Why Personal Branding Feels Narcissistic
I literally just taught a semester-long course on building your personal brand to a flock of Marquette University seniors and, while they hated me once we got into the meat of it, they loved me for it by the end of the semester.
Because it’s flipping hard.
And it feels weird to talk about yourself that much. Especially for women and those who frequently fall victim to Imposter Syndrome.
It feels weird talking about yourself that much for (at least) three reasons.
For anyone who has an ounce of humility (and for those of you who had to Google that word, please invest in it, it’s totes worth it), “building your personal brand” feels like the downright most narcissistic thing that has ever crossed paths with social media, and that includes Kim and Kanye.
Now, to be fair, we should probably further define narcissism, so we’re all on the same page here. According to Google, narcissism is defined as an “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one's physical appearance.”
If we take this one step further, the psychology behind narcissism, presents topics such as “selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.” Narcissism speaks to facades, a false sense of identity, and a lack of grounding.
While some (and many) personal brands not just flirt with narcissism, they straight up lead the charge. Those of us who believe in the value of building our personal brands to further our careers shouldn’t be flirting with these same lines.
Because if you’re truly building your personal brand, it shouldn’t be in admiration of yourself or a perfected facade. It should be in the authenticity and strength in sharing your truth through an honest acceptance of who you really are.
And anyone who is even occasionally honest knows that the truth is often times downright fugly.
To be honest, is to be open to vulnerability (which is super scary). Vulnerability leads to humility. Humility requires a solid sense of self and one that is rooted in the acceptance that, as humans, we’re all flawed. But it’s in those flaws, where we truly shine.
So, if truly building your personal brand is based on sharing your truth, then how can we find and unveil that truth in a real and genuine way?
Hold your breath kids, we’re diving in deep. Self-discovery, like vulnerability, is scary. Who knows what you might find if you go searching the depths of yourself!? Self-discovery is the “process of acquiring insight into one's own character” and it takes guts and dedication to go on this journey. For anyone who has ever invested in psychotherapy, you know it’s downright exhausting but sooooo worth it.
Because you’re forced to answer some really tough questions about yourself and forced to face some difficult truths about who you are.
There are a lot of ways to dive into self-discovery, therapy is just one of them, but when you take that plunge, you have to be open to whatever you find. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s scary. But sometimes it’s enlightening and amazing and you come up for air after one of those “good cries” and you’re like Lizzo asking, “Girl how you feeling?” and shouting, “Feeling good as hell!”
The goal of self-discovery is to dive in deep to really figure out what makes you tick, what you’re most passionate about, and what skills and value do you have to offer to the world. Then you work finding words and phrases and colors and shapes to help more effectively communicate those feelings and values to the world.
Those feelings and motivations become the mission, vision, values, and goals of your personal brand. And guess what? They’re super honest and raw because you went deep and pulled them out of pockets of truth you discovered.
And they are uniquely yours.
So now what do we do? We advocate.
Self-advocacy is like your favorite pair of shoes before they became your favorite pair of shoes. They’re really pretty, you can’t wait to take them for a spin, but they are a little uncomfortable because you haven’t put in the miles yet to break them in so they mold to your feet.
Back to what we said at the start, it can be (and often is) super uncomfortable to talk about yourself. However, part of the uncomfortable nature of this lies in the unknown. When you have to give a presentation on a topic you could teach in your sleep, it’s no problemo, right? But when you have to present on something you think you might know, but actually still have a lot of questions about, it’s uncomfortable, right?
Well, when you’re asked about your personal brand, who you are, what you stand for and you haven’t done the research on yourself to confidently answer those questions, it’s a little uncomfortable.
Self-advocacy is “the action of representing oneself or one's views or interests,” and you can’t do that if you can’t clearly define them.
When done properly, I believe self-advocacy is the voice and expression of a strong personal brand, not narcissism. Self-advocacy is rooted in truth and the pride of self-acceptance. Narcissism is rooted in vanity and validation from others.
So yes, at the surface, building a personal brand can flirt with the notion of narcissism. But I encourage you to do the work on yourself and build a brand rooted in truth, vulnerability, humility and the celebration of your uniqueness. And when you build your brand rooted in those qualities, not only is it liberating, it makes it so much easier for people to relate to and self-select you as the potential solution to the problem they’re trying to solve. Whether that’s a new hire, a consultant, a friend, a mentor, an inspiration, you name it.
When you’re uniquely you, and you can effectively share that with the world, the opportunities are endless.