16 questions to keep your intentional branding on track
June 17, 2016
What I wanted more than anything in the world was a GAP sweatshirt.
It was 7th grade. I was one year into my public school career, one year into not wearing a uniform skirt and polo, and I had zero ideas about fashion. So, I did what every other kid in my sneakers had done: made a careful survey of what everyone else was wearing.
It wasn’t that my middle school looked like a GAP ad. It wasn’t even that the popular kids were all wearing them. The sweatshirt I coveted was worn by just a few 12-year-olds of middling popularity, but they were the kids I so wanted to hang with. I was convinced that sweatshirt was the entrée I needed into their society.
My mom never bought me a GAP sweatshirt. This is entirely because I never came up with a good enough resaon for why I wanted the letters “G,” “A,” and “P” emblazoned across my very flat chest to actually ask her for one. If I had asked, she would have made it happen. But I never did. Not once.
Because I was embarrassed. Every daydream I concocted that involved me being complimented on my very excellent sweatshirt had nothing to do with fashion or freezing my rump off. My wanting that garment was had everything to do with fitting someone else’s standard of “cool.” I was willing, if not particularly eager, to change my narrative so it would more closely mirror theirs. Something about that didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t a thought I was proud to have, so I stifled it.
Twelve-year-old me was wiser than I gave her credit for. She knew how ridiculous this whole situation was. She knew that sweatshirt, those three letters, weren’t me. Her embarrassed silence might have made me feel a bit more like an outsider at the time, but it also forced me to find my own way.
It’s a silly story, I know that. But now, more than a decade and a half later, I still feel that keen urge to assimilate.
It sneaks into my subconscious when I scroll through the paperclips and peonies that dominate my Instagram feed—another superficial urge to blend in. But it also creeps up on me when I see successful business owners and compare their trajectories to mine. A niggling voice whispers in my ear, “What if you were more like them?”
If I were more like them. Hm.
If I were more like them, I would be exhausted (because, damn, my business idols work hard!). I would be so far outside my comfort zone, I wouldn’t know which end was up. But most of all, if I were more like them, I would be less like me. My authenticity would fall away. My dreams would lose their appeal. And all those sacrifices I would be making would be for naught because a me who was trying to mirror them and their brands and their stories would be absolutely superfluous.
The world doesn’t need a mimic. Your industry doesn’t need an echo. Your audience does not want to hear the same story twice.
We must cling to those experiences and values and visions that make us original. We must hold tight to them through the trials, through the long nights of failure and the long days of not being or having or doing enough.
Let us look to the success of others for motivation and encouragement. Let us applaud the wins of others while we make our own way. Let us witness other’s stories even as we struggle to tell our own.
This is our chance, friends. This is our shot. This is our time. And most of all, this is us. Together, but not the same. United in support, but not in assimilation. Each of us making waves, each of us rising, each of us striving toward our own brand of success.
Our tendencies to eat at the same lunch place every week or to use the same sentence structure repeatedly or to adopt a certain design style are cyclical. Everyone does this subconsciously—you, me, even the writers and editors at The New York Times (see the Public Editor’s blog). This is why you start talking like an actor with a bad English accent when you go abroad. This is how words end up in the national lexicon. This is natural.
But just because it’s natural doesn’t make it the right choice for your brand.
Why? Because when we adopt something automatically, we bypass the analytical part of our brains that checks our actions against our goals. When we leap over this step, we start working against ourselves without realizing it. That’s no good.
To not do this, I want you to practice bringing more intention into your thought processes. I want you to ask yourself a question or two about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it before you go ahead and do the darn thing.
Here are a few questions to check the intention behind what you’re doing.
What you do with the answers to these questions is up to you. A “no” isn’t necessarily a sign you should trash an idea. A “no” could bring you deeper into a community, furthering your goals in a way you hadn’t anticipated. A “no” could lead you toward a different, better path. These questions are a speed bump. They’re meant to give you a moment to pause, reflect, and make a conscious decision to keep going or to change course.
It’s about intention and individuality, friends. Intention and individuality.