Each of us is the author of our own stories, alternating ups and downs, shared with the world around us. Personal branding is about putting our own stamp on things and giving more meaning to our lives. Nowadays, personal branding courses exist to learn how to sell yourself and become aware of your power.
Definition of Personal Branding: it is the alignment of 3 states
– The person we are on the inside
– The person we want to show to others
– The person others expect us to be
Why do we tell ourselves stories?
All of us have the capacity to be “storytellers” of our own lives, as if engaged in an “act of creation”, of “composition” of our lives.
There is, however, a difference with the novels we read. Unlike novels, where we can know the outcome by reading the last page, our lives do not follow a predefined trajectory.
The story we make up, our personal branding, is the result of the way we interpret our experiences and the identity with which we define ourselves.
It is by putting together the disparate pieces of our lives that we create a narrative puzzle that makes sense when the pieces fit together in a coherent grand scheme.
What is ‘narrative identity’?
The American psychologist Dan McAdams, describes what he calls ‘narrative identity’ as the inner story we create about ourselves, our own personal myth.
As in any myth, there are good guys and bad guys, who help or constrain us, and the plots, challenges and suffering we have endured.
We share our story, or bits of it, when we want others to understand us and, conversely, ask them to share theirs with us when we want to know more about them.
How can the same event shape us differently?
We cannot talk about an individual’s life as an exhaustive succession of everything that has happened to them.
For McAdams, we make ‘narrative choices’ by focusing on the events, good or bad, that have had the greatest impact on us.
It is these experiences that shape us and whose meaning we are keen to understand.
This is where the interpretation of a similar event may differ from one person to another.
Take the example of a young child who is thrown into the water to learn to swim.
This experience will be interpreted as the beginning of his or her ability to take risks by an entrepreneur who is bold in business.
But another will take it as justification for the fact that he hates sailing or has no confidence in authority figures.
And another will have forgotten it altogether, deeming it unimportant.
What is the common trait of people with a rich life?
After more than thirty years of work on narrative identity, McAdams has discovered some interesting habits among people with rich lives.
When conducting his research, he first asks respondents how they themselves would divide their lives into chapters. He then asks them to identify key moments such as highs and lows, ‘turning points’ and enduring memories.
He encourages them to reflect on their own beliefs and values.
Finally, he asks them to focus on a pattern in their story.
He found that people with a “rich” life had a common way of understanding and interpreting their life experiences. To build their personal branding in this way…
People with a desire to contribute to society and improve its future are more likely to talk about the stories that have changed them. They either turned a bad thing into a good thing or challenged an important aspect of their lives.
McAdams tells of a man who grew up in extreme poverty, but talks about how the hardship of that time brought him and his family together.
There was also a woman who explained how being with a close friend in her last moments was a harrowing experience, but also a trigger to return to the nursing career she had given up.
These people feel that life is important and that theirs is meaningful, much more so than those who had little or no ‘redemptive’ experience.
How can one experience ‘contaminate’ a whole life?
The opposite of a ‘redemptive’ experience is what McAdams calls a ‘contaminating’ experience through which people see their lives as having gone from good to bad.
This can be illustrated by the story of a woman who gave birth to a child, seeing that day as the high point of her life. This same woman ended her story with the story of the death of the baby’s father, who was murdered three years later.
The transition is abrupt, an example of the experience of contamination as the happiness brought by the birth of her child was tainted by this tragedy.
McAdams finds that people who tell ‘contamination’ stories are also less ‘productive’ socially, less likely to contribute to the betterment of society and future generations.
They also tend to be more anxious, depressed and feel that their lives are less coherent, compared to those who share ‘redemptive’ experiences.
What stories create a positive identity?
Redemption and contamination are just two kinds of stories we tell.
McAdams found that beyond the redemption in their stories, people of faith talk about the experiences that allowed them to move forward and get their lives in order over the long term.
Whatever obstacles they faced, these individuals were able to create a positive identity by taking control of their lives, feeling loved and moving forward. This was possible because these experiences always led to something positive.
Is it possible to rewrite its history?
One of the great contributions of research in psychology and psychotherapy is the idea that we can change, revise and interpret our experiences differently without changing the facts.
A psychotherapist’s job is to help patients rewrite their stories in a more positive way.
By modifying and reinterpreting their experiences with their therapist, patients realise that they are in control of their lives and can learn from every difficulty they encounter.
Sometimes this type of therapy is as effective as antidepressants or conventional behavioural therapy.
By making subtle adjustments to the way we tell our own stories, we have the ability to improve our sense of identity, leading us to re-prioritise our lives.