Have you done it? Yeah, you have. I’ve done it too; scrolled through too many glossy social posts, the ones that entice me to love my urban lifestyle, outdoor adventure, fitness and indulgence. And if I don’t embrace these obviously very reasonable things that influencers are telling me I should, then clearly I’m only half the person I thought I was.
Social media is an unapologetic, equal-opportunist when it comes to praying on delicate egos. Even if we intellectually realize that not a single human can be all things, all at the same time, who hasn’t let the ‘gram get the best of our often fragile sense of self?
I will wager that any influencer’s enviable online persona would not truly align with that person’s daily offline life. Nobody is a superhuman, not even Beyoncé (I know, heresy, but I’m willing to risk the heat I’ll take for that). We live in a world where aspiration is the new norm, yet we’re left with disappointment when our aspirational desires are not realized. Or worse, even if they are fulfilled, we have already moved onto the next aspirational item on our wish list.
I help clients develop their personal brands, and I spend a good part of my week thinking about how people can present the best version of themselves to the public. But I would never endorse the creation of a painstakingly curated online life that doesn’t reflect the analog you (a scenario all too prevalent in the online dating world, amiright?). When people meet the real you, they are going to put one and one together, or actually not be able to put one and one together, and (at least mentally) call you out on your lack of authenticity. At worst, the pulled-back curtain that exposes the cracks in your tightly curated self could result in a loss of confidence in you and your company. As your inauthenticity becomes more widely known via social media and word of mouth, customers will thin out. They won’t believe in your products, your services, your opinions, and they won’t believe in you.
Aspirational Design in a Branded World
A recent article in Fast Company about Aspirational Design helps position my views on personal branding into a larger societal landscape. Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short, senior mechatronics design engineer at the sex-tech company, Lora DiCarlo, loosely defines aspirational design as an object or idea that has been designed for the person one wishes to become, and not for the person they are today. Short discusses the drawbacks of aspirational design in general, not just as it relates to our love lives, but more so about its greater implications on society.
In our photoshopped, nipped and tucked world, Short believes that we are caught up in an aspirational design trend where too many products, like Fitbit and the iPhone, essentially communicate to consumers, “this is who you should be”. Short hopes that the next step in the design evolution actually moves backward, where designers spend more time creating products for how people actually are, right now.
Just as Short would say that good design should support the people we are today, the best personal brands reflect the authentic you — not a 180-degree diversion from it.
An authentic personal brand is like anti-aspirational design.
Brand New Brand You
Our drive to aim higher, be better, be different, be…not one’s self, has also brought us to new levels of self-loathing. Isn’t it okay if a chair is sometimes just a chair? Isn’t it also okay if you are sometimes just you?
If you have led your company in jeans and flats for the last ten years, and now some consultant has advised you to don a designer dress out of an episode of “Suits,” something won’t match up. People will detect how uncomfortable you feel in your fake boss-lady-lawyer-outfit when, in actuality, you are a real boss lady, and an epic one at that! So, don’t lose the jeans and flats, just wear their upgraded relatives in this new version of your grown up, streamlined self.
Similarly, if Consultant X tells you to lose the jacket and tie you’ve worn for the last ten years so you can appear more “personable,” lose the consultant.
If you want customers to identify with your personal brand, find the balance between elevating what you’ve got and what still feels emotionally true to you. Not the simplest task, but if something is off in the mix, you will feel it. And if the balance is right, you won’t feel anything except exactly like yourself.