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Your background

Your background and history will play a big part and a big challenge in the way you evolve your personal brand.

First and foremost, the marketplace will try to “box” you based on your background (For example, if you are from India, then you must be a software engineer). So to start with, you are at a disadvantage as you have to break from the “implicit boxing” right out of the gate.

Let’s take a detailed look at some of the areas in your background that will affect the way you build your personal brand:

#1 Extra Baggage is Costly

There is extra baggage everywhere in life. When it comes to personal branding, your culture can be a significant extra baggage. If you are not aware of it, cultural beliefs can be equated to truth.

I was born and brought up in India, and I was trained to be humble – both explicitly and implicitly. My parents didn’t want me to get excited by anything that I thought was an achievement. They would always tell me that bigger challenges were still ahead. So, I should continue to work hard. All of my achievements became stepping-stones towards larger challenges.

When each success becomes just another interim success, there’s no reason to celebrate any of them. As a child, I developed the habits that shaped me as an adult. I learned from my parents not to make a big deal about any of my achievements. I don’t blame anyone, but that’s the way life was. So, my personal branding efforts took a back seat for many years.

My family’s choices were embedded in the culture itself. I have seen many other parents teach this lesson to their kids. I have lived and worked in India, the United States, and five other countries. I have seen that this cultural mindset is not unique in India alone.

There are many other places where humility is taken to such an extreme that it actually hurts.

Depending on your cultural heritage and childhood, you may wrestle with humility like I do. However, you may also face different cultural challenges that will affect your ability to build a strong personal brand. You will need to identify these issues within yourself and determine how you will respond to them.

I am not saying that your culture is ALWAYS going to present you with an obstacle to grow your personal brand. I am sure there are things in your culture that might help you with your personal brand. But that is not the focus of this chapter.

Apart from culture, there are other kinds of extra baggage that you may be carrying with you. Here are some examples:

#1. Low Self-Esteem: “I am not there yet”

2. Insecurity: “It’s going great now. How long will it last?”

3. Sense of Fraud: “People think I am really good. I may not be that good after all. What if I am exposed?”

The point is that “Extra Baggage is Common.” We all have some extra baggage of some form. Just being aware of it solves half the problem.

Don’t let your extra baggage come in the way of building a powerful personal brand.

#2 The Umbrella Effect


“Can my company brand be a proxy for my brand?”

In early 2006, I was in India for several speaking engagements. After these talks, I spoke with many people one-on-one. When I asked these young professionals simple questions —such as “what do you do?”—Many gave surprisingly similar responses. They said, “I work for IBM” or “I work for Infosys”.

These young professionals didn’t go into the details of their roles at their companies. Instead, they seemed quite proud that they were working for a respectable company like IBM or Infosys. From the tone of their voice, I knew some of them even expected me to be impressed when they mentioned the names of their employers. Hats off to those companies for making their employees feel that way. It takes a lot of hard work to build a brand that carries that level of cachet among your employees.

Nowadays, when I hear a response similar to the above, I simply ask them back with another question,

“I am going to ask the same question again. Can you please tell me who you are without using the name of your company? Describe yourself.”

It is hard for people to disassociate themselves from the brands of their company. It is almost a security blanket.

While I agree that employees should be proud of their employers’ brands, this mindset can become a set of golden handcuffs. When you draw on your company’s brand, you draw upon its reputation for past success and its skills. However, if you permanently borrow your company’s brand, you will get used to it and neglect your personal brand.

The question here should not be “Are you proud of working for your company?” It has to be “Is your company proud that you are working for them?” When you can answer the second question positively, you will have the beginnings of your own personal brand.

When you start your career, typically you need to borrow the power of your employer’s brand and build your career. As you build your career, when you make investments in your personal brand, you will reach a “Breakfree Point” when people will start dealing with you more because of your personal brand than because of your employer’s brand.

Think about it. Are good things happening to you in your career mostly because of your employer’s brand? If yes, then you may not have reached your “Breakfree Point” yet.

Take a look at any recruitment ad from a company of reasonable size. The advertisement will usually highlight why you should be proud of working for that company.

Let’s imagine you took out an ad for yourself to be sent to these companies that are trying to recruit you. If you wanted to highlight why these companies should be proud of employing you – what would you put in that ad today? What would you put in that ad 5 years from now?
Something to think about.

#3 I Feel Naked!

“I Have No Accomplishments”

Whatever be the gift, it is not worth much if it remains gift-wrapped. People will unwrap the gift and ultimately, they will remember the gift and not the gift-wrap.

Your gift to the world is your valuable accomplishments. You need them. Without these accomplishments, you may feel naked under scrutiny.

However, nobody is born with an already existing set of accomplishments. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Sometimes people think that they should wait to build their personal brand until they have a few more lines on their resume. However, you can start building a personal brand wherever you are in life. You may be a college student, a young professional, a long-time technology specialist, or even an entrepreneur.

You can delay your journey to build a personal brand, but be aware that people will still be forming opinions about you each day. It is important for you to grow and become someone who will offer a personal brand experience that’s valuable to other people.

Some people try to build a brand that is out of sync with the speed at which they are growing. It is almost similar to trying to build a superstructure on a foundation that can hold only a single-family home. Personal branding will be of no use to you if you don’t have the “stuff” to support your promise.

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