“Who am I?”
How often we find ourselves asking that question as we ponder not only our own dreams and aspirations, but also process the opinions and expectations of so many others in our lives. It can be one of the most liberating and debilitating questions to ask, all at the same time.
In the meantime, anyone who operates on a daily basis in public (which should be most of us to some degree!), in whatever profession or activity, develops a perceived identity as people observe and interact with them. Roofers develop a reputation based on good work, be it reliable, sketchy, or some other descriptor. Teachers build an identity over years of honing their craft and interacting with students - engaging, boring, intense, unfair to name a few. Writers communicate stories and ideas, leaving an impression of themselves based on the impression they’ve made on others - creative, inciting, insightful, shallow, crude, etc. And celebrities...Well, celebrities garner a following based on a host of often bizarre and random characteristics that the general public just loves to follow (e.g. fashion tastes and romantic inclinations).
Earlier this week Rachel Held Evans wrote an insightful post on her experience of this as a Christian blogger. She reflects on the just how pervasive viewing ourselves as a brand can be...
...these days, you don’t have to have a book deal or a literary agent to cultivate a “brand.” You just need a little online real estate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or some sort of blogging platform...Over time, as your life gets distilled into these little pixels, it’s easy for the people who see them—be they friends, acquaintances, or perfect strangers—to assume they represent you in your totality. Even more frightening, as you gather feedback and gain friends/followers/subscribers, you can start to believe it too.
In a culture obsessed with branding, our true selves get lost - we’re only known as “little pixels” in cyberspace. And the difficulty is just how unavoidable this whole branding trend is. Even social media resistance relays a certain perception - resistance becomes the brand. Which is why Rachel's conclusion is so important:
But we are not our messages, no matter how much we believe in them. We are not our filtered photos, or our tweets, or our political and religious ideologies. We are not even the stories we tell, no matter how carefully and truthfully we tell them...We are not our brands.
“Who am I?” is still a very important question. Yet in an age of expansive communication and intense social pressures, how, who, and what forms our answer is just as important. And hopefully it’s not your brand, or my brand, or a celebrity’s brand who determines your response. We are worth too much to be a brand.