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.

How to Build a World

I’ll be honest.

I’m staring at the screen right now, and I’m supposed to crank out something for what is to me tomorrow morning, and I don’t know what to write. I usually come up with an idea for my blog posts a few days in advance, and then all I have to do the night before is polish what I’ve built so it’s smooth and pretty. But this time I feel tired, and I don’t really want to string together some cohesive thoughts, and the thought of taking “just a little break” from blogging this time around sounds so good.

But I’m showing up anyway, because if there’s anything I’ve learned about writing, it’s that you have to keep showing up. All the training and reading and technique and talent in the world isn’t worth a thing if you don’t show up, if you don’t write little by little day by day.

And most, if not all, writers have this problem. Writing is our passion; it both gives us life and makes sense of life. We can’t live without writing, but we also don’t want to do it. We come up with clever excuses and side hustles and procrastinations.

Writing is the most self-sabotaging of all professions.

This week I finished a short story I’ve been working on. I’ve been submitting to a few contests, and the deadlines have been invaluable in making me work. Unfortunately, my next submission deadline isn’t until the end of the month, and so of course I’ve been dragging my feet on this blasted story.

So my best friend and I came up with a plan. She lives several hours away during the summer, which really sucks in many ways, but primarily because it cuts down on our mutual creative socializing and forces us to act like well-adjusted adults for the benefit of the masses. But I digress.

When we’re together, we camp our books and computers in some hip coffee shop and spend time drinking coffee and writing (as any self-respecting millennial writer does). When we’re not together, we end up mismatched, one of us drinking coffee when the other isn’t, one of us not writing when the other is. There is imbalance and disharmony. It is very bad. It does not do.

So one day we planned an impromptu, virtual coffee run. We each camped our books and computers at home, got coffee (at least, I had coffee. If she didn’t, I don’t know what the point of all this was), and challenged each other to write 1,000 words on our individual projects (that was the point).

I knew I could finish my story in a little over 1,000 words, so I set off eagerly. And it was grueling. I spent most of the time staring at the screen while my phone lit up with her texts signposting her progress, and I told myself “It’s fine, this is all fine, it’s not a contest, stop getting mad, you can write, you’re smart, you know words, THINK, DAMMIT!”

So relaxing.

But in the end, I finished my story in just shy of 1,500 words. And she finished a chapter of her book and started another in a little over 2,000. We both showed up. And our relationship is still intact, too. I don’t tell her how competitive I can be. She still thinks I’m nice and don’t care about it. Boy, do I have her fooled.

Sometimes just showing up is all you need, no matter what you’re doing. Showing up is 99% of my yoga hobby. Showing up is how my Russian is so amazing (like ridiculously good) at sports. Showing up is how anyone does what they do to make the world a better place.

Showing up builds something beautiful brick by brick, even if you don’t think you have the energy to do one more thing. And before you know it, you’ve created a world, and all you have to do is sand it down, polish it, and make it smooth and pretty.

Like I just did.

I Made Something! And Other Matters

Every week I used to have a “Crafterday” post here (think clever pun between “craft” and “Saturday”), which I haven’t done for a while. I guess I found different things to talk about. That, and I got too busy on Saturdays.

But if those posts were your cup of tea, you’re in for a few! (Cups of tea.)

Ever since we moved I’ve been obsessed with homemade banners to decorate the house: they’re cheap, they’re easy, and they’re whimsical, all winners for a poor college student!

(I apologize in advance for the crappy photos. I lost my light and the camera was put out about it.)

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I’ve made a few tiny triangle banners like this, using paint sample cards from Walmart. This is my Valentine’s palette, but I also have a winter one, a Christmas one, and a longer strand of blue and gray for our bedroom. I’m a tiny bit obsessed.

So imagine my joy when one of my favorite bloggers featured a No-Sew Heart Garland for Valentine’s Day!  Disney over at Ruffles and Stuff has the best ideas. (And the cutest kids, btw.)

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This was my version. I didn’t have the felt the tutorial calls for, and I wish I had – these scraps of Minnie Mouse-esque silk were hard to work with. :) I simplified the design with only three hearts; they pack a punch!

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Disney’s tutorial also inspired me to make another garland using my leftover crocheted hearts from last year. I love how it turned out!

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I also copied this with some plain fabric cutouts for my sewing corner:

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Gosh, I need help! We’re drowning in beautiful heart garlands!

In all seriousness though, I have been wanting to share Ruffles and Stuff on this site for a while (so thank you, garlands). I’ve followed Disney’s blog for several years now, and it’s been a constant source of encouragement to me. This is not only for the clever DIYs, but also for her honest and joyful approach to life, even when life gets really really bad. She has helped me to see that life is a very beautiful thing, and that one of the truest ways we can worship God is to live in gratitude, because He’s created every beautiful, ridiculous facet of life as a gift to us.

These ideas played a part in my resolution to “Take Joy” this year. Last year was difficult on many levels, and I learned a lot about myself and the people around me – lots of good things and lots of bad things, which are still good to know. As someone prone to anxiety more than I realized, learning to take joy in the little gifts of life is literally a life saver.

So go visit Ruffles and Stuff; you’ll be glad you did! Every day there’s something a little different to enjoy, and and Disney really is the sweetest ray of sunshine. :)

Have a great week folks! (Sorry about all the hearts!)

It’s Been Awhile

I want to be a blogger, I really do.
You wouldn’t know it by the frequency of my posts, but it’s true.
Life overwhelms, so many colors and flavors.
Some of them bitter and drab, others too sweet and bright.
And my very logical reaction is to curl up in a ball
and ignore every semblance of responsibility,
to cry like a tired child
who won’t admit she needs a nap.
This reaction may be logical, but it’s far from right.
And it takes me farther from who I want to be.
I – and we all – need to choose
what is important and what isn’t.
(The grownup word is pri-or-i-tize.)
And to pursue all that is lovely and pure,
And throw out that which hinders.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done that,
and it’ll be awhile until I get it right.
But it’s the only option.