I Am Not A Brand

About three months ago I was working out in the town of Geneseo covering a double murder suicide that rocked the small college community and was certainly a big break for me, at least as a journalist. This was a big story, national news type shit, and my first story for an international wire service. There was no glamour to it, and I don’t want to give the impression that this was a glorious moment in my life. In fact, it was one of my darker moments, as I sat in my car sipping tepid cafe coffee from a Styrofoam cup and cold-calling friends of a girl recently stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend. As I walked up and down the street that two days earlier laid host to one of the most horrific crimes in the town’s history, trying to strike up conversation with solemn-eyed passerby. As I listened in on broadcast journalists ask questions to the police chief like “do you believe if he hadn’t committed suicide, he would kill again?,” adding phrases like “bloodlust,” I had an epiphany of sorts; what the fuck am I doing?

The majority of people reading this, I assume, are young people in the early stages of starting their career. It’s a tough time, and after a few months out of college and a search for a full-time gig long underway, I can say it’s a strange time in my life as well. And for those reading this in a creative field, whether you’re a writer, illustrator, designer or photographer, there’s one pivotal piece of advice that you’ve undoubtedly had drilled into your head at this point; build your brand.

For years, I’ve blindly followed that advice, creating an image in my own head of the kind of journalist I want to be. The kind of frazzled, stress-driven backpack reporter writing from the cultural fringe with a passion for stirring the pot, spurring controversy and forcing accountability. I’m “investigative.” I’m a “data hound.” I’m “shoe leather.” I’m a thousand different resume-ready adjectives that somehow boil down to who I am as a person and how I work.

I don’t have a real problem with that. I’ve had good friends insist that I do fit into some strange stereotype of a reporter from a bygone era. But is that how I sell myself? As a reporter, I like who I am, I like where I’m headed and I like my style, as I hope others do too. A path every creative person follows; that undying, soul crushing pursuit of acceptance by others. Yes, it’s fun to fantasize about being a self-reliant, passionate person who eschews the opinion of others in favor of doing what they want. But that idea is just that; a fantasy.

At some point in time, you will be asked to do something you’re uncomfortable with doing. You’ll be asked to create something your heart isn’t in. You’ll hurt yourself, you’ll demean yourself, you’ll wonder what you’re doing with your life over and over. And you’ll unquestionably excuse these emotions with the simple explanation of you are, in some way, doing what you love. That your “brand,” your true passion, is on the horizon. That someday you’ll be able to pursue the work you truly love, and all of this other stuff is a stepping stone to your dream career. You’re putting in your dues.

I don’t know how true that is, but I do know one thing. I am more than a brand. I am more than a marketable commodity. I do what I do because of love, because of hope that what I do can spur others to take action. To learn, to become involved in their communities, to read. Is that marketable? Maybe, maybe not. Is my dream job on the horizon? Maybe, maybe not. Am I a superficial blend of creative cliches, and the extent of what I can offer the world easily surmised in cheap descriptors and aesthetics? Not a fucking chance.

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