Don’t be mad cuz I’m doing me better than you doing you. –Childish Gambino, “Sweatpants”
I love that song. I blared it in my car earlier. Even though it kind of makes me sick, because it speaks to something that’s really been bothering me the past couple of years–the idea that we’re all just “doing life”–like, enacting it. Instead of living it. And lately it seems like there’s more and more emphasis on enacting that life in a certain, very self-branded, calculated way, that leads to all of this success/financial glee/accolades/awesomeness.
I think about this a lot. Even thought I don’t like that I do. If you hooked up my brain to a teleprompter, this is what you would see each time a LinkedIn network email comes into my inbox (one came in today!):
Oh, great, so-and-so got another job/endorsement/connection. Why aren’t I working on getting jobs/endorsements/connections? Why am I ON LinkedIn? I’m not keeping it up to date. Shit. People are getting the wrong idea about me. I don’t really look like that anymore. What else isn’t up to date? Crap. I’m not blogging enough right now. I’m not using blog post titles formatted to get click throughs. I’m not being shocking enough. I’m becoming irrelevant. No one gives a shit what I say. I didn’t tweet enough this week. What the fuck is my twitter about? Why am I on twitter? Oh my gosh, all I did was tweet knitting pictures and retweet Indianapolis Public School snow day information. I didn’t remember to check in the 47 times I went out of the house last week. I forgot to tag all 12,000 relevant parties. I’m not following the right blogs. I’m not making the right number of comments to get traffic flowing back to my blog. The only person reading this is my husband and maybe my writing group–if I remember to beg them to. I’m not going to networking events. Oh, gosh, am I using Facebook for networking now? Which friend requests should I accept ? Crud, should I be separating these people into groups with a specific set of curated content? Oh, shit, does that mean I’m curating content?? Or am I just posting the batshit crazy things my kids say/do, along with a few moderately appetizing photos of cakes I bake? Frick, I just realized all of my Pinterest pins are visible to my whole friend list. Did everyone see that I downloaded 25 free sewing patterns on Craftsy? Or that I once listened to Lady Gaga for an entire day on Spotify, or that I have an overindulged fondness for The 1975 or that I regularly enjoy swears-filled rap music?
Who am I? What is this? Where am I going? What am I doing here? How badly am I ruining my life by living it?????
I am completely incapable of thinking of myself as a brand. I can’t fathom, for example, creating a neat and tidy blog of specific types of content, all packaged up nicely with market-proven titles and tags–4,0o0 Things You Always Wanted to Know about How Much It Sucks to Be a Writer, etc etc etc. I cannnttttdooooittttt. Not that I don’t know how to. Not that I’m not aware of what ‘works.’ It’s just that I can’t shoehorn myself into those kinds of molds. I won’t. It makes me feel a little icky, like the only way that I matter is if I’m “playing the game.” Doing what’s “cool.” Being an on-trend and on-the-pulse humanoid.
Writer Chuck Wendig also has something to say about person-as-brand, addressing the topic as a part of his 2014 writing resolutions:
I WILL STOP THINKING OF MYSELF AS A BRAND:
Coca-Cola is a brand. Burger King is a brand. Big Dan-Don’s is a brand (“American Dildos made by American* Hands!”). A brand is a corporate identity. It is the standard-bearer of comfort and consistency: same burger every time, same bowl of cereal, same firm-but-squishy dongs. You are not a brand. You are a human being. Writing is your craft. Story is your art. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: who wants to read a story by a brand? (“Ah, the erotic culinary autobiography of the Burger King. Finally, it is mine.”) Your voice is what matters. Your ideas are what mark you.Your milkshake is what brings all the boys to the yard. You know what a brand is? A brand is the thing they use to mark a cow so that it gets identified with the rest of the mooing herd.
* translation: South American hands
Let me generalize for the non-writers: YOU, dear human, are not a brand (unless you ARE a brand, and somehow weirdly sentient and reading blogs). You are not “doing” your life. You are not “doing” your life to win The Life Contest, in which you become The Most Awesome Human, who has put it all together in The Best Way and Won The Game. Some of us are a mess (me). Some of us haven’t developed an end-all-be-all life goal, and so we aren’t throwing ourselves at our lives like we’re executing a marketing plan.
But that’s okay. Just be. Just be content knowing that if you’re fulfilling your own standards for what makes an awesome life, you win. YOU WIN. This is one contest that can be won a million different ways.
The It Delights Me Clause
I was explaining all of this to Alex Mattingly one day (as a member of my writing group, he is often subjected to my ramblings), and then I remembered that Alex has a rather fun logo on his blog that he had created by a work friend–his own personal BRANDING. Nooo, Alex, nooooooooooo. He said, oh who’s going to take that seriously, anyway? It’s just my initials and some pterodactyl wings.
(Right? Is that what they are? Was I listening? Dino-wingies of some kind, for sure.)
But here’s what’s what: Mattingly just likes dinosaurs. It’s his thing. So I decided there was room for a clause in the Blech, Self-Branding Bites — the It Delights Me Clause. If doing all this branding mumbo jumbo pleases you–if being a completely organized and cohesively presented entity just makes you smile and be filled with glee–by all means. Because you are delighted by it. It makes you happy. It fills you up. So it’s good. Enjoy yourself. Be you, all happy in your branding, just as long as “doing you” doesn’t become some excuse for doing you “better” than everyone else, and pretending that you’re somehow more awesome because of X, Y and Z. Because then you’ve lost the delight. Stay in the delight.
Whatever it is; whatever it looks like–stay in the delight.