Friday, June 08, 2007

What Are You Known For?

Lately I have been giving some focused thought to what I am currently “known for,” and what I want to be known for. The corporate world calls this "branding."

This is a natural progression from my recent musing about arriving at the “half-time” of life (as discussed in a recent post), and some detailed work on my “life mission” and commitments going forward. I have attempted to take an honest, rigorous examination of how others might perceive me in terms of vocational identity, and how I would like to be perceived—realizing that such perceptions will impact the fulfillment of my mission.

As I have stated, my mission is leveraging words to help others thrive and discover eternal truths. So I have probed my activities to determine the extent to which I am currently carrying out this mission, and what these activities communicate about my identity.

Considering how others might describe me, I have come to terms with the fact that some persons perceive me as a career-hopper. After all, I have worked in several different industries (entertainment; journalism; pastoral ministry; financial services; and now health care), and none of them for longer than six years on a full-time basis. It could be easy, from a distance, to peg me as possessing an incurably restless spirit or being a person who simply does not know what he wants.

I have at times used the same language to sort of self-condemn, but in the past couple of years have received deeper clarity concerning the key threads that have tied together my various jobs. They have all been contingent upon the intentional use of words, whether written or spoken, whether conveyed to individuals, small groups or large audiences. Words have been the tools of success during my journey of vocation. And I have realized that none of these jobs went to waste; I have used insights, skills and experiences from each of them to impact the work I am doing today.

And so, having clarified my own perception of vocational identity, I am intentional—but not-overbearing—about communicating to others how I synthesize my working experiences and how they shape the work I am doing now and plan to do in the future. Rather than being perceived as a restless job-hopper, I hope I am steadily earning the right to be seen as someone who is self-aware, authentic and unafraid to follow his heart or go against conventional wisdom. I am hoping that rather than being seen as a jack-of-all-trades, I will earn the privilege of being viewed as an educated person who synthesizes all that has come before in order to unleash excellence with what lies at hand.

But within the context of this general perception of identity, there is a secondary aspect of what I want to be known for.

I spend most of my time—between my full-time work with Health First Inc. and my own writing and speaking business—facilitating groups, coaching individuals and writing. I believe, based on feedback I have received from others and my own internal radar, that I have gotten pretty good at all three of these.

Admittedly, I would like to be known as not just good but consistently excellent in these areas. In particular, when it comes to my writing, I want to be known as a person of influence.

I am noting the distinctions between the projects I tackle that are “transactional” in nature, and the ones that embody “thought leadership.” I have spent many years writing transactional pieces, where I am documenting someone else’ s accomplishments through a process of gathering facts and reporting as objectively as possible. I have probably written thousands of these types of pieces for newspapers, magazines, e-zines and marketing departments.

I also have had some occasions to write perspective pieces, a couple of book manuscripts, and some big picture feature articles in which I have had more leeway to express how I see the world and offer action steps for making that same world a better place.

These latter endeavors are the occasions I would like to multiply, as I seek to transition to being known as a “thought leader” who leverages words rather than simply a “doer” who happens to write. I would like to be a person of influence rather than someone watching or talking about all of the other influencers.

Please understand: The end goal here is not simply to have others speak of me in a certain way. It is to recognize what gives me the most personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishing my mission, and to do those things. At the end of the day, the accurate perceptions that people have about me offer the evidence of mission fulfillment or mission failure. Fulfillment is the destination, and perception tells me whether I am getting there; and the greater the earned perception of influence, the greater the earned influence itself.

This is where I am at. But having said all of this, I throw the challenge back to you: What are you currently known for, and what do you want to be known for? What is your brand? And as you wrestle with this, consider another question: How much of your time is spent doing tasks or watching what others are doing, and how much is spent influencing the things that people believe and do?

I believe this exercise of defining a realistic landscape of perception will be helpful to you. If embraced with care and effort, it should inspire you to recognize the behaviors and perspectives that you want to release and the ones that you want to increase.

Remember, the goal is “life mission fulfillment.” Peel back the layers of perception and give it a try!

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