pursue more in the external sense. The purpose seekers, the meaning seekers, they have the advantage of depth and a much more compelling story than just what they’ve accomplished in life. It seems counterintuitive that by not seeking “more” we actually gain an advantage, but it’s actually the meta approach that transcends the external reality of “more.”
The purpose seekers have the advantage of building a personal brand and a new career direction that aligns with their passions and values. They have the advantage of standing out in the most unique way, simply by the nature of positioning themselves authentically. They also have the advantage of aligning with others who share their internal focus on meaning and purpose, through the energy of resonance.
How many times have we read a resume or a LinkedIn profile that touts and touts and touts? Degrees, certifications, letters after the name, positions, titles, books written, ad infinitum. Sure, it’s important to some extent, but isn’t it all so incredibly boring?
What about the person with a purpose? What about a CV with a compelling story? How have we failed and what have we learned? How are we inherently gifted and what drives us? These things are far more interesting and compelling, but they’re not the things we tend to talk about in a cover letter or a business plan. Even the standard interview question like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” How friggen boring. We’ve all heard that question a thousand times and have our standard rehearsed answer ready and waiting. It’s like a cross between Miss American and Ground Hog Day.
At a place beyond the exterior landscape of more things and more accomplishment, lies a deeper and more meaningful interior landscape of why we’re here. And in that interior landscape is a compelling story and a feeling of something like warmth, energy and serenity. It’s the true personal brand, the brand of authenticity, of who we are and why we’re here. It’s the thing that’s right in front of us but is hard see because it’s so close.
It’s in this interior landscape where the spice and magic of life takes form and manifests for us a less determinant but more fulfilling life’s path. It’s like a real-life mystery/adventure story unfolding with each new day. Instead of living vicariously through the characters of our favorite books and movies, we can live it ourselves: courageously, honestly, authentically, and full of the glue that makes us who we are.
It’s the place where we diverge from the pursuit of more (exterior) and achieve more (interior). Tactically, it’s how we craft and communicate a personal brand that actually says something of value. In the interior landscape, it’s how we come to feel invigorated, excited, fulfilled, and even peaceful.
This is not the common course. We’re trained from an early age to focus on exteriors such that it becomes our default position. Our muscle memory is to talk about what we’ve accomplished and how great we are. Shifting to the interior feels awkward and unnatural, like trying a new yoga pose or dance move. We don’t become a master at yoga balancing poses or a light-on-our-feet dancer without pushing ourselves to do different things. And we don’t suddenly transition from the default position of accomplishment, to the unnatural feeling of authenticity overnight. It takes persistence and practice. It’s a journey, and the true joy of life comes from embracing the journey, not the destination.
Remaining in the exterior landscape of accomplishment is being the frog constantly adjusting to the increasing water temperature. If we stay there too long, we’ll eventually fall into depression or distraction or the feeling of having lived a meaningless life. We might have accomplishment, but we won’t have joy. We might have acknowledgement, but we’ll feel deadened inside.
Unless, of course, we come to realize the gradually increasing heat and spring forth from the water and into life.