When Hurricane Sandy came in late October 2012, I was a first year law student in NYC.
When the storm hit, we were awarded a week off from classes and I remember feeling relief. Not because of the break, but because I could finally get ahead on prepping for finals, re-reading chapters I felt weak on, and catching up on all the schoolwork I hadn’t finished yet.
Some people were taking well-deserved breaks but I spent more and more time with my nose in my books. I didn’t particularly like contracts or property law, but I was competitive and wanted to be the best in my class. So I holed myself up in the library and never stopped to consider an alternative.
Something strange happened that week.
Despite all the extra time I had, I couldn’t focus on my readings. I stayed in the library all day but was getting less and less done. I wasn’t able to concentrate and began to convince myself I had ADD. I asked my doctor for meds but she wouldn’t prescribe anything without seeing me. My lack of productivity pushed my anxiety levels even higher and I fell into a vicious cycle.
I went from studying all day, every day, to not studying at all. I couldn’t sleep. I paced around my room just to keep myself sane.
Something was going to have to snap. And it finally did.
By Thanksgiving 2012, I was done. I took a medical leave of absence and went back home to live with my parents. Without any direction at all, I felt like I was floundering. My anxiety skyrocketed and I fell into a deep depression.
If there is one thing I’ve learned since then, it’s that meaningful goals are absolutely critical.
I wanted to be the best in my class, but, why? I was working my tail off in law school, but for what purpose?
I never bothered to confront those uncomfortable questions. It’s not like I was particularly thrilled about corporate law or deeply passionate about becoming a public defender. I was just comfortable in academics and saw law school as a noble next step. My friends and family said I’d be good at it, so why not, right?
I thought law school was hard but it was nothing compared to the painful psychiatric sessions I faced when I got back home. I had to finally confront everything I’d been pushing aside for years.
I began to take steps to better myself and set goals to improve my life. Once I started seeing real improvements, I became obsessed with getting better -- in all aspects of my life. I took my psychiatry sessions more seriously. I confronted the fact that I wanted a girlfriend and started using dating apps regularly. (I even found a keeper on Tinder and she’s now my fiancée.) The pieces I liked best about law school -- writing and high-level thinking -- gave me the motivation to send out hundreds of resumes to look for freelance copywriting work. I began growing my portfolio until I found passion in the creativity of a young startup where I could make a big impact and stand out.
At BrandYourself, I started developing personal brands for my clients and saw how successful their campaigns were. I grew excited about developing my own personal brand to invest in my future and grow my career. I began managing my own website and social media profiles as a way to experiment with tactics I wanted to try with clients. But eventually it became a way for me to build identity capital and improve my value as an employee and a professional long-term.
Perhaps most importantly, personal branding became a way for me to stay honest with myself about my goals, much like those early therapy sessions. Today, my own personal branding motivates me to push the envelope and approach each day with excitement, because I know I’m on track to reach goals that I truly care about.
Looking back, those therapy sessions were a way for me to get to know myself and discover my own personal brand. They forced me to learn what was most important and where I’m trying to go with my career. They sent me down a path that made sense for me and my goals, not one that I “should” be on or one that made sense for others.
If I had been able to examine myself before law school, would it have prevented my quarter-life crisis? Perhaps.
Back in high school and college, I never bothered to question the path I was on. I was simply reactive. Parents and grandparents told me I’d be a great lawyer, so I went that route. I didn’t set any meaningful goals to take me in another direction. I was just on autopilot, sold on my parents’ idea of a legal career being lucrative and promising.
Related Book: The Brand Mapping Strategy by Karen Tiber Leland
It’s hard to to make yourself do something if you don’t know why you’re doing it. Without goals, you can turn even the most pleasurable activity into a hamster wheel.
Personal branding forces you to think about what you’re doing and where you’re going. By setting real goals, you force yourself to confront the most important questions of all. What are you working toward? Where are you now and where do you want to be?
For me, personal branding has become not just a fulfilling career, but also a practice that helps define myself and my goals. Sometimes it takes failure and introspection to figure out what we want, but it's a journey worth taking if the destination is ours alone.