Thursday, February 16, 2012

Month of Me: rebranding the caterpillar


Me, graduating 2007 from social service worker program.
I have been in the process of rebranding myself for a few months now. Well, maybe to be fair, I should say that I’ve been contemplating my rebranding. It began when I was successful in gaining employment outside my college field (social services) and within a field I desperately wish I’d studied in (marketing/communications). I decided that this was a sign: I could recreate myself from the hodgepodge muckitymuck that I had managed to assemble during the first 28 years, into something happier, cooler, and smarter in my 29th year and beyond.


The idea of rebranding usually is applied to a company or, well, a brand. I think people can rebrand themselves, as well. I had to look at the same questions that a business would look at, a few being:

-What concepts/labels/words are you currently associated with?
-Which of those did you choose for yourself, and which were chosen by your audience?
-What concepts/labels/words would you rather be associated with?
-What are you selling [or doing, being, offering, creating]?
-What’s your look-and-feel?

When I asked myself these questions, I wasn’t happy with the results. So the first step was to run my butt off to get into marketing/communications (check!), and the next step was to start examining my image. I tried to figure out what labels or words I’d apply to myself, and found that the list of ones I had chosen were short and sort of ambiguous, whereas the list of ones thrust upon me were very effective in boxing me in:

Me, 3 yrs ago, taking a plane solo for the 1st time.
Self-proclaimed labels:

Labels given by others:
-social worker
-wife (or fiancée)


I looked at the question mark that was my self-image and thought, no wonder I feel aimless. Remove the label ‘creator’, and my self-image was synonymous with a well-trained border collie. Meanwhile, I’d been spending my time living within the constructed labels given to me by my surroundings: an anxious, disabled social worker, presumed straight and in a long-term relationship, who doesn’t like to go out at night and is anal-retentive. Now, I know that I helped people to begin associating me with these labels through my own actions—I’m not blaming my sorry state on them—but what’s frustrating is that the people around you like to keep you in your designated box, often by accident. Friends get used to not inviting you out; people stop chatting with you about same-sex rights; no one asks you to proofread their work because you’ll rant about semicolons. 


Rebranding is hard because you have to do things that may be the entire opposite of what’s expected of you…and no matter how positive these actions are, people will have an initial uncomfortable reaction. The trick is to stick with it. Walk your talk. Make your own box. My new box ideally reads:

-cool non-straight married chick
-communications wizard
-social media padawan
-blogger extraordinaire
-writer and will-be author
Me, 2 yrs ago: first day of roller derby;
went on to play for 18 months.
-woman of wry wit
-loving soul
-organizer (most notably, of SoCapOtt)
-adventurer (at her own pace)
-Brian's sweetheart
-spiritual seeker
-best friend
-introvert (and proud of it)
-amateur chef
-healing body
-healing soul
-happy spirit
-agent of change
-risk manager


Now, it’s important to recognize your limitations during a rebranding process. If Coke tomorrow wanted to become the new recommended drink of the Diabetes Association, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot. Likewise, I recognize that there are certain labels that may never apply to me (at least not in this incarnation): ‘warm’, for example, has never been applied to me; ‘laid back’ is another foreign concept. But ‘enthusiastic’ was practically made for me. Recognizing the inalienable truths about ourselves makes us stronger, because by recognizing our weaknesses, they become strengths. An introvert who pretends to be an extrovert doesn’t last very long—I speak from experience.


I’ve had some setbacks. Last week, before I started my new job, I went out and spent some Month of Me money on getting a haircut and work clothes. My regular stylist is off on mat leave, and I’ve been travelling around the city trying to find someone who’ll still cut my hair like a rockin’ punky-emo-hipster-21-year-old, with little success. I went to see my mother’s stylist this time, though, as she  tends to be creative. Her creativity resulted in a Vulcan bowl-cut with straight-across bangs that she then cut into different 1-inch lengths, like piano keys across my forehead. I demanded she fix it, and she removed the blunt ends to my bangs but by the end of cutting, I was left with tufts—I’m not exaggerating—all over a nearly-shaved head. I left in tears. My hair is a big part of my image—my brand—and while I don’t mind crazy hair, this was out of control. I looked like I’d been shorn with a bowie knife to avoid lice during a post-apocalypse scenario. With so little left, I can’t get it recut, so currently I’m attempting to style it attractively.

I bought pants, a skirt, some shirts, and a some shoes for my new job, too. I found this pair of shoes that made my heart sing: they work equally well with pants or a dress, which women know is as hard to find as the genuinely perfect Little Black Dress. I bought them on sale, and wore them to work on my first day…only to discover I’d bought them a half-size too large. Calls to the company were fruitless; size 9’s were sold out nationwide. I returned the shoes that evening and began tearing through shops looking for a replacement, to no avail. I ended my evening sobbing on the couch, trying to explain to Brian that this wasn’t about two pieces of leather strapped to layers of rubber…this was about my failure at revamping my public image. I would now be headed into work in my old Converse chucks and my sorority-prank-styled hair. 


But I rallied. I have decided that lipstick is a part of my image, and I’ve been experimenting with types. I am enjoying the mix-and-match process of getting dressed in the mornings, and when I finally calmed down, I revisited the Aerosole store and noticed a pair of shoes I’d forgotten about: a pair that I love more than the first ones, even though they’re a bit too tall for my walking abilities. Regardless, they were on sale for the same price as the first pair, and they’re gorgeous. And they 100% suit my envisioned public image.

I’m taking great big strides towards my personal rebranding. I’m at that awkward stage where I’m still in my cocoon, one wing extended out, dripping and unpretty. But I’ve still got eleven days ‘til my 30th birthday; that’s when I’ll really hit the ground running. Oh, but not in these shoes; I’ll have to bring my Converse along.

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