The Art of Being You: Building A Better Personal Brand (without the BS)

Fu*k the rules, do what’s right for you?
Seriously. Fu*k em. 

Do you remember life without screens? 

I mean the glowing, talking, ever-present & omniscient ones we wistfully while away our lives behind (be they big, medium, small, or pocket-sized?

Do you remember going out with your friends at the dew-drop-dawn of each new day & riding bikes from sun-up to sun-down. Making up rules to games that didn’t exist yet & relishing in the art of unfettered play?

Did you dance on tables for the joy of & not because we needed fodder to feed an algorithm or three? 

Let me tell you… I did. Thank GAWD we didn’t have smartphones & cameras documenting every waking moment of our lives when I was young. Instead we embraced boredom as a challenge. We invented adventures & undertook them fastidiously.

We found joy in recounting our harrowing tales of escaping scorpions, rattlesnakes, & Bob cats (ahem, we never had to escape really – we never saw all the critters we imagined we’d escaped from, it was their trails in the shallow dust that reminded us they were there though). Oh I loved the days before digital applause became inherently tied to our own self-worth.

When was the last time you spent an entire summer afternoon lying in the grass looking up at the sky & watching the clouds pass overhead?
I can’t remember the last time I did it. 
Has my 13year-old daughter ever done this?
Ever? 
I’m not actually sure. 

My own memories moments where I was truly present haunt me like gentle ghosts. Nudging me. Nurturing me. All of them are specters of a past that whisper in my ears “Do you remember…” hey haunt me in rare moments of silence & stillness, prodding at a dusty corner of my consciousness reminding me of the innate joy in doing nothing. Now though, nothingness is frowned upon. 

In a world where we pay to go places without wifi & are easily seduced by the idea of going offline, we struggle when we encounter boredom. We’re now hard-wired for connection 24/7/365. But the connection our brains desire (damn you, dopamine) isn’t real connection. 

We are living in a time where our personal value is oftentimes measured by how busy we are, how many titles we’ve put next to our names on LinkedIn profiles, & how many followers see the photos/videos/words we upload. The measure is simple: if lots of people see the reckons we post & the breakfasts we tweet about (accompanied by inane/clever/snooze-worthy hashtags), then we must be very important & interesting. Right? 

Yeah, nah. 

In the past 20 years the fabric of our connected culture has become shinier, sure. And don’t we just covet the shiny things? We attempt to grab more & more of the twinkly stuff. We show only our highlight reels to the world. The ups. The celebrations. The rising from a fall. The highest of peaks. Sometimes we show glimpses of the hard stuff. But, that’s only sometimes. 

Mostly though, we keep our fears & our anxieties locked away. 
We wallow in our own defeats when defeat looks like us. 
When the person we see in the mirror isn’t perfect we hide them & from them. 

We disconnect to connect.

For most of us, social interactions are a smoke-screen. A proof-point of interacting with a modernity that has over-run us. It’s social media that defines us. All of us. We post dreamy smiles in golden sunlight in the hopes of living up to the expectations of people we’ve never met. Expectations that have yet to be defined. 

We follow. 
We follow.
We follow. 
We follow…

And, in turn, we hope others will follow us.
Why? Because being followable is the new wealth. 

Whether it’s 100 people or 100million, being followed is a new currency by which we buy & sell our self-confidence off of the back of likes, shares, comments & the ever-elusive idea of virality. Our sweet-fix digital culture is killing us though. Quite literally. We’re drunk on algorithms. 

Here at home in New Zealand our depression & suicide rates are higher than almost anywhere else in the world. We measure our value, our lovability, & our cleverness by double-taps on a screen somewhere else in the world. People we will never know hold our lives in the palms of their hands. 

Which brings me to the topic of Personal Brand. 

Google the term or take a wee squizz on any LinkedIn timeline & you’ll find a treasure trove of people talking about cutting through the din of digital content & becoming a thought leader by building a better personal brand than the next person. Millions of articles purport the best tips-&-tricks for hacking human algorithms (not to mention the social media driven ones) & becoming instantly likable. Instantly famous. Instantly worthy. 

This isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s an old one. It’s only the platforms on which we’re meant to sparkle that are different. Le sigh. Hands up if you’re already bored of all of the beaty-chesty congratulatory swill that people post in an attempt to feel any bit of anything at all. We chase this kind of interaction because we’ve forgotten how to say “Thank you,” and “Well done,” and any other nice thing to each other in real life – so we look for kindness online. 

Let me be the first to tell you though, the beaty-chesty stuff isn’t authentic or likable. We’re smart. All of us. We can sense bullshit at a thousand paces. When it comes to professional platforms like LinkedIn I can spot a boot-licker from just as far a distance as a bullshit artist. 1,000 paces. 

The most frequent question I get asked is: How can you tell if someone is authentic or not? 

Firstly, let’s not beat around the bush. If you are wondering if someone might not be who they purport to be – then investigate further. Our guts are great at spotting/feeling when things don’t feel quite right. If you’re looking for something that’s based on a person’s online activity, a good rule of thumb to figure out if someone’s yanking your proverbial chain is simple. 

On LinkedIn, head to their “activity” tab & see how they interact & with whom. A person who never interacts with their own colleagues but who hammers ye olde LIKE button when it comes to the chiefs is an easy pick as a butt-kisser. When I see folks of this ilk, I unfollow/dis-engage immediately. There’s only so much brown-nosing a girl can handle up in a timeline, ya know? But that’s just one way to spot someone who is out for themselves instead of sharing themselves with others.

I believe that personal brand isn’t what you may think it is.

I’m here to bring you a different view on it. Instead of playing by other people’s rules, we get to write our own. We do! No one has to be one thing or another to have amazing thoughts & share them. You don’t have to be extroverted, shouty, or move at pace. You need only be who you are to be seen & heard. 

In fact, every single build a better personal brand article that I’ve read that doesn’t start with: “Fuck the rules, do what’s right for you!” is an article I automatically am cynical about. Cynical because if you’re going to tell other people how to live their lives, you’re not doing anyone a favour. 

So, in attempt to not write something that actually helps, & to answer questions that I get asked a whole heckuva lot, here’s my take on the best rules for building your personal brand online & offline:

  • FOLLOW THE WELL TRODDEN PATH
    Hahaha! LOL. Not. Don’t follow a path. 
    Follow a beat. Be it the beat of your heart, a beat of your own drum, or the beat of your favourite power song – follow by leading with that which feeds you. When you know your values & lean hard into them, then you’ll know the path you need to forge. I’ve always found inspiration in others. People who move through the world completely comfortable in their own skin are people I look to when my own comfort in who I am wavers. 

    The happier I am in who I am, the more I’m able to exist in a state of insatiable curiosity. I ask questions. And, I’m open to a magical melding together of electricity and stardust. To stand out, stand up. It’s not always easy to share. But it gets easier the more you do it. Don’t get stuck in the mud of the well-trodden path. Go on, Tiger. Tip-toe through the tulips instead. 
  • DRESS FOR SUCCESS
    Gross, no. 
    Dress for how you feel. 
    Dress how you want.
    Dress up, down, all around. 

    Just make sure that you are, in fact, dressed. 

    All of us should be able to show up in the world the way we want to show up. We must learn to take up space. To be visible in ways that work for us as individuals. Also, we must allow others to do the same. Celebrating diversity means being inclusive of any kind of vibe we bring sartorially. Obviously some professional engagements call for different attire and formalities. If you need to wear a suit, wear one. By all means. 

    But if you’re keen to wear that blue-flower print that makes you feel powerful, do it. Or, that bright orange number that makes you feel like a million bucks – it’s calling your name & does you no good hanging in your closet. If you’re more comfortable with a traditional corporate attire, that’s a-okay as well. You do you, Boo. You write the rules by which you play. If my penchant for double-denim is anything to go by, you’ll soon find out that when you’re at your most comfortable on the outside, you’re also your most productive & effective. Go on, give dressing for your idea of success a whirl. 
  • FOLLOW/NETWORK WITH EXECUTIVES & C-SUITE
    LOL, soz. No thanks. When I see people only managing “up” on LinkedIn & in other professional settings I instantaneously dry-retch. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t reach out to or follow people in positions you aspire to – just don’t let the idea of a corporate ladder be that which defines your personal branding strategy online (or off). Instead of seeking out the top-dogs only, follow people who inspire you instead. Search out people who have a genuine opinion & who aren’t afraid to share it. I always look for the helpers, the givers. 

    The people who spend most of their time with one aim in mind: to connect. These people are worth their weight in gold & then some. I’ve learned more from following people who are different to me & who are in different roles to me than I have by following a whole heap of CEO’s names John or Dave. With a good mix of colleagues, contemporaries, & kick-ass people who you just seem to gel with, you’ll make a much better impression on just on the world – but you’ll learn a whole lot more & be able to feed your curiosity more authentically.

    Also, things we should do more fastidiously are: 
    Thank people. 
    Compliment people. 
    Ask questions. 
    Banter. 

    Remember, building a personal brand isn’t about kissing asses. 
    It’s about trust, integrity, & being true to who you are as a person. If you’re keen on learning more from people higher up the ladder, follow away. But don’t forget to stop for a moment & look at everyone else around you. It might just be your network of contemporaries who lift you the highest as you move through your career. 
  • SHARE COMPANY STORIES 80% OF THE TIME, PERSONAL ONES 20%
    I see this a lot. Folks who are either a) drinking the Kool Aid hard-out & don’t realise the damage they’re dong to their personal brand by not branching out in their interests or who are b) looking for congratulations & adulation from others within their business alone. In the olden days of LinkedIn (yes, there were olden days & I lived through them) the rule of thumb was to only share stories about the business or industry you worked in, but that was because the platform was originally a hunting ground for job-seekers & HR folks looking to poach top talent. 

    If you were caught on LinkedIn during the Wild West days of the platform, you were always branded a person looking for greener pastures. Lucky for all of us, the platform has matured (hopefully as have we) & the facts don’t lie: to have people engage with you you must be engaging. Seems fairly obvious, right?

    Yet, I quite often see folks who will only talk about XYZ business & XYZ profits & XYZ strategy… blah blah blah. In all reality, if you’re looking to grow your personal brand online, you need to flip the above percentages. Or, be much cleverer in how you share information so that the people you’re hoping to engage with understand your personal drivers. If you share 100% business information, but can do so with a personal interest or a passionate & human spin, then that’s a-okay. Because… you guessed it… that makes the information you’re sharing relatable & valuable.

    I mean, I’m sure your big/small/medium sized business is awesome & that you are truly in love with the CMS, DMP, & campaign PIRs you work with… but tell me something interesting. Tell me something surprising. In fact, share a new idea. Say something bold. Something different. I’d love 100% of you & your ideas… but if you’re on LinkedIn, sure go on & pepper in some business speak. But please don’t make it an 80% love-fest about corporate policy.

    Humans connect. Be human. 
  • POST TWICE A WEEK ACROSS ALL CHANNELS.
    Again, this is another case of the “nopes”! What I mean by this is that winning the algorithm & going viral is kinda like winning the lotto. The odds are stacked against us all simply because of the vast amount of content being made & shared every second of every day. If you’re looking to do anything, look to make an impact on one person. Then two. Then three… etc. 

    Instead of trying to hack an algorithm, simply interact with intention. Quite often even I get caught up in thinking that I need to post to Instagram, or to Facebook, or to LinkedIn on a daily basis. But some days (ahem, MOST DAYS) I really don’t have that much to say. So instead, I fight the urge to post a bunch of waffle & instead I only post if I can interact in a way that gives. 

    When we give people our thoughts & our experience, then they receive the gift of knowledge. I love giving people my attention, my time, my expertise. Be boundless in how you give… give give give. 
    In fact, if you take anything away from this article at all, let it be this: GIVE. 
  • WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
    A few months ago I called a guy on LinkedIn an asshat. It was the nicest thing I could think to call him after he attacked me via DM & in public on the wall of my own LinkedIn feed. I’ve never met this man & really don’t ever want to, either.

    New Zealand being small & Auckland being even smaller, I probably will end up next to this dolt at a conference or riding home on public transport – but so far, I haven’t had to breathe the same air as him. Without going into too much detail, this poor, triggered fellah didn’t like my language. He didn’t like my ideas. He didn’t like me at all. 

    So, instead of blocking me or just moving on with his own damn life he tried to put his sticky beak into mine. He wrote to my employer. He attempted to continue DMing me well after me having blocked him. He just really needed to stop being an asshat. In reality, what this stranger was trying to do was to quiet me. To take my voice & my freedom of expression. He tried to bully me online, then through my employer (they didn’t bite, either). He tried to make me feel small. At all of these things, he tried & failed. 

    I’m old enough & worn around the edges enough to speak my truth. I do it kindly, I do it often. And, I hope you do, too. To build your brand, use your language. Speak your truth. People can see right through anything that’s not authentic. And, when that happens you lose trust. No trust = no ability to network.

    Never be afraid to use your language. Your own form of poetry is that which the world is ready to drink in. No one is allowed to steal that from you. One of Dr Maya Angelou’s most impactful quotes in my life has been this “A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing, she goes where she will without pretense & arrives at her destination prepared to be herself – & only herself.

    Don’t watch your language, friends – use it. 

So there you have it. 
A lot of words on personal brand that can easily be distilled down into one common theme: build trust by sharing your passion, your knowledge, & by being truly curious about who other people are & why they do what they do.

Also, wear double/triple/quadruple denim whenever you please. 
Your body. Your mind. Your rules.

Dr. Suess said is simplest. 
He said it best.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. 
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Go & do you, Boo. 

Growing Older, Wildly

I need to start off by saying that this is a second attempt at writing on this topic. Previous to this iteration, I had eight-thousand fabulous/inspirational/hilarious/perfectly woven together words filling a blank page. So smug at FINALLY writing something of merit (or so I thought), my blog sputtered, spun-out, & died on me.  Hoping against hope that a draft had been saved (it hadn't), I'm now left with four words on a mostly blank page and a belly-full of regret. C'mon Cass, you know to hit 'save' often. GAH!

With all of this said, please note, that this second attempt might be as good as the first, or simply okay. It might also turn out to be complete crap. You decide. Writing is my favorite indulgence and salve at present, so I'll try again. And, this time, hit save more often as we go along.

Right, here we go…

Last weekend was my birthday. For someone who doesn't really 'do' birthdays (my own), I had a full 48 hours of spoiling, treats, selfish indulgence, and friend-and-family-filled frivolity  that was truly magical. There were lots of laughs, frozen cocktails, and moments of introspection amongst the din of celebration.

At one point, mid-meal in a fave little cafe in Ponsonby, I looked around the table filled to the brim with my beloveds. My favorites. My soul-people. And, I took it all in. The sights, sounds, tastes, and slight cocktail-buzz of the moment filled my gooey heart to bursting-point. And, I hate to admit this, I cried. Happy tears.

You see, we all blaze our own paths in life. And, mine's been a trip – that's for sure. From a young age, I've always done what's best for the people I care for. I've toed imaginary lines drawn in the sand of societal propriety while calmly placing my own desires and wants to one side to ensure the happiness, growth, and fulfillment of those around me. I've always grown 'older and wiser' with each year that passes – but not this year.

This year has been a time to find my feet. To walk, crawl, run, stumble, jump, and skip as far as I can… even if my feet have had to go backwards or sideways to eventually end up moving me forward.

Getting all introspective, I've decided that my next trip around the sun will not be about my feet anymore (at size 11, they're big enough, thank you!), it'll be about finding my wings and growing older wildly. This change in the way I take myself into each new day has been a long time coming.

I've spent a lot of time coming to terms with me. Learning to not just like who I've become over the years – but to love who I am now, and who I will be. All awkwardness, fear, hesitation, and bold brazenness that I am, I will accept and wildly put out into the universe with hopes of connection, laughter, and growth.

With so many lessons under my belt over these past 36 years, I've got a few tips/life hacks to share with you if you're looking at ways to genuinely get super comfy in your own skin (and I mean wearing-life-like-a-fluffy-smurf-onesie-comfy.) A lot of what I've learned is fairly cliche/common sense. But, like most things, it's easier to understand HOW to do something, than it is to actually get moving on DOING the thing.

When you start DOING, you open yourself up to failure and hurt. And, the journey to accept and share your imperfections will be a tough one at times. Shining brighter in a beam of vulnerability is, in my mind, better than staying locked up behind a mask of intrusive perfection. I hope you get something out of the below – and maybe even the above – and if you've got your own life lessons for growing older wildly, please let me know what they are!

Be your best you.
How wishy-washy does this sound? Seriously. But, it's true. There are times when we all have to actively try (super hard) to quiet our own inner-voice. You know the one. It's tinged with self-doubt and criticism and will only ever pull you down. But you need building up! To start moving forward, you need to be your best version of you, while accepting imperfections are just part of being human. Whether it's finding time in a day to meditate, looking at yourself in the mirror and finding something you love about your look each morning, or simply maintaining physical fitness – just do something positive for you. Guilt-free. No interruptions. Just know that you're on the road to happiness when you're comfortable being unapologetically you.
 

  • Apologize & forgive.
    Team, it seems so simple, but it's not. The easiest way to be free of guilt/anger/regret is to own your mistakes . We all fuck things up. We all make mistakes – most of the time, unintentionally. Putting ego and pride aside is hard. Really hard. But once you start to simply say "I'm sorry." (and mean it) you'll find your relationships become stronger, your foundation of support unmovable. In the same vein as apologizing, comes forgiveness. When someone else owns their mistakes, remember how you'd like to have your words of contrition received – and receive theirs in kind. We're all fighting our own battles. Forgive, let go, say you're sorry… and live happier for it.

 

  • Accept praise readily.
    This has been something a lot of us struggle with, accepting praise. From childhood, I've had to consciously tell myself to just say "Thank you." when someone says something nice to me or about me. The truth of the matter is that, more often than not, when someone praises or compliments me – I feel the need to belittle myself and my achievements in an effort to dampen them down, to seem less braggadocious. Where did this ugly habit creep into my world? At what age or juncture in our personal journeys do we learn that accepting praise can only happen if we ensure we shine – but not too brightly. I'm not sure of when or how, but one thing I am certain of is this: it's taken a while to poo-poo this approach to accepting and being thankful for praise. I am unrepentant in my ability to accept praise gracefully these days. Older, wilder, and thankful for kind words and gestures of others.

 

  • F*ck the critics.
    Obviously, not literally. As far as life strategies go, learning to silence the doubters, dickheads, and critics is a imperative to being comfortable and confident in your own being. It's also the hardest strategy to master, because it means not only silencing the opinions of others – but silencing your own inner-voice of doubt. In the past few years, my life has been turned upside-down, shaken, and then (still in disarray) placed neatly back right-side-up again. With all of the topsy-turviness of life, I've learned to quiet the opinions of people who don't bring growth, kindness, or positivity to my life. It's almost as simple as throwing a switch and deciding not to give a damn about someone's opinion of me. And, once you find that 'off' switch, it's just so much easier to just place everything that doesn't grow you in a Fuck-it bucket and move on. Critics? Who are they anyhow…

 

  • Wear what you want.
    Seriously. I'll keep this short and sweet. Wear what makes you feel good. Because, when you feel good you can take on just about anything.

  • Change constantly.
    Change is the best part about getting older. Call it evolution, growth, finding yourself… whatever you name it, it's change. And, it's beautiful. How boring would it be to live life without seeing/doing/experiencing something new? Beauty is in the small moments, the big KAHUNA about-faces, and in the cracks that let light and color into dark times. Don't fear the only consistent thing in life, learn to embrace it. And, love it. It's completely okay and normal to be afraid of upsetting the rhythm of life when you just start getting comfortable with routine. It's also completely okay to wait for the roller coaster to hit the pinnacle of the highest drop and throw your arms up and head back… taking in the force of free-falling with rapture and intrigue. No matter where you are in your journey, be all there. And, change it up a bit. If even just for giggles.

There you have it. A few life lessons as told by someone whose opinion is no more important than the next person in line. 36 trips around the sun have taught me to look at life as a joyous, sometimes sorrowful, journey. A precious gift to unpack, enjoy, and to dive into headfirst. Here's to growing older wildly. And loving every hedonistic, gentle, catastrophically amazing moment of it.