I bet you rolled your eyes the first time you heard someone use the phrase "personal branding."
SO DID I.
Sounds awfully pew-pew finger-guns wink-wink elevator-pitchy, right?
Here's the thing: real personal branding is nothing like what you've been led to believe. You already have a brand! Your personal brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room. It's knowing who you are, how you're perceived, what your talents, skills, and values are, and having the confidence to live an authentic, integrated personal and professional life that brings you fulfillment and encourages you to make this world a better place for all of us.
Personal branding is not a logo. It's not a presentation. It's not rehearsing a videotaping a 4-minute speech about yourself just in case you run into the CEO of your dreams (barf). It's not thinking that because the world loves cupcakes that all of a sudden you need to love cupcakes and become the 9,362,117th cupcake Instagrammer. Nope. None of that.
It's finding out what you're really good at, and going after it with gusto. It's taking risks and celebrating achievements. It's honoring first the give of the give-and-take that is inherent in networking. It's being generous with what and who you know. It's being who you are, finding your tribe, and setting goals that excite you and pursuing them instead of waiting around for sh*t to go down.
I teach a Personal Branding class in Georgetown University's graduate programs of PR/Comms, Journalism, and Integrated Marketing and Communications. While the work is hard and deeply introspective, my students spend a semester stripping away those layers of what they've been told by parents and others they "should" do, and start figuring out for themselves what they're good at, how to make that happen, and how to talk about who they are and what they want.
No matter where you are in your career or your life, a little touch up, fine tuning, and honest reflection can help you make sure you're doing what you're great at, and helping others along the way.