Last week on vacation I was talking to some of my friends when they told me they “loved my blog” BUT (there’s always a but), “it’s too all over the place”. I texted one of my best friends and was like “AM I TOO ALL OVER THE PLACE” and in response got a “…???”
Existential crises aside, I’ve been thinking about the following question: “What does it mean to be on brand?” In the age of social media, where we hear over and over again that your business is your “brand” and you have to “brand” yourself a certain way and completely stick to that picture very strictly, I worry that we don’t leave any room for self-discovery and exploration. Take the world of fashion for example: the way to be a successful blogger is to find your niche sense of style (e.g. “Parisian”, “edgy”, “sporty”) and ONLY dress to that style. This method has never sat well with me because 1. I very much dress to the occasion and 2. Who knows what I will be feeling when I wake up?? (It’s like the people that look at the menu a week in advance and know what they’re going to eat. I’m envious of these people because I’m like how the hell am I supposed to know what I’ll want to eat until I sit down at the table??). The fact of the matter is I wake up, I dress a certain way for my very corporate job, I dress very differently if I’m headed to a museum and tea, and do a total 180 from there if I’m going out on the town.
Taking a step up from fashion, I think this view of staying “on brand” very much pervades our society as a whole. Heather Havrilesky, the author of my favorite advice column, puts it very nicely.
“The way adult life is structured, you’re supposed to choose one thing or a set of closely related things, and focus on that. Get your degree, get a job, then do that same fucking thing forever and ever.
But human beings are not built that way. We like lots of contradictory stuff. This is the problem with external pressures to remain “on brand.” This is the implicit mood of social media. You’re supposed to promote your shit and stay on message, always. But seriously, what kind of rigid, colorless cyborg is always, always delivering the same goddamn message? Every single morning I wake up a different person, one who very often dislikes and even resents the person who was there the day before. I stumble on my old tweets some days and think, “Who is this earnest truth teller and how do I murder her in her sleep?” And other days I think, “Who is this seething queen of darkness and how do I get her storm clouds from casting shadows on my good life?”
We contain multitudes. Our moods shift like the weather. Our desires change every millisecond. If you contradict yourself constantly, to me that’s proof that you’re living out loud, exploring, daring to invent and search and discover new ideas and feelings in the moment.”
I’m not saying run off and do everything and try everything. We need to focus our energy but allow ourselves room to explore, to change our minds, and to find new things that inspire us. There’s one last anecdote I’d like to insert here. Staying on brand typically means curating and creating content that is safe, that you know will be a hit with followers, and involves staying safely in your lane. When you venture to veer off course you open the door for failure. I think Eric Weiner says it very nicely in his book The Geography of Bliss. He’s talking about the artistic revolution currently happening in Iceland, and why everyone feels so free to be an artist. He says, “There’s no one on the island telling them they’re not good enough, so they just go ahead and sing and paint and write. One result of this freewheeling attitude is that Icelandic artist produce a lot of crap. There’re the first to admit it. But crap plays an important role in the art world. In fact, it plays exactly the same role as it does in the farming world. It’s fertilizer. The crap allows the good stuff to grow. You can’t have one without the other.” Veering off brand may make for a lot of crap, but it also creates room for better art. And Iceland is one of the happiest countries in the world–so they must be doing something right!
My takeaway is that being on brand is overrated. My Instagram page may not be perfectly curated, my outfits may border on bipolar, and my blog may be “all over the place”, but I feel that being true to sharing what I’m feeling and thinking at the time without feeling the need to fit it into my “brand” puts me at my most creative state. I’m wondering what you all think. For purely creative pursuits, does it make sense to stay on brand?