This is the final part of a 4-part series sharing ‘myths’ of personal branding. While these myths are typical within Japanese culture, they can easily be debunked in other cultures around the world as well. Make sure to also read about myth #1, “I have to give up my group identity,” myth #2, “Personal branding goes against values of humbleness and modesty,” and myth #3, “Only executives need a personal brand.

Personal Branding Cultural Myth #4: “Just work hard and you will be rewarded”

Japanese are traditionally used to “lifetime employment” and will stay with the same company until retirement. The lifetime guarantee is implicit, with no written contracts, but real nevertheless.

As such, Japanese maintain strong loyalty to the company, and this loyalty is rewarded with natural promotions at standard milestones in an employee’s career. Changing jobs, especially mid-career, is considered irresponsible and foolish.

In the August 2011 edition of The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Journal, William H. Saito compares this to a “predictable escalator” – get into a good university and ride up to graduation. Then get into a safe company, stand obediently to one side, and ride patiently up the escalator to retirement.

How to Debunk this Myth

The world of work has changed forever and the days of hoping your company or manager ‘recognizes’ your hard work is risky. Now more than ever it is critical to be more proactive about communicating your unique promise of value. Simply put, millions of other people with similar skills can do your job, so what makes YOU so special?

Even in Japan job security and lifetime employment are no longer guaranteed. Previously known for its economic egalitarianism, Japan is now experiencing a widening income gap. Many workers are finding themselves without a steady job as Japanese companies are relying more and more on short-term labor contracts. Market reforms in 2004 made it easier for companies to hire short-term workers in an attempt to make the Japanese economy more competitive. With these new policies, Japan may have unintentionally increased the very inequality that it’s prided itself on avoiding.

As a result, “Out of Order” signs are gradually appearing on these predictable escalators and lines are getting longer as people patiently wait for them to be repaired. However, success in the new working world in Japan will be characterized by jumping on an express elevator with an elevator pitch in hand that communicates a personal brand.

Those who have worked to uncover, communicate, and manage their personal brand will be able to take this express elevator to the top. Those who are hoping others will recognize their hard work, will continue to wait in line.


Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer” and is one of only 15 Master level Certified Personal Branding Strategists in the world. He is introducing a leading global personal branding methodology to companies and careerists in Japan and adapting it for the Japanese culture. In a culture where fitting-in is the norm, his mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. His background spans over 21 years in intercultural consulting, international outreach, and global communication coaching.