The One Thing Nobody Ever Told You About Personal Branding

myth of personal branding

Don’t be an idiot.

And while we’re at it, a personal brand is hugely overrated. It suggests that you can advance your career by creating a reputation.

But don’t fool yourself. A reputation, or personal brand, is something you don’t fully control.

A lot of people try to tell you that you have to “enhance” your brand. I’ve heard it since 2004 when I got my first sales job while I was in college. The advice was, “work on your personal brand, and you can make a promotion very quickly.”

And that kind of advice is still given today. Recently I stumbled upon an article on a major publishing outlet where the author talked about how “science” can help you to build a personal brand.

It was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. The author, a so-called branding expert, edited her profile picture in Canva. She simply increased the brightness, contrast, and saturation by 4 points.


Can I get a drum roll, please?

The edited profile picture outperformed the old picture by 412 followers on Twitter!

Who the fuck cares?

Honestly. That stuff has a ZERO impact on things such as career satisfaction or income. I have a master’s degree in marketing. And changing the brightness of your profile picture is not the type of science that I was taught by my marketing professors.

People who claim a personal brand is something you “work on” completely disregard one important thing.

A reputation is a by-product of work. You can work on your skills. But you can’t work on a reputation.

A reputation is something you earn.

You see, a reputation is nothing more than the perception that other people have of you. So for one thing, it’s not something you directly control.

You can only influence it by two things:

  1. Do great work.
  2. Treat people well.

That’s something I learned early on from one of my mentors — he owns multiple businesses and employs a few hundred people. I remember, years ago, I was at his office to help him with some online business stuff.

He was a little down. I asked, “what’ sup?” He said that he had to fire someone. That’s one of his least favorite things.

When I asked why he didn’t really go into it (that’s also something I learned from him — never share personal details about conflicts you have with others), but he said something like:

“Sometimes people pretend to be one way, but in truth, they are something else. But I believe that, in time, people will always show their true colors.”

What’s the lesson I learned?

Don’t be an idiot.

That’s all you need to know about personal branding. The real ones in this world will always see through you. Trust me. I’ve seen it many times.

  • People get hired and pretend they are hardworking, honest, and loyal assets. But after a year or so, they start playing politics and backstabbing people.
  • You hire a freelancer or consultant, and they don’t do what they promised, they lie, or even rip you off. That kind of stuff happens all the time.

That’s why, if you want to get to the top, people don’t look at a fucking profile pic or a set of tweets to judge your reputation.

People ask:

  • “Has this person done good work?”
  • “How does this person treat people?”

But no, we prefer to pretend that we can have a reputation without putting in the work. “Just edit your profile pic and you’ll have an awesome personal brand.”

That belief is true for people who are just starting out and people who are experienced. And I get it — we like the idea of control.

But in reality, we’re just fooling ourselves. We feel the pressure of the current world. Everything is extremely visible. We see young founders in the press who’ve made it big with their one-year-old startups.

We look at how fast technology advances and we feel threatened at our job.

It’s a culture based on appearances, that says: “As long as I appear important from the outside, I probably am.”

Recently I noticed that one of my former classmates was very active on social media. He was posting a lot of stuff to let people know he has a business with ten employees. He also posted about their new company website.

Do you know how he described himself in his bio? As a “phenomenon.”

Are you seriously calling yourself a miracle? That’s completely delusional — especially if you haven’t proved anything. And even then, calling yourself a phenomenon is just plain weird.

Reputation is a paradox.

People who don’t actively work on their personal brands generally have excellent personal brands. That’s the common theme I see.

Every time you’re trying to craft a witty tweet, cool-looking Instagram pic, or a funny Facebook post, just know this: No one cares.

So you might as well do what you like. Stay genuine. And if people don’t like the real you—who cares? The world is big enough for you to find people who do like you.

When you do that, you will also be consistent. When you fake it, after a while, it becomes difficult to keep track of your own “brand.”

“Who was I again?” When you struggle to stay consistent, it’s time to become genuine.

Do the work. Become great at what you do. And you will see that a reputation will follow suit.

Jeff Bezos said it best:

“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

I honestly think that if you stop working on your personal brand, you’ll do a lot better in the long-term.

Instead of working on your social presence, going to meaningless networking events, or appearing to be busy at work, do ACTUAL work.

Of course, that’s hard. So you don’t have to say that it’s easier said than done. And it’s also a lot less rewarding than writing a delusional bio.

When you create your personal website or profile, it’s tempting to paint a better picture compared to reality.

And I get it — we live in a fictional world. People fabricate stories all the time. And we love them. That’s why we’re addicted to movies and tv-shows.

It all comes down to this: Reputation is something external. Character is the internal equivalent.

It’s much more important what you think of yourself. I love how, John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, put it:

“Be more concerned with character than reputation. Character is what you are, reputation is what people think you are.”

I give zero fucks what people think. But I can’t live with myself if I hate what I am. And right now, I like who I’m becoming.

So always give attention to your character. Not your reputation. When you do that, you will find that your reputation mimics your character in time. And that’s exactly what you want.

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