Burned out on your personal brand?

2.4 Brand
Younger workers embraced the idea of a personal brand as a way to get ahead and carve out some power and security in their careers. But posting through it has its drawbacks. (Photo: NYTimes)
Kahlil Greene’s father works as an accountant, and his mother does something involving “administration”, though he does not know the details. His parents rarely spoke about the goings-on of the office when he was growing up. His mother sat in a cubicle farm — he remembers this from Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day — and then she or his father picked him up from the Boys & Girls Club and they talked about other topics, like “Judge Judy” or Serena Williams. Their work never bled into their personal lives.اضافة اعلان

That made it tricky for Greene, 22, to explain to his family why he had turned down a job offer from McKinsey to build his online brand as “the Gen Z historian”. He has drawn more than 500,000 followers on TikTok, LinkedIn, and Instagram to his posts about history and politics; his money comes from brand deals and public speaking. To Greene, it seems natural for his source of income to be something all-consuming, something he thinks about while falling asleep and talks about nonstop with friends.

“There’s no clear delineation between my work life and my personal life,” he said. “Sometimes it can be exhausting.”

Greene, in other words, finds his job and self inextricable. Like many other millennial and Gen Z workers, he is his brand. This can feel freeing. It can also feel grueling.

A blurring divide
In interviews with more than a dozen people who have built lucrative personal brands, they shared that nothing made the benefits and drawbacks of it clear like the pandemic did.

Since 2020, many workers have had the chance to redefine their expectations of employers. More than 40 million Americans quit their jobs last year; most hopped or swapped roles, seeking higher pay. Remote work helped some to prioritize their needs outside the office, while a tight labor market allowed many to assert bolder workplace demands. For many people, leverage meant the ability to create emotional distance from their employers, to draw stricter lines between who they are and what they do.

That also meant a new set of challenges for those who work for themselves: It is tough to find boundaries when employed by “Me Inc”.

For the millions of people who monetize their online presence in some form, the downsides of this type of work are becoming clearer, especially in a moment when so many are rethinking their careers. Building a personal brand blurs the divide between an identity and a job. It puts pressure on families. It demands that every intimate experience is mined for professional content.

“It’s very hard to disconnect when you are building something that is personal and also a necessary component of your economic life,” said Katie Sullivan, associate professor of communications at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “It’s ‘I will co-opt my own self in service of this labor.’”

‘Me inc.’
Unlike other professional phenomena, personal branding announced its formation loudly and clearly (on brand). Tom Peters, a management writer, popularized the term in a 1997 Fast Company article, later linking the idea of brand building to the all-American entrepreneurial spirit of Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc.,” Peters wrote 25 years ago. “To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

When everything is content
Modern interpretations of the “brand called you” present a trade-off of sorts. Workers are no longer reliant on the fecklessness of an employer that could at any moment pivot, downsize, or cut wages. There are heaps of corporate data pointing to those possibilities: Over roughly the last four decades, typical hourly worker pay rose 17.5 percent, while productivity rose by nearly 62 percent and CEO compensation by 1,460 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

But with personal branding, the line between who people are and what they do disappears. Everything is content; every like, follow, and comment is a professional boost.

“It sort of shifted the responsibility for those kinds of disruptions from particular companies to the person themselves,” said Dan Lair, an associate dean at the Metropolitan State University of Denver who studies the troubles of personal branding. “It’s sort of, ‘Now you are the one who’s supposed to solve this problem.’”

And many of the workers whose careers were shaped by the rise of personal branding are feeling its growing pains.

Kanchan Koya, 43, has seen the pressures that her brand breeds for her family, for example. Koya’s brand, Chief Spice Mama, which has more than 230,000 Instagram followers, offers nutritional tips that draw from her history of gastrointestinal illness. She knows that her followers engage excitedly with her more intimate captions, so she mines some of her own experiences for content.

But recently, she has begun to bristle at the responses that evokes. She received direct messages asking her why she is taking photos of her baby daughter instead of focusing on mothering. Her husband has asked her not to include him on her Instagram; he is part of her personal life but does not want to be part of the public brand.

“I’ll be super honest right now: Where I’m at with social media — if my business wasn’t intertwined with my social media presence, I would be on it 90 percent less,” Koya said. “I just don’t feel like it’s natural for us as humans to have so many people in our business.”

‘Me, not my work’
Plenty feel that public exposure is not worth the toll. Sadhbh O’Sullivan, 29, a British-Irish journalist, stopped using her Twitter. The chance to boost her writings did not justify the revulsion of selling her personal life, Carrie Bradshaw style, and she has made peace with the twinge of envy she feels for friends trumpeting their talents to land flashy new jobs.

And some are tempering their exposure by sharing with social media followers more thoughtfully. Maybe not every breakup and depressive episode warrants public translation.

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