Recently, I posted to Instagram a photo of myself at the gym. I was wearing a Mizuno T-shirt emblazoned with Japanese characters, and the phrase, “Be Yourself, Only Better." Later that day, a Japanese Instagram friend posted the simple comment, “Me too” – along with the same Japanese characters. Curious, I went to Google Translate and found that “limit challenge” is the literal translation. I was intrigued, and even more so, over subsequent days, as I got favorable reactions from other Japanese friends about the shirt – and the philosophy!
Of course, this prompted me to take a closer look. So, I went to Mizuno’s website and found a flash presentation that expresses how they see limit challenge. It said this:
You make promises to yourself.
Be tough, only tougher.
Be strong, only stronger.
Be yourself. Only better.
And, above all, never waver.
In digging deeper into their philosophy, I found a statement that really resonated for me: “Inside each of us is a better us trying to get out. Trying to make the most of what we've got. Trying to be more than we think we can be.” Not only does this reflect my philosophy of owning your life, but also captures the whole essence of living one’s brand. It’s about the daily promise to bring one’s authentic self to making the world better for others. And the better we do, the better we become.
Frankly, this stands in stark contrast to most of the “personal branding” advice out there, today. As the idea of personal brand has become more mainstream, there is no shortage of views on what you ought to do to have a strong brand. Unfortunately, too many career coaches, along with an array of other experts, point to the need to create a personal brand; and if you want to change jobs or careers you are advised to re-brand.
Sure, there may be a nod to authenticity, but it tends to get lost in the quest for the clever tag line or value statement. And what happens to any shred of authenticity you may have salvaged, if you think you need a new brand to move your career in another direction? If personal branding is truly about authenticity, then it seems to me, re-branding is an oxymoron.
So, what to do?
Part of the problem, I believe, rests in the artificial distinction between your career and your life. By maintaining this false dichotomy, it becomes nearly impossible to see that your ability to provide value for others has always been part of your “brand DNA.” To discover it, you need to unravel your life stories to find the themes that make you who you are – who you uniquely are.
Once you find yourself, and the unique value you bring to others, you’ll have a stronger, and truly differentiated brand. You’ll also, perhaps for the first time in your life, be in the best position to be yourself, only better.