We read a lot about personal branding – the topic’s everywhere, seemingly – but rarely have I seen an article that covers this point: Our personal brand is only as good as our actions and words make it on an everyday basis.

We all have a personal brand in this social media-connected world because so much of what we do, say, or write gets forwarded to what seems like the entire world. We’re judged constantly, even by those who don’t know us but think they do – due to our own words and actions. And everything seems to be fair game! Something we did or said 20, 30, or even 50 years can suddenly surface, causing us grief our younger self never intended.

I mean, who wasn’t dumb as a fencepost at 15 or 20? Even older? And who doesn’t realize that the world some of us lived in 50 years ago was not the same as todays? There are conversations being held now that would have been unthinkable back in the 1950s and ’60s; heck, they’re tough enough to have now. And I know there are millions who have nothing much to regret, but for many of us, those years weren’t our best. Maybe we followed the herd to be seen as “one of the guys.” Maybe we acted in a way that deeply shames us today, all for the “privilege” of fitting in with a crowd we wouldn’t be within 1,000 miles of ever again.

Maybe we didn’t get the right kind of lessons in our younger years in what makes a wonderful, compassionate, moral human being. Maybe we had to fail many times before we decided we could and would make ourselves into a far better version of that kid who just didn’t “get it.”

So why these thoughts now? Because although I keep hoping that wisdom will come along with age for most of us, I was recently disappointed while watching those involved in the “college-gate” scandal. Not surprised. Just disappointed.

I watched her wave and smile broadly, all the while looking like she was having the time of her life, as though she was headed for an awards ceremony. I watched as she gave out autographs to eager bystanders!

But what really rankled me – and sparked this post – was the outward attitude of one of the parents during the walk to the Boston, Mass., courthouse a couple of weeks ago to face a judge. Did anyone’s actions catch your eye? Think for a moment. For me, it was Lori Loughlin, an actor I’d never heard of but will likely never forget. Although I know many others were involved in this scam, which hurt their own families and others’, my eyes were on her as she basically strutted her way into the courthouse. I watched her wave and smile broadly, all the while looking like she was having the time of her life, as though she was headed for an awards ceremony. I watched as she gave out autographs to eager bystanders!

Autographs. Think about that. I watched her apparently miss the part about having done something that brought her to a courthouse to face a judge to learn what legal charges were being brought that could land her and her husband in jail for months or years if convicted. And I know she’s an actor, so she could have been faking. But why would anyone fake HAPPY in those circumstances?

I saw nothing that made me think she had one ounce of remorse. Not one teensy inkling that may be heading to a courthouse to face charges was a little different from walking the red carpet … that being singled-out for having paid money and having lied about her daughter’s abilities to get her into a prestigious college weren’t typical movie-star glamour actions … that strutting proudly into the courthouse didn’t exactly make her look like someone who gave a rat’s rump about what was being brought to light.

For me, she’s the current face of how a powerful personal brand can so quickly go sideways. I guess she’s been powerful, at least powerful enough to bribe top school officials into letting her daughter take the place of someone else who might have actually earned the spot. Powerful enough, in her own mind, anyway, to think it’s some sort of bizarre joke, that she’ll talk or walk her way through it with no penalty.

And I grant you that those who appeared to be remorseful might not have been. Several are actors, so their stock-in-trade is … acting. But several pleaded guilty and at least attempted to look remorseful – OK, probably in part because it might reduce their sentence. But maybe partly because they really did understand the magnitude of their actions.

I doubt we’ll ever know for sure but in the court of public opinion? Lori Loughlin lost big. I think we saw the real woman, and what we saw isn’t someone I’d want for my new BFF.

All in all, if I had one wish for our younger folks, it would be to carefully consider how you’re seen when you proudly proclaim one virtue or another. Everything you say and do matters. Do you live up to the hype? Are your actions congruent with what and who you say you are? Who do you want to be when you’re older? How do you want to be remembered?

You have the power to create something wonderful and magical. I hope you take full advantage of it.


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Larry Tyler

Thank you Susan. Great question my brand has always an outlaw, smoke jumper get it done and break every rule. Yet I get results, the other side, a poet , writer and a gentle soul. I guess I am somewhere in-between

John Dunia

Thank you Susan. I almost wonder if calling it a “personal brand” is part of the problem. It almost forces us to put on some kind of airs that almost implies not being ourselves but what we want others to perceive us.
I’d like to just refer to it as integrity.