No matter how you make your living, personal branding is key to creating the life you want. It’s smart to realize that you’ve got a personal brand, whether you are self-employed or work for someone. You've got one whether you think you do or not. And you WANT a personal brand, for sure. Why? Because, whether you’re a Millennial or a Boomer, and whether you are working for a company or not, you are in effect working for yourself.
Even if you are “employed” I still say you are working for yourself. Over 30 million Millennials find themselves working as contact labor – people who get a 1099 at the end of calendar year. And boomers who have been downsized over the past decade also find themselves going “back to work” as contract employees. Working “at will” is one of the big changes in the workplace over the past decade. Whether you freelance for a company or are on a formal contract, you’re basically a solo entrepreneur. You’re not getting benefits such as health insurance coverage, vacation, or sick leave. And more to the point, you serve at will – you can be let go at any time.
I don’t think we have taught ourselves to live a life of entrepreneurship – yet that is essentially what more and more American workers are. The idea of finding a “good job” with a high salary and generous benefits is embedded deep into our culture. But the truth is, we are in an era of far more personal responsibility. We need to learn how to talk about our own aspirations, build our skill sets, and be in the driver’s seat to manage our working life. We need to realize that for good or bad, we each have a personal brand – an identity and story we are known for.
To work for ourselves successfully, we must feel confident and empowered. We must have good interpersonal skills. We must enjoy learning throughout our lifetime. We must not cling to parents, friends, or spouses to fulfill us and help us out. We must be willing to step up to self-responsibility.
That’s become an issue, that self-responsibility thing.
- It’s not that uncommon for people in their mid-30’s to be living with their parents.
- It’s not that uncommon for parents to be completely enmeshed with adult children and grandchildren, raising grandchildren (and paying for them) as if the grandchildren were their own.
- It’s not that uncommon to see young adults with advanced degrees working as restaurant servers and baristas.
- It’s not that uncommon for college students to assume large student loans earning a degree (or advanced degree) for which there are few opportunities for employment.
- It’s not that uncommon to find people of all ages who have tried to start their own business and failed quickly, often accumulating debt.
We can make changes to our educational system. We can begin to teach basic business and entrepreneurial skills. We can encourage parents to step away to the next stage of their life when their children are grown rather than remaining as “aging parents” to thirty-something year old adult children.
All of those things would help us grow a more responsible and engaged society. But all those things will fail if we also don’t find a way to instill confidence, a sense of self-power, and finely tuned interpersonal skills in every single person. Young and old, Millennial and Gen Y and Boomer – the need for these characteristics is deep and wide and the lack of them hurts us.
- Children are so used to pleasing parents that many cannot begin to think about what would please their own self.
- Young adults are sometimes overly dependent on parents, who have failed at helping their children learn to stand alone. (You’ve probably read the stories of parents who show up to interviews at colleges, or for job interviews – not with their young adult in tow, but in place of their child!)
- Parents raise their children and then look for ways to keep them tied closely – lately I saw a mother on Facebook brag that she cooked for her daughter, who was at college 1000 miles away, and shipped the meals on dry ice every week so that her daughter “didn’t have to bother to cook or go find food.” Rather than looking forward to their next phase of life without daily child rearing, these parents find ways to get more involved. They fail at allowing their adult children learn to take care of themselves.
If our culture is to thrive and if our businesses are to remain open, we need independent, self-responsible workers – whether as employees OR as contractors. We need entrepreneurs who will not quit at the first sign of failure – who have been taught that it’s acceptable to take risks and to fail. We need to disabuse ourselves of the idea of perfection before action. We need young adults to separate from their parents, and parents willing to set them free.
Perhaps one way to start working at this is to teach people how to become their own visionary. How to sit alone and come to a sense of what one’s life is to be about, without asking others. How to make decisions without constantly asking dozens of friends and family members, because they are afraid to “make a mistake.”
I suggest we each sit alone and ask:
- What is my life about right now?
- What gives me deep satisfaction and a sense of joy?
- Where am I not being fully responsible for my life?
- What personal growth do I need to do?
- How can I get a strong sense of myself, so that it’s easy to talk with others about what I want and where I want to go?
- Who am I overly dependent on because it’s easier for me and keeps them happy?
- What’s the most daring thing I could do right now?
Success and joy and a deeply rewarding life comes from answering these questions, not from waiting for someone else’s approval to get a small promotion. Not from wishing you could open your own business but always being too afraid to try. Not from pleasing others more than you please yourself.
You are the visionary and the entrepreneur for your own life. Step into that path, and watch how miracles happen. And while you are at it, you will also be building a strong personal brand.