Writing About Yourself

Talking about yourself is tough. Your insecurities can obscure your understanding of your talents–even what you want your talents to be can cloud your self-awareness. In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin says,
One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.” I have a lot of notions about what I wish I liked to do, about the subjects and occupations that I wish interested me. But it doesn’t matter what I wish I were like. I am Gretchen.
Isn’t that the truth? Ugh, it makes writing resumes, bios, and brand guidelines so tough!

Late last year, I helped the John Budnik Band write member bios along with a history of the band. Yes! It is my brother’s band and yes! they are located in my home state, Alaska. I conducted quick interviews via email to accommodate the full-time work schedules of the members and the four-hour time difference.

Instead of asking the members only questions about themselves, I asked them to provide their basic info: what instrument they play; how/when they learned to play. I then asked each member questions about the OTHER bandmates. Each member provided personality and talent insights about everyone except themselves. This gave outside perspective, but also a genuine portrait of who these cool cats are.

I did something similar last year when my co-workers and I were told the website we were writing for was shutting down. While we were all looking for new employment, I organized and ran a workshop of sorts to help with resume writing. Together we unearthed and articulated everyone’s talents and skills. “Unearthed” is the key word. We focused on one person at a time and I asked each person to answer the question, “If on the first day of your new job, you walk in and see that so-in-so also works there, you would be excited because…”

The answers were amazing and filled with valuable resume fodder. I think that collectively the soon-to-be-former coworkers provided each other with skills to add to their resume. These skills were always there, but we don’t always know what talents are most valuable to our cohorts. Or, we quickly dismiss our own value because it’s not what we are striving for. This exercise provided a positive outside perspective on each of our talents.

The key to both of these examples is that an outside perspective can be clear and genuine. We often think about who we wish we were and how maybe we’re not quite there and let it cloud our self-perception—much like Gretchen Rubin discusses. When you ask for an outside opinion (and pose positive questions—very important!) you can clearly understand what talents are really important and impactful to your fellow band members, co-workers, clients and business partners.

If you’re stuck on your resume or perhaps you’re trying to define your business/brand/agency, consider getting an outside perspective. Being able to see yourself or your band or your business from a different position is invaluable as you put into words who you are.

Not Just a Place…

Alaska, the state and it’s residents, are a novelty. This I know. From my four summers answering tourists’–ahem–I mean visitors’ questions at the visitor center in my hometown, to the questions asked of me in the Lower 48 after my origin is revealed, I know that Alaska has a mystique that some states just don’t have. Every day I’m thankful that no one asks me about Sarah Palin anymore. My first 2 years in the Lower 48 the round of Alaska questions would usually start with “So, is it really dark/daylight there all the time?” I came to love that question when the fall of 2008 hit and the questions became somehow related to Sarah. (Answers: No; no; and no way!) It took about 2 years for that to wear off. There’s a ton of shows one can watch to see and experience the Last Frontier from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy. And, why not? Because doesn’t Honey Boo Boo represent the state of Georgia? Maybe.

There are a few companies out there that use the largest state to brand their products. I came across this a couple of weeks ago in Target (in Ohio, mind you):

Alaska Knits socks

Could it be? It says “made in the U.S.A.” right there on the front! I flipped it over:

Mt. Airy, NC

North Carolina?!?! The Renfro Corporation is “a global leader in the design, manufacture, marketing, merchandising and selling of legwear products in North America and selected international markets.” (Congrats.) But, there’s no mention of Alaska-Knits(TM) on their website. What gives? C’mon, at least call your socks “Arktik Chill(TM)” or “Antarktika Woven(TM)” or how about “Penguins’ Choice(TM)?” Make something up if you’re going to make cold-weather socks in a southern state!

Ice cream, though, takes the cake when it comes to using abstract geographic names. Denali Flavors, located in Wayland, Michigan, has this to say about using the name of a national park (and mountain located in Alaska):

“We do support Denali National Park and the state of Alaska, though our support does not come in the form of a donation or volunteerism. Instead, it comes through the substantial advertisement and written recognition we give on our labels and our website. Several million impressions each year are made to consumers who see and buy our products and get a positive view of these natural resources. This exposure and positive promotion is much more substantial than any donation or time we could give.

“Denali Flavors will continue to promote the wonderful benefits of the state of Alaska and Denali National Park and will continue to serve as a vehicle for consumer awareness.”

(It’s the 2nd to last FAQ–I linked because I can’t make this stuff up.) Really? I’m pretty sure that the AWESOME flavors created by this company (Moosetracks, for example) is promoted by the state of Alaska and Denali National Park. Why else would you use the name? I’m pretty sure every time an ice cream cone is licked a tourist does NOT spend another dollar in Alaska.

It all goes to show you that Alaska isn’t just a place, but a state of mind and, unfortunately–or maybe fortunately for some–a brand.