Most of us have heard creative writing teachers use the phrase “Show, don’t tell” when encouraging students to be more detailed and descriptive in their writing. When someone unexpectedly confronts you with the non-question question, Tell me about yourself, wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to show them who you are too? This is where personal branding comes in, and it can be an especially valuable tool to help multipotentialites confidently communicate about our complex selves.
What is personal branding, anyway?
A recent article by Viv Groskop sums up the idea of personal branding by splitting it into two components: reputation and visibility. You want your professional reputation to convey your experience, talents, and the quality of your work, and a strong reputation takes time and dedication to develop. Visibility involves how other people perceive you and your work. It also relates to how you connect with others or build an audience for your work. For multipotentialites, personal branding is about effectively representing yourself and your skills within a wide variety of professional or creative communities.
If you are just starting out on your multipotentialite career journey (like I am!), it can be transformative to finally find language and tools that authentically reflect different aspects of yourself. If you have been pursuing your diverse interests for years and have already established multiple professional identities, it can be refreshing to go back to the basics and rethink how you describe and represent yourself.
Acknowledging the limitations of personal branding
I discovered the importance of self-descriptive language soon after I realized I was a multipotentialite. When you have a wide range of talents, interests, and career experiences, summarizing who you are as a professional can seem like a daunting (or even impossible) task. For me, the idea of personal branding used to elicit the same reaction I would have to being asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and other multipotentialite favorites.
That is, as someone who grew up familiar with the topic of personal branding, I haven’t always viewed the idea in a positive way. Honestly, it was nauseating to think about being expected to market yourself like a commodity in order to find creative or professional success. I also knew that I’d never be able to commit to one consistent way of representing myself and my skills when I couldn’t even commit to an aesthetic for my Instagram page.
My view of personal branding began to shift after I graduated from college and made the decision to create distinct versions of my resume for the vastly different opportunities I was pursuing. It quickly became clear to me that an academic CV highlighting psychology research would look very different from the resume that I would use to apply for a part-time retail job, and neither of these resumes would effectively represent me as a musician. As I started to craft separate versions of my resume, I noticed that, while each of these documents illustrated just one category of my skills and experience, they would collectively offer a holistic view of my interests and abilities.
I realized that personal branding doesn’t need to revolve around one stagnant, constricting identity. Instead, personal branding involves authentically representing what makes you unique, meaning that your personal brand can (and should) evolve along with you.
It’s also helpful to remember that your personal brand (or brands!) is not an all-encompassing definition of who you are as an individual—it’s just a tool for representing yourself and what you have to offer to the world.
Personal branding as a creative process
Are you ready to delve into some personal branding of your own? If so, I hope that my experiences with personal branding as a multipotentialite will help guide you to approach this process with openness, honesty, and creativity!
While it can be tempting to jump right into making a niche social media account, reworking your website, or making new business cards, it will be valuable to spend some time reflecting on how you want to portray different aspects of yourself. It’s especially meaningful to think about your talents and passions holistically, rather than beginning with a narrow focus in order to fit the criteria for a specific opportunity you may already have in mind.
Tell you about yourself
First, get creative and honestly map out your skills, interests, and key experiences. Pay attention to how these different points might connect to one another. As Emilie describes in How to Be Everything, idea synthesis and big-picture thinking are multipotentialite superpowers, and this creative stage of deciding how to represent yourself is a great opportunity to put your powers to work! Think about where you might be able to blend your existing strengths into something brand new, or how some of your apparently unrelated talents might actually be linked.
Based on what you have written down, come up with a series of overarching titles that you might use to describe yourself as a professional in different contexts. Try to identify (or create) terms that can succinctly capture several of your skills and experiences, giving you quick but authentic ways of identifying yourself. This approach helped me to come up with ways of describing my coexisting career pursuits once I decided to experiment with the “slash” career model, which Neil described in a recent article.
For example, one of the titles I settled on, Multimedia Composer, can represent me as a songwriter, composer, and arranger for different genres, and as a grad student studying film scoring and audio production. Another term, Multi-Instrumentalist, encompasses my role as a woodwinds teacher and my background in music retail, while also opening up conversations to the instruments I play and my performance experience. The third main title I settled on, Freelance Writer, applies to my experiences as a writing tutor and editor, and the variety of content I currently write. All of these careers are part of my overall personal brand, but they can also exist on their own when I need them to.
Empower yourself through language
No matter where you are in your career, it can be valuable to think about your professional and creative identities from a fresh perspective. Experimenting with self-representation and personal branding can be a liberating exercise by allowing you to try on different titles and career ideas that you might not have considered for yourself in the past. Creating new ways of describing yourself can be incredibly empowering, illustrating your sense of direction and giving you greater confidence in representing yourself.
Do yourself justice
Striking a balance between presenting yourself as overly confident or minimizing your value and skills is an unavoidable challenge of personal branding. I would suspect that many multipotentialites are guilty of downplaying our capabilities, driven by a concern that enthusiastically discussing our diverse backgrounds and experiences will make us seem flaky or unfocused. But these challenges can be addressed if we use intentional language to represent ourselves. Focus on the transferable skills that make you unique, and be confident in your multipotentialite ability to adapt your talents to different situations.
Display your creative self
Everything you develop for personal branding should be reflective of your own style and personality. In other words, you should like it! Of course, some fields are more conducive to creative self-expression than others, but if you don’t like the way something looks, you won’t feel confident about using it to represent yourself.
If you decide to tailor your branding to your distinct career pursuits, create a consistent look for each one. For example, your business cards and website for your nail art business can use the same color scheme and aesthetic, even though they will look very different from your research CV for neuroscience.
Recognize (and embrace) room to grow
If you feel motivated to rethink and refine your personal branding due to a major shift in your career goals, you may confront some initial discouragement in realizing how little experience you have in an area that you now find yourself deeply motivated to pursue. But recognizing major gaps in your knowledge and experience is totally okay, and it’s actually the first step you need to take in growing toward your goals. Once you identify where you want to develop more expertise, you can make decisions about how to make progress that will be meaningful to you, now and in the future.
How do you feel about the idea of personal branding within your own life? Have you had success when trying different approaches to represent yourself?