7 Things Happen to You When You Are Completely Honest

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I got a death threat last week from a guy who is a senior at Brown University who didn’t think I could track him down. More on that in a second. The first thing I want to deal with is the question asked me the other day, “how do you make a personal brand”. When I hear the words “personal brand” I think “someone is going to lie to me and then try to take all of my money.” Personal branding, I guess, is descended from the mockery called “corporate branding”.

The Coca-Cola company, for instance, loves the drug, Ecstasy. My favorite TV commercial is not the 1984 Apple commercial (although that’s a close number two) but a commercial for Coke Zero (“Coke Zero Roller Girl”). It takes a song that was originally writtten by Paul Oakenfold. The original topic of the song was about how great it was to take the drug Ecstasy and go to a rave. Anything could happen.

There would be pretty girls, great music, and at the end of the night, total communion with nature. In the commercial, though, there’s a girl roller-blading. She looks like she’s on the boardwalk in Santa Monica. The song is playing in the background. She’s not taking Ecstasy but drinking Coke Zero. She dances/roller-blades around her studly friends, her beautiful girlfriends, and it ends with everyone taking Coke Zero, the fizz going up like a group ejaculation into the sky. Coke Zero — the brand where you can find your own personal ecstasy.

I WANT THAT

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Whenever I watch that commercial I feel like I want a life like that: free from worry, stress, free from thinking about money or petty jealousies. Surrounded by friends and beautiful people. Moving without effort, the ocean in the background. As they say in the song: “once again, I find myself with my friends.” Coke Zero tells me the dream is possible even though intellectually I know its a myth. Freedom isn’t found that way. But we’re willing, as a culture, to accept the lies that Coke tells us. And they are willing to use songs about drugs to help us accept those lies.

Perhaps Coke figured out that maybe this time they had gone too far. They pulled the commercial. Sometimes I can find it on YouTube. Sometimes I can’t. They try hard to make it disappear.

What they never explain is that coke zero is essentially brown-dyed water with about 16 teaspoons of fake sugar in it and add a little bit of CO2 and you make it fizz. That’s the secret formula that’s locked in a safe in some bank in Atlanta. I can make SuperJamesCola with that formula. But then I can’t license that music, get those sexy girls, and run that ad on the Super Bowl and a thousand other places. I can’t do corporate branding by myself.

But no matter — let’s move past the artificially safe confines of corporate America. That’s dead and if you haven’t planned your exit strategy yet you will have to soon enough.

SO WHAT IS PERSONAL BRANDING?

So now I keep hearing about “personal branding” – the idea that your career, your mind, your body, everything that makes up the superficial “you” can be packaged up into a brand just like Coke or Mcdonalds can. With the spectrum of pornography allowed by Facebook, twitter, linkedin, google+, etc etc etc a personal brand can evolve and grow like any superbowl ad. Kim Kardashian’s didn’t have an answer when Barbara Walters asked her, finally, “but aren’t you really just known for a sex tape?” when Kim initially tried to “re-brand” herself as a “businesswoman” in a very intimate interview.

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So we start to arrive at the truth of the matter: Branding is lying.

But personal branding is even worse because the joke is over. Now we’re talking about me and you. We’re talking about who YOU are. And let’s face it. It’s not pretty. You need to re-brand from birth.

People confuse “honesty” with a type of “happiness”. He can be honest because he is happy. But it’s not true. Life is a series of failures punctuated by brief successes. That’s honesty. Failure is not necessarily bad. It’s reality.

But branding tries to reverse that. With a “personal brand”, you suddenly pretend to be super successful, a “businesswoman” in Kardashian’s case — failure is non-existent, and out of your mind comes the exact mathematical formulas that if someone drinks your Cola and snorts your Ecstasy then they too will have the pretty girl, the success, the money, the accoutrements.

A FRIEND OF MINE WHO DOES PERSONAL BRANDING

I know a stockbroker who sends a Christmas card every year to his clients. He wants to present an aura of success. Each time he’s in some other blue lagoon on some random part of the world, with a blonde girl (different each Christmas) with huge fake breasts and they are snorkeling or hugging in the water (blue blue aqua) or staring off into a beautiful mediterranean ancient city. He makes money. Lots of it.

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And you can’t even look at him, the girl is so beautiful and her eyes are staring at him and she’s kissing him and it’s all over his facebook page. His status might even be “engaged” and she has an exotic name.

The only problem is, “and you can’t tell anyone because this is the beautiful part” he is telling me in his tell-all because he’s a good friend and knows I will never reveal his name: is that he’s gay. He picks up his boyfriends in dungeons. He’s been smothered in concrete until he was unable to move and holes would be poked through so he could breathe, and only then with a boy whipping him and arranging this unusual punishment, would his copulation come to completion.

Honesty is about the scars. it’s about the blemishes. But it’s more than just bragging about failure, which could be a form of ego. It’s about truly helping people.

There’s 1 trillion websites competing against each other. The most honest website of all? Google. Google can’t help you with your problems. If you suspect you might have herpes after a particularly courageous night out on the town, going to Google will not help you (although you may feel a vague feeling of remorse when you see the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button).

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