But rather than manufacturing a personal brand, why not build a reputation? Why not develop our character? Imagine what we could learn from each other if we felt worthy as we are instead of who we project ourselves to be.
I think it’s interesting to look at personal brands through the lens of insecurity. I imagine many people think of it as “positioning” or storytelling, but underneath, those are needed if you’re afraid you won’t be enough on your own.
I think it can be helpful to consider personal branding as a form of self discovery, a tool to help determine what you want to do, but there can be a risk of self containment.
I think of my other blog, Cascadia Inspired, which I started ten years ago as a way to get to know the Pacific Northwest better. I bought into the idea that blogs need to focus on a particular subject area or no one will read it. While I’ve enjoyed writing there, to some extent it created a constraint around what I felt appropriate to write about. For example, I didn’t publish photos from anywhere outside the northwest, so I have all these southwest trip photos I’ve never shared but on Instagram maybe.
Likewise, I had created a portfolio website at tracydurnell.com, and felt obliged to leave it serving solely a professional purpose. When I let go of that and transitioned to this blog-like format, allowing myself to write about whatever I wanted, I started writing so much more. I hadn’t realized how much I was holding back.
I still don’t expose my entire self here, but I’m much more open and vocal about my opinions, and more willing to risk publishing imperfect posts that show my incomplete thoughts in progress. I’ve held myself back and quiet for too much of my life already.
I’ve also realized I’m more interested in following people as people — while I might have been drawn to certain blogs in the past because of the topic, the reason I keep reading many of them is having gotten to know the writer. For example, I used to read Get Rich Slowly, but stopped when J.D. sold it (he’s since bought it back). I lost a lot of interest in Design*Sponge when my favorite writers there moved on to other things, and looked mostly to Grace Bonney‘s articles. Even though she’s moved on from writing about design, I’m still interested in her work.
I find myself drawn more to what individuals are writing than publications; if others are like me, all the publications who treat their staff as disposable and interchangeable will be in for a rough ride when they try to replace them all with AI churn content. Sure, you’ll pick up some SEO shit clicks, but that actively breeds distrust instead of long-term readership. I read my first Ed Yong article because I was interested in COVID; his thoughtful writing and reporting earned my trust, so I started following *him* on Twitter — not The Atlantic. I read Annalee Newitz back on io9, last year I read their non-fiction book, this year I’m looking forward to their next fiction work.
This is what makes self publishing viable for journalists and writers: people following them for them, not for their title or brand. When writing for a brand constrains these writers, good for them to split off and start their own thing where they can write about what they want, how they want.