How to build your confidence, prepare for meetings, and create a personal brand
Greetings from the UK, where summer is coming in hot. I’ve spent the last week working from my garden and been to a couple of garden parties. It’s been great to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin all day, see friends for the first time in a long time, and get a healthy tan in the process. I’ve been busy churning words out this month. I finished writing a long-form personal essay about my professional history and career arc (more on that next month, once it’s published) and completed my series of 30 daily atomic essays on macro life lessons from micro life experiences. I am currently mid-way through publishing them on Medium, but you can read all 30 of them in this Twitter thread. In the meantime, here’s one that has been well-received I wanted to share with you all:
How your environment shapes you
There used to be a bar in my town that ran weekly whiskey tastings. Every Wednesday, a couple of buddies and I would visit and sample a few whiskies.
Go to enough whiskey tastings, and you learn a thing or two. One thing I learned is that most familiar whiskey brands are made by just a handful of distillers. They create massive batches of raw spirit, which they run off into thousands of barrels. Then, they wait.
Whiskey typically takes 8–12 years to mature. During this time, magic happens.
The charred barrels leech out chemical compounds that slowly transform the raw spirit into the golden nectar that whiskey fans love. The environment plays a part too. Different chemical reactions occur at different rates in each barrel, depending on where it is located.
Barrels on the sunny side of the warehouse mature faster than those on the north side. Barrels closer to the interior experience less extreme temperature fluctuations than those closest to the walls, and so on. In short, the environment that whiskey matures in affects the finished product.
At bottling time, company tasters sample each barrel’s contents and decide which of the house brands’ flavour profile it most closely resembles. Then it gets labelled as that product.
So, Eagle Rare and George T. Stagg may come from the same batch of raw spirit, but they develop different characteristics because of environmental influence.
We are like whiskey. Our environment shapes our character. We can take advantage of this and deliberately expose ourselves to the environments that will desirably affect us.
Want to be more resilient? Expose yourself to hardship. Want to be more patient? Join a leisurely community. The list goes on. Think about who you want to be, then find the right environment for you.
An easy way to build confidence
I recently finished mentoring a cohort of business school students. One piece of advice I gave them is to document their achievements and capture any positive feedback they receive. This practice is powerful for a couple of reasons.
First, documenting your achievements and what you are working on will give you a ready-made bank of content to share on social to show your journey and support your personal brand.
Second—and this is the real gold—periodically looking back and reminding yourself of what you have achieved will show you how far you have come and instil you with confidence.
Third, keeping a record of your accomplishments and positive feedback from personal and professional contacts gives you a treasure trove to draw from when it comes to job applications and interviews.
So, take some time once a month to reflect and capture anything you are proud of. It’s amazing how keeping such an account of your actions accumulates and how far down the line it can pay off.
Case in point: in a former life, I was a graphic designer. Until I had a recent conversation with an old friend, I had completely forgotten that, over a decade ago, I designed some artwork that was used for the official branding of Nottingham status as the UK’s first-ever City of Football—an accolade awarded by Sport England.
At the time, it was just a client job that I soon forgot about, but, looking back, I contributed to a piece of cultural history, and I should be proud of it. I’ve added that one to my notebook now, but it makes me wonder how many more past achievements I am overlooking because I didn’t capture them at the time?
What most advice boils down to
I’ve had several conversations in the last few weeks where friends have asked for advice on a wide range of topics. After having a few of these conversations, it struck me that, regardless of what we talked about, my advice usually boiled down to the same two principles: don’t overthink it and Keep it simple.
We often make things more complicated in our heads than they need to be. Most things in life involve only one or two critical things that, if focused on correctly, make almost everything else optional and possible to ignore. Our inability to focus solely on these critical aspects of a task or project means that we tie ourselves in knots and struggle to get started. By keeping things simple, we force ourselves to focus on the fundamentals and strip away everything else, making it easier to know how to start.
These two core principles can usually be followed up with the following sub-principles
- Just get started
- Trust in the process
- Be consistent
- Be patient
It’s incredible how universally you can apply this formula to get the outcomes you want. Try it next time you’re stuck in a rut, struggling to get started with something, or can’t find a way forward.
Quick Life Tip: Frozen grapes
ow summer’s here, chilled drinks are on the menu, which means ice cubes are too. Ice is great, but it dilutes your drink when it melts. If you’re drinking something that you don’t want diluting, try this: stick a bunch of grapes in the freezer and use them instead of ice cubes. They will chill your drink without diluting it, and you get the bonus of a sweet, healthy treat once you finish your drink.
The best of what I found this month
How to prepare for meetings
Storybrand CEO Donald Miller is an excellent business mind and communicator who knows how to make his point land. He recently shared a short Instagram video on how to prepare for meetings and the power of a controlling idea to make sure your point gets heard. Take a look because his simple advice is worth the two minutes of your time.
How to work out what to do with your life and make it happen
I recently discovered a simple visioning exercise called the life odyssey plan. It is helpful for figuring out what direction you want your life to go in and what steps you can take now to move you closer to your desired path. The exercise works by asking yourself these three questions:
- What would my life look like five years from now if I continue down the path I am on now?
- What would my life look like five years from now if I took an entirely different path?
- What would my life look like five years from now if constraints like money, what people think, and societal expectations didn’t matter?
The answers to these three questions will give you some ideas on what to start or stop doing so you can move closer to your ideal life. You can do the exercise in your head, but it is more powerful if you write it down. You can find out more about it in this video by Ali Abdaal.
Book of the month: Known
Personal branding used to exist exclusively in the domain of rock stars and celebrities. Nowadays, it is standard practice for any aspiring entrepreneur to build a personal brand for themselves. As business networking and recruitment moves increasingly online, personal branding is going to be important for everybody. So, learning how to brand yourself so you can stand out to recruiters, hiring managers, or anyone whose attention you wish to attract is a worthwhile time investment.
There are lots of online resources for personal branding tips. The problem is lots of them give weak advice, or focus on things that don’t matter, like having a logo or picking a signature colour for yourself. While those things are essential elements of a company’s visual identity, they are of little value for a personal brand.
For some solid advice on building a personal brand and getting noticed, a good place to start is with Mark Schaefer’s book, Known. The author explains that being known isn’t the same as being famous. Being known is about having the proper reputation, authority, and audience to realise your potential and achieve your goals. He provides a four-step process for working out what you want to be known for, how to put yourself out there, avoid competition by differentiating yourself, and how to build an audience you can connect with.
While the book is written with entrepreneurs in mind, Schaefer’s process is still highly relevant and easily adaptable for people who want to use personal branding to create a more robust online presence for themselves without necessarily being a founder of the next start-up on the block. Worth a look.
Something that connects the idea behind the odyssey exercise I linked to above and Mark Schaefer’s book is the idea of finding the thing that uniquely aligns with your skills and interests in a sustained way and using this as a North Star to guide your actions and lead a fulfilling life. It’s easier said than done, but the reward is worth the pursuit. I’ll leave you with this quote, which succinctly sums up the idea:
“Find the story only you can write.”Robert Cottrell
Until next month,