Writer Confessions: Death to Personal Brands


Article 1, Confessions of a creative-corporate zombie

As we move into the new year, I am about to embark on a journey. An experiment, if you will, where I throw caution to the wind and publish my first book.

Exciting, right? Yes. I am beyond thrilled. Full disclosure…I’m also super nervous.

Before I delve into the reason for my discomfort, a little bit about me. I am a corporate consultant who has the privilege of launching programs for some of the world’s biggest brands. I have a bachelor’s degree from a top-10 business school and a master’s in technology management from the most innovative university in the U.S. Through hard work and the support of wonderful teachers and mentors, I am proud to declare my corporate life a success.

Many accomplished people have written books to catapult their corporate career to new heights. Texts on startups and leadership. Emotional intelligence and the psychology of decision-making. It seems like a perfectly reasonable step that my next move would be to publish proof of my hard-earned expertise. But here’s the catch…my book is fiction. A young adult fantasy novel with a mermaid protagonist, to be precise.

Mermaids and corporate consulting. Try to reconcile that in your mind for a moment.

Believe me it’s not easy. We’re so used to categorizing people as either creative or analytical. You’re either a starving artist or a number cruncher. The issue is compounded by all the personal branding conversations that have monopolized career advice for the last decade. Countless articles and webinars and coaching tips encourage you to build a professional image consistent with the next rung on the corporate ladder. We talk ad nauseum about what to wear, how to speak in public, buzz words to use on your resume, and every other way we can present ourselves in a favorable, polished light.

Well, I’ve got news for you. That ain’t people. That’s advertising. How many of your colleagues are as put together as their corporate headshot on most days? When’s the last time you used words like “agile” and “digital transformation” during a game-day or Oscars party?

It has taken me quite some time to come to terms with the fact that my corporate brand is only one slice of the truth. Yes, I like launching new enterprise technology and initiatives. I also like dancing in my kitchen to top-forties music. So why do we choose to portray the former to the masses and the latter only to our closest friends? Because it’s safer. It’s easier to follow the recipe with measuring spoons that match your serve ware, than it is to create something new and perhaps not as digestible. The trouble is, the current personal brand recipe is for vanilla dessert. And as much as I appreciate vanilla’s versatility, it’s been around for a while and I’m over it.

So bored with the sameness, in fact, that I’m willing to taint my otherwise conforming and easy-to-sell resume with a young adult fantasy novel. I’m not entirely sure how my new image will look. Should I add my novel to the “hobbies” section in my resume or let it shine as a professional accomplishment? Should I change my LinkedIn banner image to fish scales, so as to thoroughly confuse people? I have no idea. But I’m about to figure that out.

Why risk it, you ask?

Because I love writing fiction. It’s a world where the opportunities are restricted only by the boundaries of my imagination. An expressive outlet where I don’t need dozens of peer-reviewed research articles to validate my musings. A universe that demands my attention so thoroughly that I forget about project schedules and budgets for a while.

As my standard personal brand dies a slow death this year, I’ll keep you posted. The potential topics to explore are endless: how to get over creative blocks; the importance of play on work performance; the line between personal and professional; etc. Hopefully this experience will be like a phoenix – out of fire and ashes brings new life. But if shaking up my personal brand simply ignites my proverbial hair on fire, that’s ok too. At least Bananas Foster gives vanilla ice cream a palatable kick.

I encourage you to come along for the ride, and I want to hear from you. If you’re a seasoned creative-corporate zombie hybrid, I’m curious to learn the tips and tricks you use to stay balanced across varying goals and interests. And if you’re just starting to explore the bizarre space that is bridging your corpus callosum, then congrats and send me a message anyway. Maybe I can help talk you over the hump and lend a word of creative encouragement.

Until next time. You flipping rock.

~Melissa Birling