The Time When My Personal Brand Got Too Personal

It’s a blessing and a curse, but I’ve decided that my personal brand has gotten too personal. After almost two years of deep diving into more than a few books, podcasts, and online courses, I feel I have a much clearer understanding of who I am and what I can contribute to the world. This is probably sounding like good news to you if you’re on a similar quest, and in many ways, it is. The trouble I ran into is when I made a good thing a god thing and decided to build my brand on things that aren’t promised tomorrow.

Let’s back up a bit.

This all started as a natural step to do the best job I could when I took my first sales position at a local Kia dealership. Working for commission was a new type of pay plan for me and the process was more aggressive than the customer service experience I had, but the freedom to generate my own business was a huge motivator. After a lot of questions and plenty of mistakes, the nervousness began to fade and the career opportunity became more apparent.

In an effort to improve my skills, I researched sales, marketing, and how to become more trusted in the industry. One of the most popular ways to generate new business in the digital age is personal branding, no matter the industry. It’s never been easier to share what we think or know with others we are connected with, dynamically changing how we interact with each other. In the business realm, building trust and authority through a strong brand can generate more leads and ideally closed deals. As a millennial with interests in technology and communication, I’ve casually participated in the evolution of the internet from the dial up days to the mobile optimized now. The “personal brand” thing became a natural fit and a less traditional approach that seemed to work for many people, so I jumped all in.

Branding is largely a result of focus, and because of my current position in the auto industry, all of mine went to building DunnDealer as a brand that was 100% committed to automotive sales. I made a marketing plan, studied the experts, scheduled original posts at optimal times, curated helpful content, paid for Facebook Ads, analyzed metrics, built a website, wrapped my car, and recorded videos to firmly establish myself in the automotive space. All this self-educating did grow a new muscle for learning something new every day and was a great confidence boost. Even when I was in college, I wasn’t completely committed. Thanks to the internet and working closely with car sales veterans, my skills grew quickly.

Over time, my efforts paid off; family and friends know the #DunnDeal and strangers contacted me which lead to sales based completely on these efforts. I’m still blown away by the auto industry professionals I’ve had the chance to network with. All this social posting led to an opportunity to be flown out to Florida to attend Digital Dealer and network with big name auto professionals and digital marketers, all of whom are extremely gracious, helpful people. I can honestly say it was a pretty life changing opportunity, but not exactly in the way I expected.

Working on my goals consistently, listening to leaders who had made their own way and evaluating what I wanted to do with my life all began to point somewhere other than car sales. Although I’d write “sell 30 cars a month” as a goal, it never really captivated my heart. Of course, it did motivate me, it’s still how I paid the bills, but something about it wasn’t right. It didn’t shake me out of bed.

Social Pressure

So instead of coming back fired up, ready to take the city by storm with automotive knowledge and the dealership with new strategies, I became disenchanted. Although it couldn’t be further from the truth, I felt like the quick glimpse at “what’s next” in the form of conferences, networking, and telling a story of success, didn’t enliven me as I thought I would. Colleagues said “suck it up”, “keep grinding”, “just sell a car and you’ll be back on track”, but all fell on deaf ears. Even if I made $100,000 a year selling cars, talking about it for the rest of my life didn’t sound appealing to me. When my website for car sales hit the first page of Google for my name, I realized this isn’t what I wanted to be known for.

Looking back, maybe I lost site of how this was only a step in the direction I wanted to go. Maybe I could have stuck it out in the industry a little longer. But after months of scheduled posts, regimented writing, curated content, and soaking in the words of industry elite, I unplugged for the first time in months. I stopped putting so much weight into what had become an obsession over the past 10 months. Here’s a paragraph from a draft after making that decision:

Facebook just told me a page I manage hasn’t had a post in 10 days. From around 3–4 posts a day (some automated, some not) to 0. For some reason, I feel like that’s a problem. Like I’ll disappear into oblivion, no one will know me, and that could be the worst thing. As if my business and livelihood depend on whether or not I try to get someone to engage with me online.

Clearly my priorities were out of line and my interest in social “success” had led to dependence. After some time, my emotions leveled out and work began to felt normal again. Perhaps it was a come down from a conference high, but as the weeks continued, I still couldn’t shake the feeling I was out of place.

My flawed human pursuit of some sort of sales perfectionist sacrificed the energy I would normally spend loving those closest to me. In an effort to “dominate my market” and “10X my actions”, I allowed myself to become a machine, an idealized version of the best work I could do. Although my passion for it came from a good place, the actions led to a false sense of who I was as a whole. Instead, it kept me from moving any deeper with those I already knew. Upon realizing the damage I was doing, I decided to pull the plug. But instead of improving, it caused me to lose the sense of direction I had relied upon so heavily.

The trouble I ran into was when my “business” brand started to become what I found my identity in, blurring the lines between personal and professional, deeply effecting how I made decisions. My personal brand became too personal when I let it so close to my heart that I let it make decisions on my behalf, and take precedence over what truly mattered. I finally realized it when external circumstances that affected my career impacting me personally. When management decided to replace me with a new hire on our internet team, I became quite disgruntled, and in that moment I could tell that my self worth was wrapped up in my job performance and little else. As a result, passions and relationships fell by the way side. By working while on the clock and off, I believed that sacrificing valuable time not being consumed with work would benefit my marriage in the long run. In reality this hyper focus was a lie which caused me to lose touch with who I actually was and kept me from taking other responsibilities.

A New Beginning

There is nothing wrong with working hard and building something excellent. There is nothing wrong with branding, car sales, or committing to a career 110%. I’m still proud of what I was able to accomplish in a short period of time. The trouble started once I began to let my career become my identity. I allowed myself to build my stability and foundation on something unreliable: myself. Given enough time, it was bound to collapse.

I’m sure there’s a way I could have started with a clean slate, took a break from my extra curricular work and stayed at the same dealership. Or, I could have moved to a different dealership with new people and began completely fresh. Simply put, this experience and other circumstances led to my decision to step away from car sales altogether.

Like many, I’d say the car business found me. I jumped into an unknown opportunity without a clue on where it would take me. I enjoyed many parts of it and learned a ton. Working as a car sales professional was like jumping on a moving train and riding it out. Although it can be exciting, at this time of my life it is time to make decisions at a different speed.

Now I’m working as a contracted sales professional with a local digital marketing company and as a server waiting tables for more consistent income. I’m happy to report that it’s paying off well so far and that the extra amount of free time has been a welcome stress reliever. My wife and I spend way more time together, I can do regular things around the house and I’m finding time to write more. I’m super thankful for the skills I’ve been able to develop during my time selling cars, and now I can apply them to everything I’ll do in the future as they continue to strengthen. This time, though, my approach to my career will be different.

I’m returning to my role of human being doing something rather than being someone wrapped up in what I do. My success won’t be dependent on what I’m paid, what job title I hold or a number on the board. My success won’t be based on what is only right for me or a business but for my wife as well. This experience has taught me that true success is an awareness of how my actions impact others and taking responsibility for that. True success is a constant exercise of putting our lives into perspective; a realization that there are far bigger things than ourselves.

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