Who would have thought…appearances matter. And I suppose that on one level we all know this as true. As much as we say, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” or “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, we all know that we do look at the cover of a book when picking it up and that there are social expectations associated with the idea of what makes someone beautiful at any given moment in time. In other words, our personal brand matters. It matters a lot.

But the problem is that even though we know this on an intuitive level, we sometimes choose to believe the opposite…that appearances don’t matter – or rather, that they shouldn’t matter. In other words, the story in the book should speak for itself. People should be judged on who they are on the inside. Our hard work should speak for itself – we should not have to “promote” ourselves in any way because that is selfish and self-serving, it’s inauthentic – it’s an act. 

And so, sometimes we tend to live in this ideal world where we think it’s okay to focus on doing a good job and it’s okay to put your head down and work hard and just get on with it. But what we sometimes fail to realise is that we are judged not only on what we do, but also on what we appear to do. 

And this works both ways. Sometimes, people do nothing of substance but appear to do a lot, while others work hard and do a lot but they don’t focus enough on creating an image that reflects their work ethic and their capabilities. So what happens is that these types of people, the ones who rely solely on the strength of their efforts – these people often work from the shadows. 

Their hard work goes unnoticed. Their capabilities go unrewarded. They get passed over for promotions or, if they do get promoted, they are called “lucky”, as if they were not deserving of the fruits of their labour.

The trick, then, should be to recognise that authenticity and perception go hand-in-hand and that there should be a balance between the two. It is naive to think that people will see your hard work and acknowledge your efforts if you don’t take pains to carefully and consciously create a personal brand – an image, if you will – that reflects the value you bring to the table.

And while it may seem cold and even “fake” to have to be conscious of creating a personal brand, it is naive to think that the “image” is not important. That the cover of the book does not matter. That people do not make snap judgements based on appearance alone sometimes. And so, we need get comfortable with the fact that authenticity and marketing oneself go hand-in-hand. If we are too rosy-eyed and idealistic to think that self-promotion is distasteful and unnecessary, well then, we have to take responsibility for the outcomes of our naivety. 

We need to own the reasons why we may not be valued as we should be valued; or why, no matter how hard we work, our efforts go unacknowledged. If we did not put in the effort to visibly “show up”, then we need to accept the consequences of being invisible or worse, being painted in the wrong light by the wrong people.

We therefore have to own those moments when we are visible so that we can have some semblance of control over how we present ourselves to the world. We are our own brand and we have to market ourselves as one would any brand. It is a fundamental law of human nature…that we are judged first by our appearances and that we are responsible, at least in part, by how we are perceived by the rest of our tribe.

Now the thing is, we have to acknowledge that people will always perceive you according to their experiences and personal biases. However, if you are at least conscious of how you want to show-up in this world, then you leave less up to fate and more up to deliberate decision. And while you may not always be perceived in the way you want to be perceived, even after having made the effort, at least you were not leaving your persona up to chance – at least you acted out of a sense of awareness when showing up in the world.

It’s not selfish to cultivate for yourself an image. And it is definitely not inauthentic, even though it may feel that way at first. Instead, it’s necessary. And, if done with good intent and in the spirit of service, the image you create will be one that best reflects your blood, sweat and tears – your capabilities and your commitment – and you will be viewed accordingly. 

So while you should never strive to create an image that is a lie, you should go out of your way to create an image that bests reflects the truth. For if you don’t, others will create that image for you and they will base their perceptions of you on only that which they can see. And if you are not deliberate in how you choose to show up, then you have to accept partial – if not full responsibility – for the backlash that will definitely follow if you leave things to chance. 

And I know that some might find this concept distasteful. Even I myself struggled for a long time to accept this idea. But the reality is, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel having to market yourself in the way that best reflects who you are, you are obligated to current and future self to deliberately define the image you want to project to the world. 

Be authentic. Yes. Show up authentically. Yes. But be sure to make sure that your authentic self is truthfully and honestly represented in the world. You deserve to been seen for who you are. And your efforts deserve to be appropriately acknowledged. And that is never selfish. If anything, it is wise, mature and admirable. 

So take ownership over your personal brand. You have a right to be seen for who you are, but you are responsible for showing the world who it is that you are.

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