Some of us – and when we are courageous enough to speak up, we end up realizing that we are many many more that we initially think- grew up knowing that we were the odd one out in an often harsh and unwelcoming world. Or we learnt it abruptly as a result of a major event or turning point in our lives. Whatever our specific case may have been, one day we were forced to come to terms as best we could (and for the less fortunate, this became an ongoing, life-long task) that we were the ‘wrong’ religion (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, marital or (dis)ability status, ethnic origin, and a long list of multifarious factors that made us come under the heading of ‘minority’. For some, this may have had no noticeable effect in our relationships with ourselves and others; for the rest, the experience of discrimination may have colored our whole perception of who we are and affected our lives in ways we could have never foreseen – including of course making us stronger, more resilient and compassionate human beings.
Personal Branding in the 2.0 world offers us the incredibly exciting opportunity to rise above the limitations that many who came before us faced in the pre-digital era and build successful brands without in any way, shape or form renouncing, abandoning or hiding what makes us ‘different’. Underlying the personal branding movement in our century – and I do believe I speak on behalf of most if not all of my fellow team of Personal Branding bloggers – is the unflinching belief in the dignity of each and every human being and the possibilities open to all of us to shine in the online medium by building a community of followers and friends from all walks of life based on the give and take of respect and the full development and expression of our personalities, our talents, our hopes and our dreams.
From this vantage point, I would like to address some of the specific issues faced by those who with or without their acquiescence are classified under the ‘minority’ heading. I’ll start by pointing out that you must make a decision as to whether you want to go mainstream or your brand is to be more narrowly targeted at a given population – in all likelihood that made up by those sharing your specific circumstances. That is a decision you are fully entitled to and I don’t need to state here that I am in no way implying that your ‘minority’ status should constitute a barrier or an obstacle in either sense. But once more, the decision will be momentous and is for you to carefully ponder and weigh up the pros and cons: becoming a notorious brand amongst ‘kindred’ folk sometimes requires a different approach than one with a more universal appeal in the way you and your message are presented and transmitted.
And it is not as a straightforward call as many an unsuspected reader might think. If you opt for making a banner out of your personal circumstances, the focus of your brand will be markedly different that if you decide your ‘minority’ status is totally irrelevant for your personal and professional goals and want to reach the mainstream. To offer a specific example, the fact that you have a disability may constitute one of the salient elements of your personal brand – you choose to be ‘proudly disabled’ and your brand acts as a challenge to a disabling society by becoming an ‘enabling’ intervention – or alternatively the irrelevant nature of this fact for your performance and your goals makes you decide not to dwell on the issue and focus instead on matters that are truly important to you: your values, your competencies, your achievements, your goals, etc.
Disclosure is perhaps the next issue you will have to face in certain circumstances. People may or may not be immediately aware of your ethnic origin or sexual orientation (to cite two adroit examples), though given the often intense nature of online interactions and the increasing transparency that the social media have brought on you may only need to tick two boxes or write two words on your Facebook profile to make them known to all and sunder. Once more, the decision is yours, but you must be clear as to the effect that ‘braving it’ or a more cautious approach will have on a number of people for whom ethnic origin and sexual orientation (to my mind undoubtedly more wrongly than rightly) do matter. It is an intensely personal decision to gauge the level of disclosure that is appropriate at a given stage of your life and in the development of your brand. It is also up to you to be ready (or not!) to ‘pay the price’ for peace of mind and the knowledge that those you are dealing with approve of who and what you are – or at least do not regard it as an obstacle to endorse your brand.
Sooner or later, I believe that you personal brand – when taken to its full expression – will call on you to stand up for what you believe to be right – and by so doing set perhaps (who knows?) a precedent in your online and offline communities. In the grand scheme of things, there may be a reason why you are ‘different’ and maybe your being ‘different’ is one of the stepping stones towards excellence and shining even brighter both personally and professionally. In the meantime, do not allow yourself to be anything other than determined to make your brand a reflection of your unique nature and to pour all your talent and enthusiasm into the building of your personal brand – a brand you are entitled to shape and unfold at your own pace following you best instincts (at least if you are serious and committed) for your lasting benefit and that of many others.