Life Is Not Like Instagram: What Do You Stand For?
How to cope with being a brand and ensure you don’t lose sight of your values.
There comes a time when we all question our values. The way we're spending our days, the decisions we make and the compromises we choose to take in return for something else that matters more.
I've made so many mistakes over the years. I've acted against my beliefs, ignored my head and heart, stalked after temptations and done some really stupid things. Sometimes in the name of adventure or learning or greed or just a desire to be an ‘artist’ in pain, but EVERY time suffering as a result.
These past few years I've been working on ironing out the flaws (without leaving wounds behind) and leaving a solid base of certainty beneath every future step, but it took me years to finally build up the courage to face down the things that were holding me back.
My experience is probably going to be quite specialised but this is what I can offer: the difficulties of building a personal brand, putting work in the public domain (thus having to deal with the potential repercussions) and building self-confidence to cope with being a lone ranger.
You don't have to be an 'adventurer' for your name to be a business. Writer, artist, musician, start-up CEO, digital nomad, presenter, actor or actress; suddenly when you're trading on your own name and there's nowhere to hide.
I didn't set out with the hope for any kind of recognition-based-career and it took getting past some deep-seated worries to become willing to put myself out there. If the idea of becoming your own brand doesn't make your skin crawl then there's something seriously wrong with you.
Although the word ‘adventurer’ makes me intensely cringe, I haven’t yet found a better term to sum up how I make my living, which ultimately has largely been generated through my adventures. But there’s a line, I think. I see so many people calling themselves adventurers having done very little and while we can all do what we like, there’s a beauty in earning a title and I feel mine has now lost some shine because it’s the word of choice for people who don’t make (much of) a living from adventure.
It's also important to remember that a title, however cool or romantic, doesn’t equal reputation or experience. And that’s where being your own proper brand comes into its own — your business needs to echo you, from action all the way through to feeling. It doesn’t matter what you do, your actions need to represent and protect your values.
I’d been living a nomadic, adventurous life for five years (and completed three big adventures) before I had the guts to put a dot com after my own name and adopt this ‘adventurer’ title. I didn’t consider myself an author until I’d written two books, nor a filmmaker until over 50% of a year’s income had come through film (and even then I am barely out of amateur status). I wanted to earn every little bit of my joy and satisfaction and if you can't tell people with confidence what you do and who you are, something needs to change.
Your work shouldn’t ever be an apology…
It all becomes easier when you see the worth in yourself and your work. If you honestly believe in what you do then it’s the most valuable service you can offer. If you make a living selling plastic ornaments or worthless £20 gadgets, at some point it’s going to catch up on you that you’re not contributing much to society, or yourself.
By writing, speaking and occasionally filming for a living, I’m offering myself up on a platter. There are two ways to cope with this: don't read the comments section on your blogs (or reviews of your books/ alternate art), and remove every ounce of ego from your being. The latter, however humble you might be, is practically impossible.
Take your work seriously and yourself not. If I get any hating (in person or online) that hurts I put it on a page on my website called 'They need a hug' — anyone who takes time to thoughtlessly hurt, belittle or frustrate you usually does need a good cuddle.
Oh there are so many things to face when you're you on your own. From the fear of being judged in this world of easy, open, often anonymous, criticism to deciding never to allow advertising on your website (is a couple of hundred dollars really worth you not having that space to be free with?).
Being accessible versus the preferred ‘fairy dust’ tactic of the modern-day celebrity makes a huge difference to the time you invest in communication and how people perceive you (spend time with them and they see the real you, don’t and you’ll be in more demand but opinions about you will be based on Chinese whispers).
The tables turn when you’re in charge of your own destiny: the messaging you put out independently need to be balanced, something so hard with a personal motive and lack of perspective. The battles: being able to retain some authenticity in what is essentially a performance-related world. Avoid posting on social media just because you need attention. Avoid those temptations especially in money form — exchange time for cash and you’ll demotivate yourself along with losing precious training an self-development time. And it’s so hard to preserve self confidence when you’re alone in this world, especially without a solid group of friends to ground you. When you’re the one on the sign, or the website banner or up in lights, keeping two feet firmly on the ground and knowing you’re in this for the right reason keeps the vanity at bay.
For all the tools and skills and talent and passion and determination in the world, if your values aren't straight then you're just asking for your castle to fall down. It doesn't matter how much money you have or mountains you're climbed, or oceans rowed or medals won; if you're an arsehole you're still an arsehole.
What do you stand for? Are you real, or fake? Are you fast-tracking your career just because you can embellish your life and skills online? Be honest with yourself, if you can’t be then you’re more likely to be dishonest with others. And in this age of information people can smell the bullshit a mile away, just who are you trying to be?
Each month I reassess how I feel about all this stuff and take action to do justice to exactly who I am. It gets easier and easier the firmer the ground you build on.
The bravest thing you can do is accept that you’re different from everyone else. Understand your personal values and stick to them ruthlessly, the smallest detour can take you so far away from your best path. There is never a shortcut to being you.