Hello, dear readers, and welcome!
Recently, something occurred to me — or, more accurately, it hit me in the face, as revelations have a tendency to do. Not too long ago I had a day where I woke up and…I could tell that my depression was hitting me hard.
Everyone who has depression (or any disorder/disease) has different difficulties. Though diseases and disorders have symptoms, they don’t manifest the same for everyone; we are all unique, even in the things we might not want to be unique in.
That day looked for me like a day where I felt worthless, unsuccessful, like I was never going to get anywhere, like I shouldn’t even get out of bed — I was tired, irritable, among other things. It’s hard accurately describe these feelings on a scale that fits the reality of them, but let’s just say I couldn’t wait until things were bright again.
It wasn’t the best day, but I try to look at the positive in every negative situation, and adapt or learn from there; I also try to make the best of those bad days when I have them, doing things I know will help, even if only a little bit. In this situation, the positive was that I noticed something had been covertly bothering me.
Several days before this episode, I had finished (“finished”) setting up my blog, purchasing one of the WordPress plans. Afterwards I was assaulted by a slew of emails: ways to make money with your site; ways to drive traffic to your site; ways to improve your brand–
I hate the term “brand”. But before you roll your eyes and tell me I was born in the wrong century, please let me explain why.
What does “brand” actually mean? Thanks to the handy Merriam-Webster dictionary, I can tell you just that. Leaving out the connotations linked to swords and charred wood — and the verb, which is similar to the below — we have:
5: a tool used to produce a brand
So, what does this tell us? I’m one of those people who believe the meanings of words both do and don’t change over time. You could say that, even when the meaning changes, a part of the word’s power doesn’t. So, even if the meaning shifts, part of the old power is still there, linking to the new.
Brand. Our first definition of the word (above) tells us about a mark to designate ownership — such as a cattle brand. This can be the mark of a criminal, too, and in the past it was common to mark slaves (unfortunately, I’m sure it still is). This can also translate to a mark of disgrace.
What about the other definition: “goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer“?
Businesses sell goods. Businesses have brands. So, if a person has a “brand”, does that mean they have a business? Is that all it means?
It would be nice if that was the only connotation, but so often anymore “brand” refers to the person themselves.
JK Rowling is a “brand”. James Patterson is a “brand”. Stephen King is a “brand”. Etcetera, and so on and so forth…
But if a person is a brand, instead of a business being a brand, then how does that change other people’s view of the person — and their view of themselves? Surely they are no longer a human being with a life, if they are being likened to a business producing products — and therefore everything they do is considered a product.
The person no longer has a life of their own, but something for others to consume…and eventually transform as they like, whether online or in person.
My recent grapple with depression was no coincidence, I think, though I don’t believe my frustration was the only cause for it. Still, the more emails piled in, the more I worried if I was doing enough — or if I was doing everything right.When the slightest decision you make for yourself, for your own life, can affect your “brand”, you begin to feel as though you can’t make any right decisions at all.
Why does it feel like when I focus on my “brand” — on myself as a company producing products or services — that I feel more like a slave to the whims and expectations of (unseen) others?
Hmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Now, I’m not saying wanting to build a good business is bad, or that wanting to reach out to others is bad. I like writing blog posts and sharing with other people, and I hope these posts inspire you. But I do think we have the tendency to stretch ourselves too thin, and to try and make ourselves into something we are not.
I recently posted the prologue of Shadows of Past Pages, book 1 in the Kieros Chronicle, which I will be sharing here on my blog. This was right after I received all of these emails about promotion and numbers and — brand, brand, brand, brand!
Here too I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, like I would never be doing enough.
Was one chapter every two weeks satisfactory? Could I keep up with that? Did I need to post every week instead? What if I needed a break? Would my readers be angry with me? Would they come back? Was I going to put all this work into posting and have it be all for naught?
I begun to lose sight of why I decided to post chapters in the first place: to challenge myself to finish the story.
I enjoyed putting together the chapter and illustration and posting it, but I feared I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Not only is NaNoWriMo around the corner, but I have been experiencing difficulties with my migraines more than normal lately. I’d posted about InkTober, and hadn’t shared any drawings — hadn’t even been able to draw as much as I would like. It all seemed like too much, and I was just ready to call it quits.
I told my mother as much, and she said: “Well, just get your chapters posted when you can.”
I replied that she didn’t understand — that I had to keep a schedule if I wanted to get anywhere, that I needed new content regularly, that I had to engage.
You know, brand stuff.
She looked at me, a bit miffed, and said: “You’re too hard on yourself. I don’t think anyone has that high of expectations for you — and if they do, they have a problem.”
She’s right. I am too hard on myself. I have ridiculous expectations.
But she was also right about something else.
Her words were wonderful thing to hear, because she was giving me permission — not an excuse, not an admission of defeat, but permission — to have a life rather than a brand. To take my time. To do what I can, when I can do it. To be my best self, in all of the special ways that make me me–
To make decisions for my life, rather than trying to make myself into some sort of production machine.
They say humans can only focus on a few things at once, and do them well.So, if you focus so much on that “brand” you’re trying to build, what is going to fall to the wayside? Your family? Your friends? Your dreams? As much as we would like to be able to have it all, I’m not sure it’s possible — and even if it is, I’m not sure the sliver of “everything” you can have is even worth it.
I like to take a walk in the mornings, if I’m feeling up to it. The photo above is of leaves I noticed on the side of the road when walking the other day — one of the first cool mornings of autumn! If I had been focusing so much on my “brand”, would I only have taken that photo to put in this post? Would I have been plotting out ideas for posts, sharing, marketing, etc. during my walk, instead of just enjoying it? What would I have missed out on?
What have I learned?
I think I would rather have a life than a brand, to echo Tim Tebow in his new book “This Is The Day” (which is actually quite good, if you’re looking for a read).
I can’t keep up with the demands required to be “successful” in these terms, and I don’t want to try. I spent years self-publishing, overworking, and though I’m proud of the books I produced, I also look back and realize how much I killed myself in that time — I even reached a point where I couldn’t write for over a year. I want to do things on my own terms.
If having a life instead of a brand means sharing posts less often, or taking my time, or having to try and fail and try again, then I’m up for it. If I blog for a year and nothing comes of it, then so be it. I’d rather be building a life, even if it’s not what others think it should look like. I’d rather be doing my best to help others, as well as taking care of myself, than worrying about what a successful blog is supposed to look like.
So what if I’m not “successful” (whatever that is)? If it’s not my own definition of success, which looks like chasing what is really important to me, then I don’t want it. Those numbers and likes and shares and whatever else are great, but not if they make me into a person-company or glorified slave to some overbearing expectations of what is “supposed to be”.
So, I’m going to try and do this the right way: one post at a time, one moment at a time. I’ve decided I won’t be blogging in November because I want to put all of my effort into NaNo. I plan to continue posting Kieros Chronicle, but without a schedule.
I’m going to do the best I can to build a life instead of a brand.
What things about modern business or social sharing frustrate you? How do you balance life and business?
To anyone doing NaNoWriMo, I hope you have a great month! I’ll be cheering you on as I type out my own story. If you’re looking for some tips and haven’t checked out my NaNo post, you can link to it here.
Best of luck!