Growing up on the farm, a brand was a mark that was put on a cow to let outsiders know whose farm the animal came from.

In high school, a brand was what the richer kids wore to prove that they were important, while I wore hand-me-downs or whatever my mom could get with her cheap-clothing-store-that-shall-remain-nameless employee discount.

When I worked in public relations, a brand was what we talked a lot about when we needed to make our product or service stand out in crowded spaces or the evening news.

Now that I’m self-employed, people who tout themselves as self-employment experts are trying to tell me I have to brand MYSELF.

Really? Like a cow who runs the risk of wandering away from the herd? Like a teenager who’s afraid she won’t fit in? Like a product that gets lost on a crowded supermarket shelf?

I’ll be honest… I don’t want to be a brand. I don’t want to be a cow, I don’t want to be a product, and I certainly don’t want to be something an insecure teenager wraps around her shoulders to try to impress her peers.

I’m tired of consumer and industrial language that compares us to products and our brains to well-oiled machines. Let’s move on, shall we? We’ve already established that our consumer-driven mentality is getting the world into a whole lot of trouble with over-consumption and the destruction of our natural resources. That language is not serving us anymore. Let’s stop diminishing our capacity and our imagination by using it.

We are much too complex to be machines or brands or products. Let’s shift the paradigm by shifting the language.

Let’s not be consumers. Let’s be citizens and community members instead.

Let’s not brand ourselves. Let’s tell stories instead.

The next time you’re considering what it is you and/or your business is offering the world, ask yourself “What’s my story?” instead of “What’s my brand?”

Your story has complex nuances that can’t fit into a simple brand.

Your story is shifting and changing as you grow.

Your story has potential for much greater impact than any product could ever have.

Your story is a tapestry made up of all of the beautiful threads you’ve picked up along the journey of your life. It’s the grade 3 teacher who gave you a special prize when you won the spelling bee. It’s your best friend who picked you up off the ground when you fell off a horse. It’s your brother who sacrificed the income from his first job so that you could go on a school trip. It’s the times your dad smiled that special “I’m proud of you” smile. It’s the university instructor who told you one of your plays was good enough to be on the radio. It’s the boss who promoted you to your first leadership position. It’s the first time you spoke in public. It’s those times when you know you are doing your best work.

Those things don’t fit into a brand. They’re not products you can box and put on a shelf. They are your threads and they make you more beautiful than any product on a supermarket shelf.

Don’t diminish yourself to a brand. You’re worth so much more.

You might make more money if you brand yourself (and this is why I’m not a self-employment guru), but you’ll have a greater impact if you share your story.

What’s your story? 

Stop trying to box it or brand it and just get busy sharing it.

To bring about a paradigm shift in the culture that will change assumptions and attitudes, a critical number of us have to tell the stories of our personal revelations and transformations.” – Jean Shinoda Bolen

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