Mitch Joel recently highlighted the army of clones out there that are all trying to use the same personal brand, thus more or less killing personal branding. He’s dead on. Go search for the number of social media experts on Twitter to see just how much personal branding has turned into Attack of the Clones.

Here’s why your personal brand sucks. Here’s why you’re trying to be a clone of Chris Brogan or CC Chapman or Whitney Hoffman and failing miserably at it. It’s not because you’re stupid (well, most of you aren’t, except for the folks who repeatedly get phished on Twitter for clicking on “LOL iz this u” links – yeah, you’re stupid), it’s not because you’re boring (again, most of you aren’t, but if your Twitterstream is filled only with “New Blog Post: …” – yeah, you’re boring), it’s because you’ve failed to distill your essential quality.

Your essential quality is something that transcends any particular job, technology, platform, or idea. Your business card may say that you’re a database engineer or a sales associate or the Vice President of Strategy and Innovation, but that’s not what’s essential about you. What’s essential about you is a quality, a trait, a method of working in the world that is unique to you and very difficult to even put into words, much less copy.

Your essential quality will take you years, possibly a good chunk of your life, to even realize. Once you know it, though, once you find it and cultivate it, you rise rapidly above your peers. You rocket past them because you know this strength of yours and can focus what you do in your life to feed it and deliver results that no one else can deliver.

It’s taken me close to two decades to figure out my own. Put into words succinctly, I’m really good at playing with blocks. I used to call it derivative thinking, but that’s largely meaningless outside my skull. What I mean by playing with blocks is that I can see all these different pieces of systems and put them together in new and different ways. I’m a bridge between different worlds. This lets me do things like make odd Twitter videos combining tools and techniques together. This lets me be a competent martial arts practitioner, breaking free of only pre-arranged routines to use the tools in whatever fits the moment. This lets me talk to people of wildly different professions and trades and find ways to make whatever I have work with their businesses, and vice versa.

What you’re good at, what your essential quality is, what makes you who you are isn’t something anyone else can tell you. Others can’t see inside your head, just the results that you produce – and how you got to those results is different from your perspective than anyone else’s. Defining and refining your essential quality takes a lot of introspection and a lot of self-honesty, because as you investigate yourself more and more, you realize all the things that you’re not good at, some of which may have defined your very identity in the past.

You’ll have to let go of an awful lot that you think is you. For years, I thought I was a damn good technology professional. I’m not. I’m a certain kind of thinker whose essential quality happens to work well with technology. In the past half decade or so, I’ve thought I was a marketer, and heck, other people think so and even made me a professor of marketing. I’m not. My essential quality works well in marketing, too. In another decade, who knows what I’ll be doing, but it will have that essential quality at its core.

The one suggestion I can offer if you have the guts, the bravery, to set out on that journey is to find a creative outlet for expression of some kind. Photography, art, music, dance, playing World of Warcraft, writing, speaking, martial arts, anything that lets you express yourself will do, because it will help you to pull out of yourself the various ways you express your essential quality. The process of figuring out what I’m good at took years. Most of it came from practicing the martial arts, because the method in which I train is ideally optimized for this kind of thinking, which means I get to practice the pure form of how I think on a regular basis in a way that delivers instant, unmistakeable feedback. Your method of figuring out what you’re good at will differ, but I recommend it be something expressive so that you can see your essential quality in action.

Once you figure out your essential quality, your personal brand will take care of itself. You won’t even need to name it or publicize it on your blog or Facebook page, because you’ll be so damn good at being yourself that your name will become your brand. Folks might not even be able to put into words why it is they like you or want to work with you. They’ll just know that they do, that they want to be around you, that they want to work with you, hire you, marry you, etc.

You will transcend personal branding itself, and ultimately live the life you were meant to live: yours.

Good luck on your journey. It’s long, but the destination is worth the journey.

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