Who’s your target audience? What are their interests? What keeps
them up at night? Where do they shop? What car do they drive?
We’ve all been taught to ask these questions. Just for fun, google: ideal client avatar worksheet.
How else are you going to figure out how to design, build, or share something that sells?
Whether you’re writing a resume or creating a pitch deck, the advice I was given is to reverse engineer who you are based on what your people are looking for.
That’s the foundation of marketing right?
But what about when it comes to you as a person?
Are we all brands of one?
Is the trick to getting ahead simply positioning ourselves based on what others want?
And where’s the line between authenticity and sellability?
I’m Kim Wensel and this is Resentfully Yours, a limited series podcast where we examine, adjust, and reframe the expectations of a creative career.
The topics on this show explore how to avoid resentment when you’re feeling misunderstood, overworked, and undervalued. Because as a working creative the question isn’t IF you’ll feel this way, it’s WHEN.
This series focuses on how to get back to work that’s life giving, not life sucking; making your own definition of “making it;” and ditching the excuses that are keeping us from reaching our true potential.
YOU’RE NOT AUTHENTIC IF YOU HAVE TO CLAIM IT
Once you become a podcaster it kind of ruins listening to podcasts. Your ear picks up on things like never before. And when you’re cut throat…or, rather, sensitive to editing, you’ll notice that most people prioritize the number of episodes over the quality of episodes.
Even with that I LOVE listening to podcasts.
They’re an easy way to lose myself while I’m doing dishes or chopping vegetables — because I tend to do those two things A LOT.
Recently I haven’t had the energy to search for new shows, so I’ve defaulted to the big ones. This week I hit play on a name I knew and sat down for lunch.
I skipped ahead 30 seconds over some ads. Then I realized the ad was actually a longer pitch for her new book.
I wasn’t listening too closely, mostly because it was the same fill-in-the-blank script I had heard a thousand times, but then this…
What if you could wake up every day without anxiety? Well I’m excited to tell you I’m going to show you the way.
In this book I share my vulnerable, authentic account of how I transformed my own life. And I’m going to use that approach to help you.
This is what has happened to the work authentic. It’s become weaponized in personal development and self help.
I’ll help you show up more authentically.
I’ll help you sell as your authentic self.
If you’re not authentic, you’re fake.
So if authenticity is expected, why do we need to proclaim when we’re going to be authentic? That seems more like being strategically personal than authentically vulnerable.
A blog post hit my inbox. The headline inside read: This may be the most deeply personal thing I’ve ever revealed. I have a secret to showing up and sharing my most authentic self, even when I’m in a dark place.
If you have to announce it, is it a natural extension of you?
I’m not here to hate on anyone. Really.
I just think we need to call a spade a spade. One single approach will never work for everyone. And vulnerability and authenticity won’t change that.
I think this sweeping declaration of authenticity is here for a reason. We’ve been taught for too long that being professional is being guarded. Don’t share who you are at work.
This is especially true and still a daily reality for people of color and LGBTQ folks.
But we’re entering an era where we’re starting to feel more safe to show up as who we are. We’re fighting against the single prototype of what a professional can look and sound like.
And this is all good.
But where it’s led us astray…what hasn’t been cleared up enough is: what is the difference between authenticity and personal sharing? And how are both of those different from storytelling?
If you’re doing work that’s personal to you you’ll undoubtedly show up as a person. The question becomes: how much of myself do I need to share to be relatable? And when does relatable become unprofessional?
As we’ve shifted from the top-down, traditional approach to work to the age of personal branding it’s become increasingly unclear when our professional hat goes on … or if there’s a professional hat at all.
The personal approach to business has been warmly welcomed in the online business world. It pains me to say this, but it’s especially true with female-centered businesses. The boss babes, the mompreneurs, and the shEOS.
About pages have become less about the business and more about the person. You’ll learn all about their favorite drink and their dog’s nickname…even if you are left wondering how long they’ve been doing what they’re selling.
The people behind the business are marketed front and center. Welcome to personal branding.
The brand of you. Promote yourself. Becoming an effective marketer.
In my opinion this is all a misguided attempt at authenticity as a means to sell.
IS PERSONAL BRANDING SELLING OUT?
I’m not the only one who is tired of this “build a brand around yourself to make money” trope.
Last year I woke and hit my computer with my coffee. If we’re talking morning routines, this is mine. While I’m told I should avoid technology and meditate, I write best as I’m warming up for the day.
At the top of my inbox, an email forwarded from a former client. “I want all of your long-winded thoughts on this,” she wrote.
The email itself was from a well known entrepreneur — well known in my space at least. And the gist of the email: how troublesome personal brands are.
I read through and while I completely understood the well thought out and delivered message, I disagreed with it wholeheartedly.
Is all social media damaging?
Are resumes terrible?
What if you have a message you want to share? Where’s the line between helpful and evil?
Over the years we’ve been encouraged to build businesses around ourselves. The quest for freedom and building a career that aligns with your strengths has gone a little too far into the “you are your brand and business” assumption.
So what’s the trouble with that?
If you listened to episode one you’ll know. There becomes no split between who you are and what you do. You feel the pressure to show up and be on all the time. And slowly you forget who you really are because you’ve spent so much time appealing to others. You become exhausted. It feels performative. And funny enough, it feels like the least authentic thing possible.
In this email the woman said that now that she’s rejecting her personal brand as a way of rejecting capitalism. She can now feel free to show up looking a mess on camera.
That last part — that always irks me. Showing up as your authentic self does not mean showing up like you so when you roll out of bed. That version of me will always be reserved for my family — lucky them.
We have to be honest with ourselves — does showing up unkempt make you feel good? If you don’t feel like getting ready for the day, should you even be making the choice to work that day? To me, those are the clear lines. One tells us we have to show up no matter what. The other encourages us to make that decision on our own, knowing that we’ve built something bigger than ourselves.
I don’t want to deny it: there is immense pressure to have our life and our lifestyle appeal to others. Pressure to share all of ourselves. And sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can equate our success with follower counts, retweats, downloads.
That’s a sign you’ve been creating because you know it will perform, not because it feels like a true expression of you.
So how do you know if you need to develop a personal brand or pull back from your already established brand?
That’s a big question.
It might surprise you to learn that I don’t think it’s terrible to have a business run around you. If your business name is your name you don’t have to panic. Your reputation is probably pretty solid.
My question for you would be: does this represent where you’re headed next? Is there somewhere you’ve reserved for what’s inspiring you on a personal level?
SHAPING THE REPUTATION YOU DESIRE
To me, the most helpful part of developing a personal brand is being able to shape the reputation you desire. So many people are eager to define us. I think we should be able to define ourselves.
What comes up when you Google your name?
Is the narrative the same? Are you capturing all sides of you or only your current job title?
You don’t have to build a content calendar to have a successful personal brand. You don’t have to wait until you’ve accomplished something big to have a personal brand.
You’re doing yourself justice to simply let yourself be seen exactly as you are today. To me, there’s not a purer form of authenticity than that.
Just for kicks — and because I love a good research project — I picked up the latest version of Time’s Next 100: Emerging Leaders Shaping the Future.
I wanted to see how many of these people had built profiles that communicated their promise, their known difference. I was shocked to see that almost none of them had a website. Most of the searches were reliant on third party sites and news articles written about them, not by them.
My research took a turn as I sought out leaders who had fully embraced their personal brand separate from their business — boldly proclaiming who they are. My personal favorite is Christina Tosi, founder of MilkBar.
She has the perkiest personal site where she shares her story. And my favorite paragraph is this: My greatest happy place over the last decade has been building a bakery empire. You may have heard of it…it’s called Milk Bar. I am very much Milk Bar and Milk Bar is very much me. But, there’s more to me than that.
YES! My work is me but I am so much more than my work. She gets it.
You’ve heard about my great unfolding / breakdown of 2021. Part of why this time was so confusing to me was because I was disentangling Kim as a person from Pattern of Purpose as a brand.
I had always felt the tension pouring my entire identity into one single position. This is why I felt I had to reinvent myself each time I took on a new position or pivoted my services. I had to take off one costume and fully embrace the next.
And that’s hard to do. The shapeshifting. The constant changing. The “I no longer do this other thing, I only do this thing.”
This tension had started back in 2019. At the time it was only focused on social media. I had one account, because there was no way I could keep up with two. But friends and family and acquaintances followed me on my personal account. It felt strange to be bombarding my feed with sales messages. So I didn’t.
And clearly that wasn’t a strong business strategy. For people to find you they have to know you exist.
So I split it into two accounts.
But last year it was bigger than that. I so closely identified with my brand that I felt stifled. I wasn’t talking about things happening in my life, even though I wanted to, because they didn’t fit in my “marketing content pillars.”
I’ve never been the type of person who can plan out a content calendar. Every post I make, every email I send happens when inspiration hits. It’s the only way I can communicate — inspired and in the moment.
So you can imagine what it felt like to be going through health challenges and a move and homeschooling and not be able to share any of it. I felt creatively suffocated.
I craved a place where I could share my journey — somewhere I could write from a place of inspiration, not obligation.
And if I’m honest, a steady place that wouldn’t waver no matter what I was doing for work at the time. I don’t see myself leaving Pattern of Purpose, but I wanted to leave that door open. I wanted to be open to opportunities to speak and write and share on my own terms, not tied to a business.
And that’s how kimwensel.com was born.
But the process of deciding what belongs here and what doesn’t was confusing at times.
I thought about offering retreats under my personal brand, but the second I felt like I needed to sell something the energy changed. It became difficult to write. It felt put on.
So I decided the line for me was clearly on whether I was profiting or not. My business could be a place to sell the thing. My personal brand was where I could show up and connect without holding back.
I would produce what I wanted, not what anyone else wanted. And that is the exact opposite of marketing.
During Thanksgiving I was taking a long walk on the beach — literally, my in-laws live a block from the beach. And I was listening to my favorite podcast, We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle. And this episode was so good.
She was talking about making space for personal projects — exactly what I’d been focused on and yearning for.
“There’s value in creation not for consumption,” she said. “You’ve got to get it out for YOU and not for the world’ approval or response. It’s a place to let your real self breathe.”
That is why I care about personal brands. That’s why I feel so strongly about having a place that invites people to get to know you, to experience your work but also the things you care strongly about.
For you, it may not be a tangible site or profile. To you, this place to let your real self breathe might just be a journal or an art project.
The point is that you’re dedicating time to pursuing what you want to pursue, not what others want you to pursue.
That place and space is where this podcast was born.
I didn’t sit down and intend to outline a 12 episode show. I ended up with voice notes and paragraphs in my notes app and pages in my journal and thoughts scribbled down on the back of recipes — thoughts that would come to me so quickly and I was terrified I’d lose them.
I know for certain that if I tried to sit down and write about the creative process and value of prioritizing yourself, what you’re listening to would be only half-inspired.
BUSINESS BENEFITS FROM SHARING OUR HUMANITY
Storytelling is having a moment right now. Business leaders love to talk about their human-centered design and personal accounts.
Last fall I gave a talk to a room full of realtors. The head of the division was a successful man. He had built out a healthy practice and the people in the room adored him. But if I were to classify him, I’d classify him as a typical businessman. Ready to get down to the facts. Hungry for strategies.
I couldn’t help but giggle when he handed me a copy of the book his friend had just published: Human-Centered Communication.
Because it’s the hot thing we welcome storytelling. But when it gets down to what storytelling actually is — empathy, connection, listening and sharing — many businesses want nothing to do with it.
There’s still such a strong urge to hide behind numbers and degrees and technical speak. The masculine energy of proving how good we are — that still reigns in the business world.
I remember some of the advice I got when I was young in my career. Never cry. That’s unprofessional. Why weren’t we getting the same pointed advice on showing gratitude and admitting when we need help?
Soft skills and a softer touch are still looked down on in business.
We want to appear serious, important, and professional. But I think we’re in a moment right now. A moment when we’re all questioning what’s professional.
Is it professional to show up and hide your emotions and be driven by the numbers and ride your employees as long as possible so you can avoid going home to your dead marriage?
Is it professional to avoid hard conversations?
Is it professional to yell in a meeting because you aren’t getting your way?
In her book Wolfpack, Abby Wambach says, “Claim your power and bring along your humanity.”
That right there is the leadership advice we need to be following.
There’s a new breed of leadership coming and I’m here for it. Leaders who are willing to stand in the discomfort of standing their ground. Leaders who are unwilling to be palatable, instead choosing to show up completely as they are. Leaders who can admit they’re wrong.
I value being taken seriously. Mostly because I’m a know-it-all. But also because I care about the work I do and I want opportunities to show up and contribute.
In the past I felt I had to put on the shiny veneer of professionalism. To be paid I had to be taken seriously. And to be taken seriously meant using big words, flexing my credentials, and proving, proving, proving.
Detaching from the approval of others has been life changing.
I’ve start to pursue the things I’m excited about rather than the things others are excited about for me.
I no longer fear being called out because I know I’m acting in integrity.
I’ve come to expect people to say, “Who does she think she is?”
Who do you think you are? Do others know you for that? If not, what will it take to allow us in? To get a peek into what makes you tick — what you stand for and what you stand against?
The things you care about and want to produce.
You won’t be talking AT people, but WITH them.
The energy around that is magical. And it will work better than any marketing strategy you’ve ever tried to execute. Because it’s not built for others. It’s built for yourself.
So what do you say?