We’re all, every one of us, multifaceted and infinitely complex creatures. We are impossible to fully understand and just as difficult to describe in any cohesive, coherent way.
But we try. Oh how we try.
We megaphone who we are through blog posts and tweets. We curate images that appeal to our sensibilities. We share news items and think-pieces that reflect our views on a given issue.
It’s so easy these days to be someone; to be a public figure. The result of the many platforms and opportunities that provide this ease, though, is that we sometimes hobble our own efforts at clear communication by attempting to express ourselves too completely and all at once.
Imagine a stranger handing you a business card containing information about every single aspect of their lives. It would be impossible to know anything about that person from the hodge-podge of descriptors. The sheer bulk of information would render all of it moot.
‘Personal branding’ has become an almost laughably overused buzzword (like ‘synergy’ or ‘disruption’ or ‘content’) because over the years it’s become associated with creating a false veneer to trick people into buying a story you’re trying to impart about yourself. It’s come to mean telling others what they want to hear and using keywords to get a specific job or present an often bland, inoffensive, and inaccurate account of who you are to the world.
Branding, at its best, is telling a true story in the right order and in the right way so that others understand the basics and are sufficiently interested to want to know more. It makes them want to turn the page and find out who else you are and what else you have to offer.
The real value of personal branding, then, is that it allows you to be an iceberg, not a mountain.
It’s relatively easy to be a mountain. All you have to do is pour out every thought you’ve ever had, every opinion you’ve ever held, and every job you’ve ever worked. Every hobby and aesthetic preference and story you have available to tell is piled up right there on the page.
Being an iceberg, though, requires more effort. It means sorting through everything and putting it in order. It means figuring out which pieces fit together, which are best presented when, and how you might present them so as to tell the proper story for the environment you’re in.
Iceberging is about being confident in serving up just an appetizer to explain what makes you, you, because you know it will be more palatable and more accurately express who you are compared to lazily dumping a truckload of ingredients in front of anyone who might want to understand you better.
This isn’t to say that you’re limited to just one hook. You can rise up above the surface in as many spots as you like, making use of the same materials presented in different ways to showcase other aspects of who you are to a group of people who might be more responsive to that particular arrangement.
But regardless of the presentation, the person it represents should always be you, not a falsified, caricaturized version of you. A foot in the door isn’t worth a thing if there’s no one attached to it, and an iceberg cresting above the waves isn’t worth much if there’s nothing more beneath it.
Update: April 21, 2017
Designing one’s own business card is one of the trickier projects a designer can take on, and describing oneself is one of the trickier tasks a person can attempt.
It’s possible, though. It’s just about taking the time to look at the big picture of you and understanding the narrative buried in all the details. This is a valuable task even if you’re not applying for a job, as it allows you to better focus on the vital stuff in the future, rather than being distracted by the many, often less important facets that round you out as a person.