Disruptor Syndrome VI — Era of the Personal Brand

This article is an excerpt from Disruptor Syndrome by Jessica Carson. Read more about Disruptor Syndrome and other excerpts at the end of this article.

Era of the Personal Brand — Permanence vs. Experimentation

In the good old days, you could conduct self-experiments with carefree abandon.

Trying on and taking off experimental selves with the ease of a costume change. Cowboy one day, firewoman the next.

But we now live in the era of the personal brand. And everything is a lot more — sticky.

An era in which the self must be aligned, easily digestable, and universally consistent across all your digital properties and in-person interactions. Your happenings and whereabouts carefully chronicled on blogs, social media, and personal newsletters.

You can’t even run from your damn self. For better or worse, you’re branded.

A personal brand is the carefully bottled essence of what it feels, looks, tastes, and smells like to be you. Not to be confused with an elevator pitch, which is mostly word play, a personal brand is a lifestyle.

It’s the experiential, personal juju of who you are.

To distill and distribute your personal brand for consumption, you must first choose a persona. Will you be the easy breezy yogi, hard ass boss, twirling life of the party, hyper-masculine athlete, tightly wound book worm, easily offended advocate, crunchy nature freak?

Our brands are processed like our fast food. The recipes are deliberately prepared and packaged. Because we can’t have someone sniff out an inconsistency between our blog, social media, and the self we cart to cocktail parties.

Whipped up in the personal brand are all of the decorations of self. Refining your personal brand is quite a lot like choosing a Barbie doll. The wardrobe, home décor, social circle, vacation destinations, and hobbies come pre-packaged.

So what will your movie set look like?

It’s no surprise that disruptors have the most carefully crafted personal brands.

They tend to their brands like on-trend air plant gardens. Because it’s no longer enough to be successful. If you’re a true innovator, you must celebritize yourself.

And so the go-getters among us are running around with personal brands on fleek. With a hell of a lot of dissonance under the surface.

The evidence of this is splashed all over popular culture. Celebrity personal brands suffocating under their own dead weight. Finding temporary reprieve only in the complete rejection of outdated brands. Followed by drastic swings into the new.

Look no further than Taylor Swift’s resonant line, “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead.”

All remnants of her former brand discarded. Her social media slates wiped clean. A dramatic break from an outdated self that no longer fit.

The need for a consistent and coherent personal brand disallows us from exploring versions of our selves inconsistent with our brand. It imbues a sense of permanence to stages of our lives that might otherwise be temporary self-experiments.

And with personal brands infecting all corners of our social, professional, and romantic lives, there is pressure to maintain and not contradict what’s already on the shelf for purchase.

In this way, we tattoo ourselves with our brands, rather than draw them in washable ink. Because we are convinced that who we are in a given moment is surely who we will always be.

The identity crisis comes when you resist personal exploration for fear of contradicting your brand. When you adopt a brand as permanent that should have been a phase. When you fill your life with aspects of a brand that isn’t you — and you can’t find the receipts.

Ironically, the identity becomes more secure as impermanence and self-experimentation are embraced. When definitions and delineations are replaced with consistencies and common threads.

Can we or should we entirely avoid the personal brand? No, probably not.

But you can build a personal brand suited for change, surprise, growth, and contradiction. Which creates a built-in security blanket for your next self-experiment. And trust me disruptor, your experimentation will continue.

In the words of Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes.”

So be bold. Contradict yourself, disruptor.

Brand Power: Observe, Oppose, Open

Here are four big things I’ve learned about the personal brand & disruptor identity:

-Disruptors are pressured to establish a strong personal brand
-The self thrives under conditions of experimentation and open-mindedness
-When the identity feels like it cannot grow and explore, it can undergo crisis
-Disruptors can develop a secure brand using patterns, contradictions, and taboos

Here’s my three step recipe for a disruptor-friendly personal brand:

1. Value Patterns over Trends — Observe
2. Value Contradictions over Definitions — Oppose
3. Value Taboos over Traditions — Open

1. Value Patterns over Trends — Observe

It’s tempting to build a personal brand around trends. To embrace the latest fashion, craze, or collective passion.

And it’s particularly enticing for disruptors who are on the bleeding edge of creating those trends. Who are birthing those social and cultural moments.

But the issue comes when we flip-flop from one trend to the next, taking our entire identity along for the ride. While experimentation is healthy, whiplash is not.

The first step is to value patterns over trends. What are the patterns in your personal brand — the things that have stuck? What are the trends in your personal brand — the things that have come and gone?

Do you feel aligned when your personal brand is rooted in trends? Or do you feel most authentic when you’re living according to your patterns?

Patterns — Yogi, Spiritual, Entrepreneur, Psychologist, Writer
Trends — Venture Capitalist, Technologist, Scientist, Socialite

2. Value Contradictions over Definitions — Oppose

This one might surprise you.
The self doesn’t mind contradiction if it makes the identity more complex. The more complex the identity, the more secure it is from the winds of change.

But we can’t just be contradictory — we have to be aware of our contradictions. We have to make sense of our dissonant qualities. We have to nod at them and say, “Hey, I see you. I embrace your opposition as a unique feature of my identity.”

Disruptors have a lot of contradictory qualities by design. They are naturally complex. So if they don’t take time to acknowledge and process their contradictions, their identity can get jumbled.

The second step is to value contradictions over definitions. Take stock of your oppositions. What are your personality traits, interests, and characterizations that are most at odds?

-Aggressive & feminine
-Energetic & calm
-Cheeky & serious
-Casual & “fancy”
-Open-minded & strong beliefs
-Logical & creative
-Social & introverted
-Scientific & spiritual

3. Value Taboos Over Traditions — Open

We all have secret selves hiding in the wings.

The most aligned elements of your personal brand are likely yet to be embraced. Disruptors often veil taboo aspects of the nature for the sake of portraying a coherent brand to the world.

If you are a masculine athlete, it might feel taboo to be a feminist. If you are a tough-as-nails executive, it might feel dissonant to be a meditation teacher. If you’re a stone-faced technologist, it might feel funky to be a free spirit.

The third step is to value taboos over traditions. Who would you be if you didn’t feel confined by the traditions of your brand? Who would you be if you could start your brand from scratch?

You might be surprised how much your brand resonates once you get cool with your taboos.


-Feminist (while in masculine fields)
-Spiritual (while embracing logic and science)
-Nature/Animal Lover (while living a city life)


Value Patterns over Trends: Observe Value Contradictions over Definitions: Oppose Value Taboos over Traditions: Open
-Venture Capitalist
-Cheeky & serious
-Casual & “fancy”
-Aggressive & feminine
-Energetic & calm
-Open-minded & strong beliefs
-Logical & creative
-Social & introverted
-Scientific & spiritual
-Feminist (while in masculine fields)
-Spiritual (while embracing logic and science)
-Nature/Animal Lover (while living a city life)

Disruptor Syndrome

Don’t be fooled: Breakdowns aren’t reserved for your burnout roommate. In fact, the most spectacular freak-outs, funks, and crises are saved for disruptors, innovators, influencers, trend-setters, and go-getters. It’s basically a right of passage. Welcome to the club.
Disruptor Syndrome explores the crisis of meaning plaguing modern day success stories. The disruptor is a powerhouse of psychological and energetic strength — but these rarified abilities make them uniquely vulnerable to funks. Add to this our current work and play climate, and we have an epidemic in the making. But disruptors can capitalize on their crisis unlike any other. They can disrupt themselves.

Check out other excerpts from Disruptor Syndrome:

–  Disruptor Syndrome — An Overview
I.  #FOMO — Novelty v. Commitment
II. Competitive Advantage —
Withholding v. Giving
III. Give Me Your Elevator Pitch — Duality v. Fluidity
IV. Twice-Born Souls — Restlessness v. Rootedness
V. Impression Manager — Perfectionism v. Vulnerability
VI. Era of the Personal Brand —
Permanence v. Experimentation
VII. Connecting Your WiFi — Separation v. Resonance
VIII. “I Can’t Feel My Face” — Dissociation v. Embodiment

I hope this taste of Disruptor Syndrome serves you. Share you thoughts with me — I can’t wait to hear from you, disruptor.


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