Anyone Up For A Little Branding?
This past week I was asked to speak to a group of women about my nonprofit. I was told it was going to be about 30 women and to just talk a little bit about my past and about how the nonprofit had come about.
I used to do quite a bit of public/motivational speaking to large groups of people, so 30 women was really nothing to me. In fact, as I left my house that morning I told a friend “I’ll call you later, I’m going to go have a little kumbaya session with a few women.” As I was driving there I started thinking about what I was going to talk about. “Started,” as in “this is the first time I am thinking about what I will be talking about.”
Imagine my surprise when I get there and the first thing they say to me is “Ok, lets get you the microphone and get you up to the podium for your presentation.” Um…..microphone? Podium? PRESENTATION!?
I’m trying to play it cool but inside I’m all OHMYGOSHWHATTHEHELL!!! “So… how many people are you expecting today” I nonchalantly ask.
“Oh, at least a 90, probably more.”
Ok. So I am not here for a kumbaya session, I’m giving a presentation. Well this is just freaking fantastic, I have exactly four minutes now to put a presentation together. Wonderful.
What does someone do when they are thrown for a complete loop and have absolutely no idea how they are going to fix this?
You fake it.
As for faking it, I started my speech with this; “I would have written a speech for today, but it probably would have been a very nice little representation of what I wished you would all think of me instead of what you should actually know about me. Honestly, wish I could come up here and give you all a nice view of my Facebook life. For those of you on Facebook, you know what I’m talking about, right? I don’t know about you guys but according to Facebook most of my friends have gotten up this morning, run 18 miles, whipped up a seven course breakfast from food that they organically farmed in their backyards, carved the fruit into little animals, hid vitamins inside, dropped their children off at elementary school where they are all becoming doctors and lawyers, and are now on their way to build a homeless shelter. I’m going to be honest with you guys. I dropped my kids off at daycare, I’m here, all of my clothes are facing forward (I pretended to check out my clothes real fast), yes, yes they are all on facing forwards, and I would like an award please.”
The group is now in hysterics. Good, that was the plan. When in doubt, make them laugh.
“Luckily for me, I lack social graces to the point where I probably wouldn’t even know if I was embarrassing myself, so I’m going to let you guys all in on a little secret. I don’t live a Facebook life. I didn’t write a speech because if I had, I probably would have looked at it, slammed the notebook shut, hid it on the bottom shelf with all the other books people don’t read like “how to do math without your cellphone calculator,” and I most likely wouldn’t have shown up today. So that my friends, is why we are winging it today. Today I’m here to tell you about how I was broken, how I’m healing, and the nonprofit that I founded. I already know that most of you know I’m broken. I know that you know this because two years ago when my husband ran away, I would come in here and I would see you all whispering about me. “Oh my gosh!! There she is!! There is the woman who’s HUSBAND RAN AWAY!!” Yep, that happened people. So today, for all of you who have shown up, you are going to get a front row seat to the real story. Today I’m going to give you the entertainment weekly version of my life. It’s not pretty, its not perfect, but its me.”
I went on to tell them a vague back story, some hard hitting facts about my husband leaving, an intro into how the legal system works, why I had founded my nonprofit, and who I was planning to help.
I ended it with “And….I don’t really have an ending….so…. the end. I guess sometimes winging it has a couple of bumps.” Then I did a dramatic curtsy. The women were rolling with laughter and overall I think the message overall was well received.
I believe this to be the case because as I was leaving multiple women ran out into the hallway after me to hand me business cards and phone numbers, all wanting to be helpful in any way that they could. One woman in particular said something that struck a cord with me. She said “I loved your speech, but I just need to tell you, you are wrong about something. You joke that you work with a doctor and a lawyer and that you are just some chick trying to change the world with no credentials that would lead anyone to take you seriously. You have something better than most people, you have a personality that just grabs people and draws them in. You are better than a degree, you are a brand. You stand out and shine, you make a mark on the people that you encounter, and while a degree is a dime a dozen, you are the one that will leave the lasting impression on the people that you meet. The way you brand yourself is going to take you farther in this world than a degree and a personality that no one remembers.”
I really didn’t know what to say to that. I got a little teary eyed, gave her a big hug, and walked to my car.
That woman got me thinking about a lot of things. People don’t remember you by what you don’t have, they remember you by what you do have. Why then, do we all, myself included, let our feelings of self worth be influenced by what we don’t have? “I don’t have a fancy car to impress my date. I don’t have the money to take my wife on a fancy vacation like our friends do. I don’t have a big house to throw parties in like our neighbors.” You have all watched me as I have overcome my feelings of worry about failing my kids. You have watched as I’ve finally stood up to society and said “stop judging me for being on welfare.” You have watched as I’ve come out of my shell and told not only myself, but the people around me that I do deserve respect and that I am worth something, but I don’t think that I realized how much it bothered me that I never finished college until I started this nonprofit and have come face to face with so many highly educated people. I’ll say it flat out, it makes me feel less than in many different ways.
The woman really opened my eyes that morning. I don’t have any fancy degrees or letters after my name and there isn’t a damn thing I can do to change that in this immediate moment. Allowing myself to feel less than because of it, is not going to change anything about the situation other than how I feel about it. But what is going to happen, what I am doing, is covering up and smothering out everything that I do have to offer with a label of what I don’t have.
I realized that if I continue to focus on the things that I am lacking, I will be misrepresenting who I am and what I do have to offer. All of us, each and every one of us possesses qualities that are unique to us. All of our paths have led us through experiences where we learned lessons that other people have not been fortunate enough to learn. Just as I talked about in my post “damn straight I’m gonna wear it,” I may not be able to offer my children the same things that other parents can, but I can offer them things that others can’t, things that will be unique to me and my parenting style.
I’m done focusing on what I don’t have. Thinking about it, dwelling on it, taking time out of my day to wonder what other people think about it, I’m done. My name is Eden Strong, I have no college education, no letters before or after my name to boast about, no degree hanging on my office wall. Hell, I don’t even have an office, but I can make you laugh. I can tell you how I’m trying to change the world for the better and I can show you everything that I am able to offer to you in this moment in time, and hopefully that will be enough to make a lasting impression on you.
I didn’t get to finish college. There’s a pretty good chance that I’ll never get to walk across a stage to accept a hard earned degree; a degree that would send me out into the work force to contribute back to society and make the world a better place. It’s unlikely that I will ever have that experience and to be honest it’s something that I have always really wanted. Yet here I was today, standing on a stage, talking about how I am giving back to society, but I got here in a completely different way. My path was not what I expected, it was not what I wanted, yet the destination is turning out to be the same.
I see from the blog comments and the emails that I get on a daily basis, sometimes numbering in the hundreds a day, that a lot of you are also struggling with feeling “less than.” I know that a lot of you come from backgrounds with similar circumstances to mine and others of you are just now going through your struggles.
We don’t all get the same things in life, but its up to us to decide how to use what we do have. We all need to stop focusing on what we can’t offer and start focusing on what we can.
You are your own brand. There is a reason that companies spend millions of dollars on marketing teams that market their products for the best qualities that they possess. No one puts on a package all of the things that a product can’t do for you, no one would buy it. The first thing that a consumer wants to know is “what can you do for me.”
Each and every one of you is filled with qualities that are unique to you alone. Take those qualities and make them your packaging. Let them be the first things that people see about you. Let what you have, be who you are, for it is simple minded to let what you don’t have label who you are.
there is a reason our entire planet gravitates towards the sun.