Be a Person, Not a Brand

As a freelance writer, a lot of the advice I’ve come across for building a blog, a client base, and social media following all boils down to one mantra, humming over and over and over:

Build your brand.

It’s the mantra of many a millennial. In the internet age, the dream is that we can all achieve success with our passions. We just have to market ourselves enough, post on social media enough, add a healthy dose of capitalism, and boom. The career of our dreams.

The phrase means that if you want to be an entrepreneur or creative, if you want to have a nontraditional career where you work from home or build a business, you must market yourself, sell yourself like a product. You must create an empire of one: you.

Every time I hear that phrase, build your brand, my soul shrinks back and grits its teeth, as if my entire being has just bitten into a metaphysical lemon. The mantra sounds good, and it’s worked, really well, for a lot of people. And I’m happy for them; I really am. But the idea at the root of branding yourself is one that absolutely terrifies me, because I think the implications of it go farther than we’re willing to consider.

A brand is a created entity. A brand is something a corporation makes to sell another thing. A brand is a surface-level household name constructed to be consumed. Oreos: you eat them. Nikes: you wear them. Sharpies: you bleed them dry. (I think I have a future in slogan writing, by the way.)

The truth is, human beings are so much more valuable than that. Humans are fragile and strong. We are terrifying and beautiful. We fly high and sink low. We are perfect and flawed, and the work we create is the same. There is so much more to us than the selling of a product or service.

Maybe you insist that I’m misunderstanding this phrase. Maybe it doesn’t mean what I’m taking it to mean. But then I have to ask: why are we using words like “brand” to describe people? People, with minds and souls that are somehow, magically, blessedly able to transcend the physical and inject everyday life with resilience and beauty and hope. The term “brand” to describe personhood is not just inappropriate; it’s insulting. Perhaps by using such paltry words to describe something so inherently magnificent, we are unconsciously saying what we tend to believe. Perhaps we are falling into the universal human trap: to take something valuable and trash it.

I’ve tried, as a writer, to build my brand, to treat my craft like a business and my self like a product. I’ve tried to blog in a way that sells, with flashy catchphrases and trendy buzzwords. I’ve tried to use social media to optimize my followers, with perfectly-curated pictures and relatable captions. I’ve tried to make flimsy business connections that are no more than a click on a web platform.

And all due respect to those who’ve achieved great success this way, but it’s not for me. When I write, I want it to be what I was born to say. When I post photos and say things online, I want it to be sharing something beautiful and making someone laugh. When I meet people, I want it to be in person, and I want it to be a real relationship.

The build-your-brand mentality may seem innocuous, but the problem is that this mentality doesn’t stay in the business world; it seeps into our mental states and social lives and personal development. I see a generation just a little younger than me growing up thinking that it’s normal to always be building yourself as a marketable image, never getting the chance to close the blinds, loosen up, have fun, and just be a person. I see us unable to accept each other as complex, three-dimensional people, instead choosing to commodify each other, to buy each other and throw each other away. I see us compromising the purity of our passions, crafts, and trades in the name of what seems like an easy ticket to a career. The internet may allow us to pursue our vocations like never before, but it has the danger of making our vocations the only thing people see in us. And this is a tragic, tragic thing.

So please: don’t be a brand. Be a person. It’s awkward and painful and vulnerable, but it’s also wild and beautiful and unique. You can create and accomplish far more meaningful things, a far more meaningful life, by just being a person. Because you already have, and you already are.

Being Still

Lately I’ve had the sense that I’m supposed to be more still. There are several things in my life I’m trying to get started, to make happen, to hustle into being, and time and time again it seems the answer that comes back to me is this: Wait.

And I didn’t think this would be such a problem for me. I’m Miss Introvert Homebody (that’s Mrs. Introvert Homebody to you). Being still is my jam. Nothing makes me happier than knitting and watching Netflix (the above photo is Exhibit A). When my best friend and I plan a wild Friday night, it usually includes staying home and dancing like old ladies to rap and injuring a ligament and retiring before midnight. It’s a good system.

But apparently, I’m not as good at being still as I thought. while I crave a life of stillness, I often loathe myself for being still. It feels too lazy to be peaceful, to wait. It feels like a waste. And so when I sense stillness being imposed upon me, I get belligerent. “Do you have any idea how wasteful this is?” I grumble. Instead of enjoying the rest in waiting, I do busywork to feel more accomplished. Instead of having hope that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, I drown myself in guilt for not doing more.

And so I run around in circles, doing more, trying more, and when all I try to do falls through and the message comes back, louder, JUST WAIT! I get more frustrated and more exhausted, until I don’t have energy to even do what one is supposed to do when waiting: being faithful in the little things. I’ve bought into the culture-wide lie that the little things aren’t good enough, that if I want to be successful, I must hustle! werk it! believe it dream it do it! So let me work on all that while I’m waiting!

And still the answer comes back: Wait. Busywork does not count.

And there’s really nothing to say but, “Okay.”

So I’ve been trying to focus more on the little things, the daily tasks in front of me. And oddly enough, I see some of what I’ve strived so hard to hustle into being come together on its own, just a little bit. Almost as if it’s not really up to me at all.

Almost as if all I need to do, is wait.

 

 

 

Know Thyself

In the past few months, my best friend and I have become inadvertent personality scholars.

I don’t quite remember how it started. We bought the same book, Better than Before, about temperament and habit formation. Then we hit a streak where, ironically, we got competitive about reading Quiet, the book on introverts (which we both are). Then during the semester, she read a Myers-Briggs textbook, and we figured out each of our personalities and those of our respective husbands, and read each feature of each personality to oblivion.

(In case you were wondering, I’m a shy introvert, an obliger with a rebel streak, an INFP with a turbulent nature, and a highly-sensitive person. On the Pinterest chart of introverted types as pets, I’m a cute cuddly mouse. According to Buzzfeed, which is even more scientific than Pinterest, I’m a meerkat.)

At some point Jenny asked me whether I thought our newfound knowledge of personality types made us almost too knowledgeable. “Do you think it might make us not rely on God enough?” she wondered. In our shared spiritual tradition, there’s a principle of recognizing, with humility, that we as human beings don’t know everything. And we certainly didn’t want to know so much we became smug, unable to relate to people without first asking the four letters of their Myers-Briggs personality type.

“I find it’s making me rely on him more,” I answered. For one thing, I need guidance outside of myself for putting my newfound knowledge to good use. Also, knowing a lot makes me that smug asshole. So I need help with that too.

But in all seriousness, figuring out how to use one’s knowledge of oneself is incredibly important. Learning so much about myself has taught me that I’m not always as impervious to cultural peer pressure as I think I am. Sometimes I adopt the values of my environment because everyone else thinks those values are common sense, when in reality they often squelch the very strengths I have. And then instead of being thoughtful about my nature, I’ve often been the hardest squelcher of them all, thinking I must fix myself in some way.

I’ve worked fast-paced jobs, but I’m a more quiet, deliberate person. I’ve worked in environments that encourage making sales, but I value authenticity and good causes. I’ve put myself in situations where I am expected to be chatty and engaging and to connect with a ton of people in any given day, but to me connection is something you can’t force. It must be deep and intentional and take a lot of time.

All of this pushing against my own nature has left me frustrated and even more disappointed with who I am. But when Jenny and I started studying personalities, (admittedly) becoming greater nerds on the subject, something clicked. It’s no longer a matter of changing myself to fit a mold, but rather of finding a mold that I can fit into already, a mold with a shape I fit and room I can grow in.

The catch, of course, is that we all have to spend our lives figuring out the tension between who we are and what life is, between who we should be and what life should be. We have to figure out when it’s okay to change and when it’s okay to stick to our nature, when it’s appropriate to build on our strengths, and when it’s better to strengthen our weaknesses. This goes along with that spiritual principle of realizing that no matter how much I know, I don’t know everything. I need guidance and strength outside myself to make big decisions and little decisions, moment by moment, that will polish me more and more into the person I truly am.

So that’s step two.

A Cautionary Tale

I don’t get road rage. I really don’t. Every once in a while I have a bad day and I might grumble at a slow person, and whenever I drive in Pittsburgh I will let out a string of Pittsburgheze. But these aren’t common occurrences. I’m a pretty placid driver.

No, I don’t get road rage. Unless… unless someone else is exhibiting road rage. And then I’m mad as hell. I get road rage at the people who get road rage.

I don’t know if it’s some righteous anger business. Maybe it is. (It probably is not.) I think it’s probably the result of mixed panic, overstimulation, and a compassionate sense of justice. I mean, come on, where’s the justice in tailgating someone who’s going five over the speed limit? Where’s the compassion in flipping someone off? And what the hell are you honking for? It’s taking me a while to lift my foot off the brake!

Yesterday I was on my way to Pittsburgh, and to be honest, I was in a sour mood. Something had ruffled me before I left the house, and then the previously sunny day had gone all gray, and then it started raining, and I can never seem to get the windshield wiper speed right. It’s either molasses-slow or ADHD-fast. I stopped at a light, and when it turned green, I took my foot off the brake, and suddenly heard six indignant horn blasts to my left.

Sluggishly and sullenly, like a toddler woken too soon from a nap*, I looked over. The lady in the huge brown SUV in the left lane hadn’t been honking at me; she was angry with the guy in the beat-up Toyota pickup in front of her, who was taking his (reasonable) time turning left. The sheer injustice of it all overwhelmed me. I was suddenly seized with road-rage road rage. My own horn looked incredibly inviting. I made a decision. I honked six little indignant horn blasts of my own, with a smug staccato that mirrored SUV lady’s. I felt a thrill of power and righteousness.

And then, terrified at my own strength, I scanned the area for police cars.

And then, by the time I’d gotten another mile down the road, I felt terrible.

And then I repented.

And then I kept myself from crying.

And then I wondered if SUV lady felt as bad as I did.

Road rage does no body good.

 

It’s Friday, which means I’ve released another chapter of my newest novel! Check out my Patreon page, where all my lovely sponsors can view an exclusive look at my first draft. Fiction is better than road rage. Read a story; save a life.

 

*Though, let’s be honest: anyone waking up from a nap is like this.

Rising Above the Oooh

I’ve always considered myself someone who likes to travel. I mean, it makes you sound so accomplished.

“What do you like to do?”
“I’m a writer, and a big reader. I also love to travel.”
“Really! Where have you been?”
“I’ve been to Europe,” *shrug*.
“Oooh.”

I live for the Admiring Oooh.

In all seriousness, I really do enjoy travel, not just for the Admiring Oooh. Visiting new places and seeing life done in different ways has always fascinated me. It’s wonderful to think that while you’re at home doing whatever you do, all these people are here, miles and miles away, doing what they do. It doesn’t stop and start when you arrive, it happens simultaneously with your own timeline. And for a moment, you get to step into a story not your own, and watch it, and sometimes even write some of it.

However, as I’ve gotten older (and this is really sad because I’m not even that old), I’ve found that I have to remind myself how much I love traveling, because more often than not it really stresses me out. New places are unfamiliar, full of a million unknowns, and I hate unknowns. Also I have a sensitive stomach that gets ill easily. Also I need to have enough sleep, and who knows if this will happen? Also I sunburn, literally, like hell. Also I am easily dehydrated. Where’s the closest water fountain? I pull away from my house, my place, with all my things in it, and see it looking so forlorn and abandoned, and I want to run back and cancel everything.

(And this is just going to visit my parents.)

I’ve learned that some things are worth hacking through a slew of fears for. I’ve done it before, and I regret it when I don’t. I want to cling to home, to peace, to the familiar, but not always for noble reasons. Often, very often, I cling to these things out of fear, thinking that without them I will no longer be myself. I forget that I am becoming evermore myself because of the times I travel, the times I encounter unknowns, the times I uproot myself now for better roots later. I would rather be that sort of person than to spare my house’s feelings.

I really do want to be the sort of person who travels, and not just for the Admiring Oooh.

Don’t forget to visit my Patreon Page for this week’s Workshop Wednesday! Answer my writing questions and I’ll answer yours!

A Tourist

 

Yesterday the Russian and I were tourists.

We had breakfast at a random-but-delicious Greek diner in Nashville, then we went to the Parthenon. I’ve been there before, back when I lived in Tennessee for a few months. So for me, it felt less like touristing than it did being a local and showing a newbie the local sights. This, of course, in inaccurate, but it was nice to pretend.

The Russian isn’t really one for the arts, but he did marry a woman with an English degree, so he’s good at dipping his toes in. We milled around the art gallery under the Parthenon, looked at the collection of paintings based on Tennessee state symbols, and pondered how much of a hole buying two $7500 paintings would put us in. His favorite was a closeup of a ladybug on a leaf. Mine was a detail of juniper berries. Neither of us would compromise, so $15000 in debt it is.

It was a gorgeous warm, sunny day, the kind we probably won’t get in Pennsylvania until our annual February thaw. The place was full of people from everywhere, a mix of languages and dialects.

Hearing the Southern accent still makes me do a double take; I’m so unused to it, and I was even when I lived here. It reminds me that even though I consider Nashville an adopted city, even though I can get around without directions and show my husband the local sights, I still prefer a rugged Pittsburgh accent to a Southern one, a mess of damp hills to a dry plain of flatness, pierogis and sauerkraut to barbecue.

Despite everything, I’m still a tourist.

Workshop Wednesday 11.22.17

Happy Day-Before-Thanksgiving!

The Russian and I are on our way to Nashville for the festivities, but I couldn’t resist sharing my newest idea: Workshop Wednesday (I’m so good at alliteration)!!!

I’m planning to put together a virtual writer’s workshop through my Patreon page, where supporters can view the new fiction I share each week, give me feedback, and share links to their own work, which I’ll give comments on as I can. I’m excited to form a sort of community where we can grow into better writers together.

Interested? Head over to today’s post, and then take a look at my novel-in-progress, which I release chapter-by-chapter each Friday. Let me know what you think, and feel free to share some of your own work! I’d love to see what my readers are working on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Big Announcement and A Little Help

 

I came to a realization a month or so ago. I realized that I want to be a writer.

This wasn’t really an epiphany; I mean, I have a degree in writing. Clearly I had some inkling. But in the post-graduate bonanza that is job hunting, I got distracted by the mad need to get a job now, which led me to some frustrating places and an all-around bad mental state.

And then I realized it: I just, really, want to be a writer. I want to be home most of the time, and sit at my desk, and light a candle, and write. Whenever I get frustrated with my career, when all seems futile and I think I’ve just been deceiving myself this whole time, I sit down, light a candle, and write. And everything just pops into place, like when a chiropractor gives you a good crack (also, BTW, never been crazy about that phrase. It sounds like a drug reference). I write, and I start to gain hope that, yes, this is exactly what I’m supposed to do.

So I’ve more consciously thrown myself into writing, because I realized that I need to commit to it. It’s a learning curve and a challenge, but it’s one I’m prepared to take on, because, like I told my best friend, I need the pressure of failure to make me commit. It’s freeing, and also terrifying. I like to focus on the freeing part.

Long story long, as part of my resolution to commit, I started a Patreon page to get my writing out there and to get ever closer to my goal of being supported by writing work. It would mean so much to me if you would check it out and consider supporting me. I’ll be sharing weekly installments of my newest novel, and, I’ll be integrating my followers’ thoughts and comments into my ongoing drafting, almost like a real-time writing workshop. I’m super excited to see how this improves my work.

Stay posted while I keep writing. Thanks for reading, and please never stop.

(And Happy Thanksgiving!)

Quiet Weather

I’ve always liked the gloomy days, because the gloomy days force everyone to be quiet. In the riot of sunshine and cloudless sky, everything screams and sings and shouts. The sky is too big; it yawns over the earth like an echo chamber.

But in the gloomy days, a hush falls over the world. The sky is like a heavy damper on the strings of a piano. The screaming and singing and shouting is muffled with fog and sullenness. But that which is quiet, and has always been, doesn’t get muffled. That which is quiet hums softly as it always does. The gloom forces us all to listen. The gloom makes the quiet loud.

And for once, I’m louder than the weather.