When Identity and Reputation Clash

Personal branding is one of my favorite topics to coach through with leaders. I love to help people articulate why they do what they do and how they do it uniquely well, which is what truly delivers value to organizations and inspires people to follow. 

What happens, however, when a leader’s work is passionless, and yet they’re trying to brand themselves as inspired? A problem arises, both inside and out. Why? Because people can energetically feel the gap in identity vs. reputation. The gap feels terrible to the leader when they’re living the difference between who they know themselves to be (identity) and who they believe they have to be – and then behave accordingly (reputation). An invalid expression of self occurs, and it’s profoundly uncomfortable and unsatisfying. 

Today I coached an exemplary professional who is deeply unsatisfied with his work on several levels. When I asked him what he would do if he won the lottery, he said, “coaching and teaching kids in a philanthropic organization.” Holy crap! He was super clear about it, and guess what?! Those jobs exist, lots of them! 

This individual is not alone in suffering from the clash of identity and reputation. We bind ourselves to external expectations from society, culture, community, family, church, and, and, and. Pretty soon, we’re living someone else’s definition of what we “should” be doing with our lives. And then, we need the money to support that lifestyle. But, what if you stripped it all away? Who would you be, and what would you do? 

I invite you to name your true identity. Pick 3-5 words or phrases such as servant coach, creative problem-solver, and spiritual seeker (those are mine, by the way). Next, look at the 3-5 phrases. Would the five people who know you best also describe you in the same way? If not, there may be a gap in the expression of identity and reputation. Consider this; life is most fulfilling when there is no gap between identity and reputation. So, if you have a gap, I challenge you to name one small thing you can do this week to “close the gap.” Lean into who you are. 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 

– Mary Oliver