Many people get flung nicknames in grade school. I was lucky that the worst I received was, “Bossy Jossy.” In around third grade, the rumor on the playground was, if you want to play a really cool game, like “Pegasuses and Unicorns,” you have to ask Jossy, or “Sally.” Apparently we were the Ones in Charge.
As I pounded the elliptical last week for part of my slow train into this year’s marathon (we’ll see if I mean that figuratively or literally), I watched my husband doing his little weights ritual down the long corridor. I saw him smiling at the other gym patrons in between sets, and I laughed. He had told me that morning:
“I really hope the Mad Cougher isn’t there this morning.”
I thought he was just being overly observant, to put it kindly. But this wasn’t the first time he’d noticed the Mad Cougher. In fact, he’d noticed–and commented on–the Mad Cougher many times. So many times, in fact, that one day as I was on the elliptical, no doubt fantasizing about running through a savannah wherein I had fields of gold flowing behind me along with my luscious hair (my dreams keep me going; don’t judge), my husband nudged me out of my trance, and gestured his elbow towards the treadmill across the way. “He’s here,” he said, his face twisted like a knotty bunch of vines in winter.
I wanted to retort, “Couldn’t you just be nice to the poor guy?” But then I heard it: the cough. Followed by another cough, which flowed into a coughing flurry consisting of snorts–and wheezes that sounded like an engine sputtering and whining before something big fell off of it. I did feel bad for the fellow. “Maybe he has tuberculosis,” I told my husband. But at the same time, to credit my husband’s disgust, the Mad Cougher didn’t even make an effort to stop the flow of potential juices from his mouth into the air with so much as a sweaty edge of his tank top or a slight turn of his head. If he did have tuberculosis, we were all in trouble.
I should add that we are part of the early set at the gym, so our cohorts at that time are generally the retired military type who get up before dawn winks its eye and have already written a book or two and saved several villages of small children by the time they trudge into the gym. At least that is the case with “John McCain,” as my husband calls him–a man twice my husband’s age who, by my husband’s account, can lift twice as much weight. Surely, he’s survived war camps as well. And somehow this makes my husband grumpy too, because I suppose it’s more than he can get done all in one day.
This got me thinking about how I might come across at the gym, or anywhere. Sometimes I’m in my own world–like in the savannah (which sometimes becomes a rain forest). Often I’m obsessed with a plan or creative idea which I will forget as soon as the sweat dries from my middle aged legs. Rarely do I think about how others might perceive me.
They tell us in school and self esteem books to stop caring what other people think or say about us. But I’ve found this is only constructive to a degree. Yes, it’s not healthy to obsess about pleasing that insatiable or indignant or even “irrelevant” (to our life path) person who we don’t even really like or relate to that much anyway. I mean, does it really matter if Kanye West doesn’t think I’m all that? He really doesn’t have much to do with my goals or values. But if those people who we aspire to connect with perceive us to be someone who is totally opposite of our true values and intent, we are missing opportunities to grow.
It’s trendy today to talk about “branding.” But I’m talking about branding at it’s most remedial core. What is the basis of your personal brand? Do you come across indignant like the Mad Cougher? Arrogant like “John McCain” (and no, I don’t mean the real guy, who seems nice enough to me)? Or “Bossy” like me? As much as we don’t like to think that how we look or talk matters, it is the only thing people have by which to assess us in new situations. Here are some quick tips I’ve learned for defining your personal brand, so that the story people tell about you is at least in the same genre as your desired goal:
1)Create Your Brand.
Decide what you value most, where you want to go in life, and what principles will guide you as you do it. How will you spend your life in order to gain the most fulfillment?
2)Cut the Clutter.
Examine your habits and see which ones don’t align with your intended “brand.” Eliminate them.
Put new behaviors in place where the outdated ones were culled. So you want to be seen as an approachable community leader? That probably means you don’t want to come across as a snobby b****. Stop hiding beneath your hipster cap or cowboy duster and start smiling and saying hello to the people you see day in and day out at the coffee shop.
I should add that on the playground, despite my nickname of Bossy Jossy, a friend once told me, “Most people know to ask you if they can play, and not ‘Sally,’ because you are nice.” So the other moral of that story is, when you listen to your critic and consider making a shift to your personal branding, only absorb within reason; make sure her voice is not ringing in your ear just because it makes a catchy tune or rhyme (like “Bossy Jossy”), but because it is actually based on truth.
And I should also add that my husband actually broke down and talked to the Mad Cougher today. Guess what? He said he’s a pretty nice guy. Final lesson of this blog: Be aware that other people may not have done their branding work yet; don’t judge too harshly.