I had a conversation with a young woman a while ago who’d recently gotten married. She and I were talking about the new phase of life she was in, and I asked her what her biggest challenge was. She answered, “I guess I would have to say my own individualism, since I’m in a different phase of life and I’m newly married now. Sometimes I think about who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing ... I want to live passionately now, not just in the future.”
We all have that longing to matter—to do something significant that we are passionate about. But how do you know what that “something” is? How do you find your purpose and live it out with passion? Some of you reading this might be in a place where you’re doing exactly what you know you’re supposed to be doing in this season of your life—and you’re excited about it. And some of you might feel so far from that, you don’t even know where to start. (If that’s you, it’s OK! You’re not alone.) And even if you are operating in your sweet spot, things change as life changes: relationships, jobs, health, finances. All these things can change over time. And especially during those times of change, questions like “What’s my purpose?” and “What am I passionate about?” seem to stare us in the face.
The good news is, the answer to those questions doesn’t lie in having it all figured out, “finally arriving” or finding that one thing to do for the rest of your life. (After all, you can live out your purpose in different ways in different seasons of your life.) It actually has more to do with truly understanding who you are and then identifying ways to authentically live that out, right where you’re at. So how do you do that?
The power is in your personal brand: the unique combination of all the things that make you you and the distinct value you bring to your job, the marketplace, your relationships and the world. We all know that companies have brands, and we know those brands are much more than just a logo or a tagline. A company’s brand is really about what that company is known for and the value or benefit they add in people’s lives through their products or services. It’s about how people see and experience that company. (For example, when I think of Amazon, I don’t think of their logo or tagline; I think about convenience and the way ordering online and getting products quickly makes my life so much easier.) The same is true for your personal brand: What are you known for? What is the unique value you bring to the table that can impact and add value in the lives of others? How do others see and experience you?
Considering these questions can be daunting, I know. (Often, when we think of branding and marketing, we think of self-promotion or spending money.) But the great news is, you don’t have to start from scratch or hire an expert to create your personal brand—because whether you realize it or not, you already have one. Right now, today, you are already seen and experienced by people in a certain way. You are already known for something. The question is, is your personal brand what you want it to be or are there ways you can strengthen it to have greater impact and find more clarity on your own purpose and direction in life?
When you think about managing and maximizing your personal brand from this point forward, ask yourself what differentiates you. Are you known for what you want to be known for? Are you seen how you want to be seen? Think about who you uniquely are as a person, what makes you different from others and the impact you want to have. And give yourself permission to dream a little! Take time to explore more about what makes you you—things like your individual strengths, your core values, your personal and professional passions, and the experiences you’ve gone through that have equipped you and shaped you. To strengthen your personal brand and have the greatest positive impact, a process of self-discovery is really the starting point.
Sometimes I’ll get clients who come to me for coaching and want help figuring out their next move or their career direction. But before we ever start talking about vision, goals and actions, we start by walking through a phase of self-discovery. Because the things that are unique to you—and make you who you are—make up the foundation for your personal brand and inform not only your direction but how you can stand out in the noise of today’s world. When you truly know yourself, it clarifies your vision and how you show up and communicate in your life, every day. And even though there’s much more to the personal branding process than can be captured here in this article, here are a few key things you can do, starting now, to help you discover more about who you are and strengthen your own brand:
Know your strengths. Know what you are naturally good at. Don’t guess; actually take the time to discover the things that come easy to you and that you excel at. There are plenty of assessments and resources that can help—some online and several books. And if you want to keep it really simple, just think about what you were good at as a child. What did you gravitate toward doing when you were little and what came easily to you? Often, those are the things that point you to your natural strengths. When I was a little girl, I loved getting up in front of my class and speaking. I was in every talent show I could be as a dancer, and I loved to entertain and encourage audiences. And when I look at what I find such a sense of purpose and passion in doing today—speaking and encouraging audiences at conferences and events—I see the connection to when I was little. Often, as we grow up and life happens, we forget the things that we are naturally gifted at. Knowing your strengths can give you clarity on your direction and point you toward what you’d likely find the greatest purpose in doing today.
Know your passions. What fires you up and fuels you? Is it hiking or business, cooking or traveling? Or maybe it’s fighting for a cause. Identifying your passions is easy for some, but for others it can be hard. And that’s OK. Start by giving yourself permission to try new things and don’t think you have to be passionate about what others are passionate about—really explore what sets your own heart on fire. When I became a mom, I thought I should be passionate about crafts so I volunteered to help with crafts in my kids’ classrooms all the time. It took me a few years to figure out that leading craft projects just wasn’t me. It was liberating to realize I didn’t have to volunteer to do that anymore, and there were other moms who not only loved crafts but were way better at it than I was! Doing the things that excite and interest you will cause you to feel energized, not drained. You’ll also likely make the greatest contribution and impact, because you’ll be doing something that you love and care about.
Examine your experiences. You might’ve gone through the same thing as someone else, but you didn’t experience it the same way because you are you. Think about the experiences in your life—the challenges you’ve faced, the successes you’ve had, the things that have helped to shape you. Your experiences—positive and negative—are a valuable part of your story, and they often uniquely equip you to make a significant difference in the lives of others.
All of these things: your strengths, passions, experiences and more combine to make up your personal brand—who you are and the unique value you bring. And when you spend time discovering more about yourself and strengthening your brand, your purpose and passions become much clearer.
But there’s one more important step to living your purpose with passion, and that’s doing it with others by your side. If you do all this work to dig into who you are and figure out your strengths and direction but live that out in isolation, you’ll still miss out on being able to make the maximum impact. Look for opportunities to make a difference in the unique way only you can, and do it in community. Years ago, when I first started pursuing my dream of writing books, I was a closet writer. I felt like I needed to be published or have my writing perfected before I told anyone what I was doing. But then someone wiser than me said: “If you are writing, you are a writer. You don’t have to be published to call yourself one.” And that gave me courage to share what I was doing. I realized you don’t have to have it all figured out before you step out and pursue your dreams. And when I started calling myself a writer and doing that journey with others by my side, that’s when doors opened.
Not only did doors open, I had a community around me when doors closed. And that was important. I got hundreds of rejection letters before I got my first book contract. But having other writers in my circle who were going through the same thing made all the difference. I didn’t lose my passion when I hit the roadblocks. And that’s the power of community.
Putting yourself out there in a new way makes you feel vulnerable (believe me, I know!), but it creates opportunities you would never see otherwise. I saw that in my journey as a writer. And I saw that when I started my coaching and consulting practice Her Team Success. One of the first things I did when I started my practice was share what I was doing for others, and that fueled my courage—and my business. So if there is something you’re longing to do or unknown territory you’ve been wanting to step into, do it. First take the time to understand more about who you are, then put one foot in front of the other and don’t worry so much about the outcome or if you are “ready.” Instead, recognize the unique value you bring to the table and the unique contribution you can make. And be sure to share what you are doing with others and surround yourself with community, because living out your purpose with passion is better (and way less terrifying) with friends by your side.
Genny Heikka, MBA, is an author, speaker and personal branding coach and consultant. She has served in a variety of leadership roles within corporate, nonprofit, community and ministry organizations. Genny began her career at Hewlett-Packard then stepped into her dream of becoming an author, writing several books. She’s appeared on radio and TV and has been published in multiple publications. She’s also the founder of Her Team Success, where she uses her expertise in business, branding and leadership to help women and companies succeed. Websites: HerTeamSuccess.com, GennyHeikka.com