At The Art Of Entrepreneurship conference and was lucky enough to hear Debbie Travis share her journey to success. She was funny and real, and she didn’t shy away from speaking her mind. Midway through her presentation she surveyed the audience of 300+ entrepreneurs and asked if they thought of themselves as a brand.

Not many people put their hand up.In response, she replied:

In this day of Facebook and social media, everyone in this room is a brand and it’s important to know what your brand stands for.

She instructed everyone to do the following exercise:

Sit down and make a list of everything you believe yourself to be.
Be honest.
Your list is your brand.

No matter how self-aware you are, it’s difficult to bridge the gap between who we are and who we think we are with in the person we’d like to be.

Billion dollar industries are built on the gap between who we are and who we think we are, and all the self-honesty in the world is not going to overcome it completely.


A lot of people don’t like to think of themselves in terms of branding. Myself included. In fact, whenever anyone mentions personal branding, I tend to react with a mixture of annoyance, repulsion and general uneasiness. This is a sentiment shared by Shelly Lazarus, former CEO of Ogilvy and Mather, in a Harvard Business Review article on personal branding, where she says she also hates it when people talk about personal branding.

“Those words imply that people need to adopt identities that are artificial and plastic and packaged, when what actually works is authenticity.”

The concept of branding is understood in how it’s used in advertising, often meant to persuade and covertly manipulate you into buying something you don’t really want or need. Apply that same principle to personal branding and it carries with it a connotation of superficiality. You are now a commodity, trying to trick people into believing you’re someone you’re not to get them to buy what you’re selling. If you look at branding from the point of view of defining what it is that you stand for and believe, the idea becomes more logical and palatable. What we stand for and believe is shaped by our experiences and expressed in our decisions. Our actions are an expression self-based on our values that provide the framework from which we make decisions.

To authentically discover your brand, instead of listing the values you think you have or the ones you want, work backwards from your lived experiences. Start with a list of your major events and moment in your life and work out what the demonstrated value of your actions. Not only is it authentic to you, you also build credibility because you can give an example by pointing to the source experience. I propose the following adaptation to Debbie’s exercise.

    • Write out 5 major events in your life.  (Example: Deciding to travel to_____. How you coped with a major loss or failure in your life. Why you went to _____ school.)
    • Identify the values demonstrated in each event. (If you have trouble, ask your friends and family what they think and why. (Example: That decision demonstrated strength or persistence. The action was courageous.)
    • Group similar values together. Take the Top 3 to form the basis of your values based brand.


By discovering your brand this way, it will be more authentic because it’s born out of your own experiences and life just might feel easier, because you’re not trying to fit and change yourself into something you’re not, you’re just you.