Before You Take Another Selfie in the Name of Personal Branding, Read This
The guy who sat down beside me noticed my shirt and said, "Hey, are you a cyclist?"
"I like to ride bikes, but I wouldn't call myself a cyclist," I said. "I'm nowhere near that good."
"Still," he said. "What's the toughest climb you've done?"
I thought about it. "I guess the back side of Reddish Knob."
He whipped out his phone for some quick Googling. "Wow, tough climb," he said. "But I bet it was beautiful at the top. Show me some photos."
"I didn't take any. I was tired and didn't even think about it."
"No photos?" he said. "Seriously? Didn't you want to show people? Didn't you want to post a few images to Instagram or Facebook?"
"No..." I said. "Besides, I don't have a Facebook or Instagram account."
He looked shocked, then puzzled. "Then how do you share with people? How do you let everyone know what you're passionate about? How do other people know your opinions and perspectives? How do you show what is important to you? How do you extend your personal brand?"
"Um, I guess I don't," I said, feeling oddly defensive.
"Well, if you don't mind me saying," he said, "I think that's stupid. The only way to have a personal brand is to constantly build a personal brand." Then he paused. "Plus it's just selfish."
"Selfish," he said. "You had this cool experience and you didn't even think to share it. You could have taken pictures. You could have tweeted your location so everyone knew that, at that moment, you were on top of a mountain. You could have taken video on the descent to show how awesome it was to go flying down."
"I guess so," I said, "but it honestly never occurred to me anyone would want to see that kind of thing, at least from me."
"Oh please," he said, clearly frustrated. "Think of some guy out there who likes riding big climbs. He would love to see the view from the top. He would love to watch a fast descent down a road he's never ridden. He could have liked your photos and re-tweeted your tweets and commented and shared his opinions about the scenery or the climb--with all his friends. But he couldn't because you kept it all to yourself. From a branding point of view that's stupid, and on a personal level it's also selfish."
"But I don't even know that guy," I said, wilting a little in the face of his intensity. "And he doesn't know me."
"No," he huffed, "and now maybe he never will." He was quiet for a minute. Then he turned and said, "You know, on a personal level you will someday regret it, too because that exact day will never happen again, and you didn't capture it."
In some ways he's right. I don't have photos or videos from that day. And even if I did I probably wouldn't share them since I don't have Instagram or Facebook accounts (I feel very sure old girlfriends aren't trying to look me up). I do have 27,000 Twitter followers and 125,000 LinkedIn followers, but the only things I ever share are new articles. (At least I'm up front about that.)
Aside from what I write, I don't try to build a personal brand. I understand the importance of a personal brand but I've never felt compelled to try to actively build one.
Not long after, my wife and I were sitting on paddle boards watching the dolphins and marveling as the sunset rippled across the bay. For a second I thought about my conversation with that guy. I thought about capturing the moment. I thought about how I could tweet photos and post videos and share the experience. I thought about what that all might do for my personal brand.
But then I thought about how, no matter the ease or simplicity of the tool, the act of recording a moment in some small way serves to distract from and diminish the moment. So I decided to do what I always do and just live my life instead of documenting my life. I decided to just live my "brand" instead of extending my brand.
I only captured the moment in my mind and I only shared the moment with my wife. I know. It was selfish.
I also know it was perfect--at least for me.