I have a confession to make. It is a confession that you probably did not expect from someone who writes about Personal Branding.  But it’s absolutely true!  Here it is:

Every time I go to a networking event (to promote my personal brand), I start off by making myself as unnoticeable as possible. I slide into the room, bury myself in writing a name tag or getting a drink – sometimes I even attempt to blend into the wall!  It usually takes at least 15 minutes for me to gather enough courage to get out there and start networking!

“Why is this so hard???”  I ask myself every time.  “If I’m there for my own benefit, why is it so hard for me to put myself out there and get noticed?”

Luckily, I’m not alone in this sentiment.  In fact, I would guess that for many of us, it feels downright awkward and uncomfortable to promote ourselves.  So why do people feel that way?  What’s holding us back from putting ourselves out there – at networking events, at work, everywhere where we want to brand ourselves and be recognized?

Our natural instinct is to blend in

My conclusion is this: Personal Branding makes us uncomfortable because it goes against all our natural instincts.

Think about it. Personal Branding is all about getting noticed and standing out from the crowd. But blending in one of the strongest natural instincts and a huge survival advantage – for creatures on every tier of the food chain.

On the prey side of the equation, the ability to remain unnoticed means the difference between living a long happy life, or ending up as dinner.

Some prey animals survive by blending in with their surroundings. Flatfish are virtually indistinguishable from the sandy ocean floor when they lay on their side. Certain Phylliidae insects resemble leaves so closely that they are more commonly known as Walking Leaves. Chameleons change color to resemble their backgrounds when they feel in danger. The gentle Milk Snake discourages predators by its striking resemblance to the deadly coral snake.

Other prey animals blend in by being one of a group.  With animals that live in herds, the animal that gets eaten is the one who stands out.  Either the animal is weaker and can’t keep up with its group, or doesn’t fit in because of its color.  Even though they’re domesticated, horses in particular display this instinct strongly. If one member of a group is startled and starts running away, the entire herd goes. In the world of a horse, the one that falls behind is the one that becomes dinner – and no healthy will let itself get in that dangerous situation.

Carnivores survive by blending in as well.  Very few predators can run down, overpower and kill prey that knows it is being hunted.  Instead, most predators rely on camouflage to get close enough to their prey so they can catch it by surprise and kill it in a sudden burst.   Big cats have developed their unique markings to fade into the backgrounds of their stalking grounds, whether it is the buff plains of Africa ruled by lions or the dark forests where jaguars lurk.  Crocodiles are almost indistinguishable from floating logs, until they attack.

Even the fish that many consider to be the ultimate predator use blending in to their advantage.  With their dark top and light bellies, sharks are colored so that it’s difficult for prey to distinguish them from the shadowed water below and the light-filled water above.

If being unobtrusive is such a strong survival advantage for creatures as wildly-different as leaf insects and sharks, is it any wonder that so many of us feel awkward when we’re trying to make ourselves stand out from our peers?  All our natural instincts are screaming at us to blend in!

Going against our natural state of mind

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do Personal Branding.  After all, in a time of economic uncertainty where jobs are scarce, the only way to get the job or the project you want is to make sure that others know just how much you stand out from the crowd.

All this means is that when we feel nervous at networking events, we know that there’s a very real and natural reason we feel that way.  And then we can take a deep breath, reassure our animal-brain that we’re not about to become dinner and that the buffet table in the corner will be there anytime we want it, and then set out to do the Personal Branding we came to do.

Katie Konrath blogs about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped” at www.getfreshminds.com.  She works for leading innovation company, Ideas To Go, and attributes her job to personal branding.