The journey I took to arrive at my present career was a twisted one, but I consider myself blessed to be where I am today.
My background took me from medical school and working the wards as a doctor, to integrating western medicine with eastern principles and acupuncture in my own wellness center, all the way to appearing on the TV screens of America with my work for Discovery Health Channel, CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
It’s no secret and certainly no surprise that my background in broadcasting and the medical world has helped me in many ways to establish the personal brand I have today.
That personal brand underpins each of my businesses, and gives me contacts around the world to collaborate with. I know how lucky I am. I also know that for many of my newer students who haven’t got a broadcasting background or a celebrity contact list to call upon, the thought of starting to build their own brand platform from scratch is beyond daunting.
It can be literally starting from the ground up, getting those first 100 people on your newsletter list, and much trial and error can be involved in finding the right words and messaging to hit home with your ideal clients.
Perhaps you haven’t yet discovered who your idea client is?
If that’s the case, then being told to write your ‘client avatar profile’ or your mission statement might feel too far out of reach.
If I were in that position right now, beginning from the ground up with no fans and no contacts, then I would add in a key step before I began that branding work on my ideal client or messaging.
I’d begin with me.
If you desire to grow your own business, and if you know you have a gift to share but feel lost as to how to even describe it in a customer-facing way – then the missing link, that first stepping stone, is in your personal story.
Your story is your personal brand, your message and your motivation
Personally, my brand went through a major re-invention process when I started telling my story. As I said, my broadcasting background was amazing for getting me started, but when I look back, it wasn’t actually the most authentic path for me.
Sure, it was A path. It got me followers and I made contacts that I still collaborate with today. But actually, as my TV image was designed to fit into the American media TV box, not designed to suit my own personality and gifts, it wasn’t really the personal brand that represented the real me. And it’s not the one I’m known for today.
The shift came from me when I started to share my personal story. And no, not the edited version for daytime TV – the real, messy, honest story of my experiences off camera as I was going through my pregnancy. I was shooting a documentary series, Simple Steps to a Natural Pregnancy, and over the course of the months of production, I let down my guard. It was mainly due to fatigue and hormones.
I was not living under the restricted rules of the TV network, as producer and lead talent, I had total creative control. But I lost control and went from being a machine, crafting every word for the image I had to uphold, and I let go of the perfectionistic control.
The feedback I received from people who had followed me on TV for years blew me away! People told me how ‘real’ I appeared to them now. They said they could finally relate to me. They told me that they felt more connected to me that 4-part series than all the years that I was on TV every day.
Over time, I shared more of my life journey on stage and on social media
For example, on a fairly simple Facebook live video, on a fairly ordinary day, I started to open up about my journey through depression. I talked about perfectionism and being labeled a dilettante, and the effect that had on me growing up. I felt compelled to share what I had gone through because some of my clients were dealing with the same thing. I realized there may be more people suffering in silence, like I used to.
This story, my REAL story, touched some of my viewers in a way that truly resonated with them. And this is the magic of story.
When others see themselves in you, then it becomes obvious what your gift for them is. Your message, your guidance and wisdom, is for those people who identify with your story. Sometimes it’s just knowing you exist, that they are not alone, that can spark transformation.
Now that I understand this, if I were starting all with building my brand, I know I’d start here.
Story as the center of your world
When you begin the process of working through the essential steps of building your brand, you can use your story as a point of reference, sort of like your guiding star, or like true north on a compass.
If ever you should find what you are writing or saying about your brand, your mission or your message to feel like it’s getting away from you, from who you really are or not quite feeling like your own words – your story is the thread to pick up and work back towards.
Personally, my story has a strong theme of becoming who you really are, who you were truly meant to be. As the root of my depression came from me trying to please my father, then trying to force myself into the western model when that wasn’t entirely right, and then dressing up and performing on TV… you can see how my story has become the core of my message, “Become who you really are!”
So what is that story for you?
We all have walked an individual life path, and have all learned lessons along the way. These lessons are ours to share, and can be our gift to the world, if we are brave enough to open up in this way.
But there’s more! Branding and business aside, your story is the center of your whole being. When you think about it, every decision you’ve made, big or small, has to some degree been influenced by the lessons you’ve learned in life.
When I teach my annual Stories With Soul Workshop, my students typically come for the business angle – they want to learn how to tell their story to their tribe in the most appealing way, whether on stage or in interviews. Many are also budding authors getting ready to draft their first book.
But the surprise they often get is the healing element of working on their story – and most of them don’t come to class expecting that. It’s kind of a hidden bonus!
Going back over your past, painful growth experiences and all, and writing it as a grown adult holding the pen is hugely cathartic. I teach a version of ‘The Hero’s Journey,’ by Joseph Campbell, as a writing structure.
This approach takes you through those 12 steps Campbell famously wrote about, which of course end with the writer recognizing their own heroic identity. Putting that positive spin on all of our hardships, and drawing out those nuggets of wisdom and the gifts that we each bring to the world, is what allows us to finally see and show ourselves as the heroes that we each are.
You truly are a gift to the world. When you can see that for yourself and write your story in that way, you will gain the confidence you need to bring your gifts and talents forward and work them into a business that serves the world (and you) in the best possible way.
So if I were starting my branding journey all over again, I’d start with a pen in my hand, sharing my story to both empower myself and empower my reader.
You see, good branding doesn’t put you on an unreachable pedestal, as some kind of expert that nobody else can touch. That’s a huge mistake that will leave you feeling like an imposter, and your audience feeling disconnected from you.
Good branding puts you in the story-telling seat, sharing with your audience in a way that is relatable to them. You don’t have to be an ‘expert’ in your field – you just have to be one of the people who is brave enough to share your story.
If you would like to learn a bit more about how using story in this way could work for you, then I have a free online Masterclass, The Three Keys to Become the Hero of your Life. In the Masterclass I outline the LifeWriting process, which includes guided meditations and journal exercises to help you unleash your inner hero.
To see more about Stories With Soul, the 2-day LifeWriting Workshop featuring the Hero’s Journey framework this May, head here. While this is normally held in Cannes, France, this year we are offering the work shop via livestream only with coaching by me over the two days.