Been There, Done That: Branding Exercise #1 – Be a Failure


Previously on Been There, Done That, I wrote about the importance of personal branding and promised that I’d get a few exercises ready so you can improve your own branding (or get started on it). For some of you, this will be quite basic information, but if that’s the case, you’re probably already doing pretty good with your personal branding. For those of you who haven’t really thought about their brands, I got you.

The first thing that people often ask themselves when creating a personal brand profile is “What am I good at?” or “What are my strengths?” These are good basic questions, and when you answer them, you must be truthful to yourself. I notice that people are rarely objective about their strengths: people either overstate or understate them. One way to balance this out is to write down your strengths first, then afterwards, ask a trusted friend or family member to write down their own list of your strengths. Compare the two lists and you’ll have a better idea of what you actually are good at.

Now that that basic part is over with, let’s move on to what this post is about: failure. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that failure is one of the keys to finding your personal narrative. Think of Tolstoy: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s your failures that make you unique, and it’s in the roots of your failure that you learn more about yourself.

The thing is, if you’ve failed, that means you’ve taken a risk and you’ve tried something new (and probably difficult), and that’s a good thing. If you’ve never failed, either you’re the luckiest person alive (less likely) or you’ve been too fearful to do anything out of your comfort zone (more likely).

Let’s assume that you’ve got a few failures, whether they’re personal (relationships), interest-related (hobbies, etc.), or work-related. For this branding exercise, write down the three biggest failures you’ve experienced. What is the story behind each failure?

Here’s a sample answer based on a real person, A, who is currently a food writer:

1. Started a catering business which closed after a couple of years.

2. Ended a marriage because both parties had different goals.

3. Lost money investing in a friend’s business.

Now, what is the main narrative that comes through these failures? What kind of risks did A take? I know it’s probably hard to glean it from these very terse examples, but you would know the context of your own failures. I’m not going to go into the particulars of what caused A’s failures, but suffice to say, A has learned some valuable lessons, including being more financially savvy and when to delegate and when to take things in control. But aside from those skills, A’s failures present someone who is idealistic and trusting. She believed in her friend’s vision. Her marriage may have ended, but instead of forcing her spouse to bend to her will or giving up her own goals, she believed that they were both better off following their own dreams and not getting in each other’s way. Her catering business was meant to showcase dishes from different cultures that weren’t commonly found in her area, which shows that she has a desire to share things that are unique and expand other people’s experiences.

From these three failures, we can see a personal narrative emerging of a person who believes the best in others and encourages them to maximize their potential and have new, interesting experiences.

Now: what are your failures and what do they say about you?

Next up, Exercise #2!

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