When August rolled around, Mom and Dad would wake us up at 4:00 in the morning. We’d pile into the backseat of our white Toyota Corona and drive an hour to Yuba City to pick plums for a plum farmer. In the backseat of our Toyota, I sank into the comfort and security of being with my family and watched the traffic lights and the early morning sky pass by in a magical swirl. Soon, Dad pulled the car into a long driveway, and we all got out. There were other families there, too, and each family took two rows of trees. Dad worked ahead of us and used a pole to hit the plums so they would fall to the ground, then we’d pick them up on our hands and knees. We were paid by the bucket, and after a week we had each earned about sixty dollars to purchase new clothes for the school year. I’ve been a hard worker all my life. It’s a gift I got from my parents and it’s part of my personal brand.
What is a brand?
In the Forbes.com article “What is a Brand, Anyway?” the author describes a brand as “what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.” This also includes what they feel and what they imagine. Take Netflix for example. When I think of Netflix, I think of the color red. I think of long, lazy days doing nothing but sitting on the couch, watching TV, and then feeling very bad afterwards. I think of Stranger Things and Narcos. (Have you seen Narcos? It’s soooo good!) I used to think branding was only for large companies like Nike or COACH or McDonald’s, but it isn’t.
Individual people have brands, too.
Think David Beckham, Oprah and the Kardashians. They have companies, but they themselves are brands. When I hear their names, I immediately think about things that are associated with them. Like underwear for David Beckham, books for Oprah, and Kanye West for Kim Kardashian. This is called a personal brand.
Everyone has a personal brand--we’ve been cultivating our brand since we were born--but not everyone has dedicated time to intentionally refine their brand. In the article “7 Things You can Do to Build An Awesome Personal Brand,” the author says those who have refined their personal brands have the ability to use that brand as leverage in a professional space--like to get a raise in your current job, to find opportunities for collaboration or to get a brand new job.
Hard work is part of my personal brand.
Willows only had one middle school--Willows Intermediate School or “WIS” (sounded out like a word) as we liked to call it. As I limped into school on the first day of seventh grade, I remembered how--just a few days ago--the end of the plum orchard seemed like an eternity away. On that day at school, my legs felt like they were seriously going to fall off of me, but I was bursting with pride to be able to wear clothes that I had worked hard for.
In eleventh grade, I cut and glued together over 200 individual trees about an inch high to make the shorelines of the Mississippi River so I could correctly depict Huckleberry Finn’s journey in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Talk about being meticulous.
Fast forward sixteen years and I’m wide awake at 1:00 in the morning, putting together a presentation for an Upward Bound counselor event. It’s supposed to be a five minute presentation about a tutoring program I created. I spent the evening piecing together a 3-minute video with background music and voiceover and am trying to make sure my voice is just the right volume throughout the whole video.
Some call this perfectionism. Others might call it over-achievement. Maybe even crazy. Why put 110% into a project when 100% will do?
Because I know that the difference between perfectionism and hard work is achievability. Perfectionism can’t be achieved, but I believe hard work can achieve almost anything (or at least deep satisfaction in trying).
Also because why would anyone want something 100% done when it can be 110% done?
How to refine your personal brand for the professional setting
Have you ever heard of the Know, Like, Trust Factor? It’s a sales principle that I’ve heard a lot about since starting my blog, but it’s also useful outside of the sales world--who am I kidding? We're all in some form of sales, whether we get money for it or not. We're all trying to convince others to do something.
For people to want to "buy" from you or to even invest time in you, they have to know, like and trust you. In that order preferably. And for them to know, like and trust you, you have to have a brand that they can easily associate those feelings with.
To start refining your brand, be selective in the projects you take on. I’m not saying get yourself in trouble by defying your boss. I’m saying when opportunities come your way, say yes to projects that will help refine your brand. Use these three guideposts to help you decide whether a project is right for you.
1. Define an area or areas of expertise.
I’ve made it loud and clear to everyone in my world that I’m a writer. That I write novels and that I blog. I coordinate a writing center.
2. Let your core values guide you in your work.
I’m a rule follower through and through, and that is why Captain America is my favorite superhero--except for that one time he went rogue to rescue his friend Bucky (AKA The Winter Soldier), but even then I couldn’t dislike him because he was only breaking the rules so he could rescue his friend. And, well, he’s Captain America.
3. Add value to the organizations and programs you work for.
At every organization that I’ve worked for, I haven’t just “gone to work.” I’ve created long-term solutions for areas that needed improvement. Solutions that will stay long after I’ve gone. And I’ve always given 110%.
Owning my whole brand
My brand started way before I even knew what a brand was. My brand started in a little village in the mountains of Thailand in a house made of bamboo. My brand started with words that were assigned to me, like refugee and welfare and ESL. And those words are still part of my brand, but now so is storyteller and professional and hard worker--words that I chose for myself. And that is the beauty of a personal brand. You can refine it in any way you like.
Hard work, attention to detail, writing, books and the color purple make up my brand. What makes up your brand? Comment below.