I live in a 30-year-old townhouse on the shores of a lovely lake outside our nation’s capital.  It’s a small community, a single lane of 22 Cape Cod style homes clustered along the edge of the water.  When we bought our new home, I didn’t realize the community had a name.  I thought it was simply a street; a pretty, peaceful and appealing street, but not really a place with an identity of its own.

It is a real community, though, with a name and a homeowner’s association and a board of directors.  And a couple of weeks ago, after gathering a lot of input from the people who live here, the homeowner’s association put up an entry sign for the first time in our 30-year history.  It’s quite a nice sign, carved from natural wood, with a heron rising over a shoreline into the sunset.  A spotlight shines brightly on it, defining the entrance to what was once a street but now seems like a place.

We have told the world who we are, and the sign says quite a lot.  It creates a role for our little neighborhood as a kind of refuge; a place where the world is a little more serene, a place where access to nature and wildlife and sunsets on the water can be found. That sign creates a vision of what living here could be; it makes a promise about what should be expected.  It also offers guidance about how to find us, providing a meaningful landmark where once there was only a street sign.  When people visit me now, it feels more like I’m inviting them into my world; less like they’re just stopping by my house.

Okay, at the end of the day, it’s only a sign.  But it got me thinking about how few of us remember to claim our own identities and put up the kind of signposts that help others see who we really are.  We turn 30, 40, 50 years old without defining ourselves and creating our own metaphorical signs.  Because of that, we miss a huge opportunity to be known and appreciated for what’s best and most inspiring about us.

So, how do you change that?  Here are a few steps that are part of the personal branding process I recommend for my clients (which can be used by any organization or group as well):

1.  Establish your defining identity and role. The best way to understand who you really are is to think of your life as a story you were born to tell—with you as the central character.  For help with this, you can take a free “story typing” survey on my website here:  http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.  You’ll find out which character from a universally known story you’re most like.

2.  Create a vision based on that role. From the perspective of that character, think about your vision for the world.  What do you want the world to be like because you were here?  What do you want to share with others about that vision, and how will you share it?

3.  Make a promise that defines what others can expect from you. When you’re most “in character,” what can others expect from you?  What promise can you make that will help ensure your vision becomes a reality?  What can you do to make sure others see that promise in action?

I’ll talk more in future posts about how to make sure you’re really shining a light on your new “signpost” and what you can expect if you do that.  In my neighborhood, we’re all a little bit prouder, the flowers seem brighter, the kids even cuter.  Well, okay, the kids were always really cute.  But you get my point.

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