The concept of personal branding terrifies me. I just graduated from high school, and there’s no way I have some sort of concrete idea of who I am that I can project to companies, people I meet, or whatever, that defines me accurately. Even if I did, what if I didn’t express it clearly, and then got stuck with something that misrepresented me for the rest of my career?
I think that a big part of the issue is that I’m constantly changing my mind. I pretty much have some kind of academic obsession that changes weekly, which is a shame, because that’s not the way to get into depth (although this week my obsession has just been surviving finals). And what do you say at a career fair? X sounds interesting, but so does Y, Z and pretty much the whole rest of the alphabet? I probably seem like I haven’t given my answer much thought.
Life’s just more fun when there are gazillions of options open to you. Once you choose a path, you’re somewhat stuck with it, and as much as I love computer science, it required me to stop waking up every morning with a completely different idea of what I wanted to do in mind.
To some extent I think it’s a good thing to have an open mind about these things. If you define yourself as an engineer, and an engineer only, for example, you might miss out on some of the ideas that float around in liberal arts. At the same time, insistence on being l’uomo universale isn’t always enough either, because the world is a place full of specific problems, and people with specified knowledge are needed to solve them.
I suppose the answer, then, is to see the general in the specific. Yeah, I’m a computer scientist, but no, I don’t have my entire career mapped out. I’m not in college to learn how to write “hello world” programs in a cubicle for eight hours a day (ooh, look, all caps this time!). I’m here to develop a way of solving problems that can be applied in many different ways to many different issues.
As far as brands are concerned, this means choosing a more particular label, but understanding that the label you’ve chosen is surrounded by a wider context that you have to understand as well. In this sense, a chosen path may be less restrictive than you’d think, because as the environment around it changes, it will bring new challenges that continue to teach you new things.
And if you totally make the wrong decision, that’s okay too. Brands can change completely, and often do. The important thing is just that you choose something, because as my academic advisor told me about a month ago, “if you hesitate for too long on choosing a minor, the choice will be made for you: it’ll be nothing.” There’s a lot that you can accomplish, and if you haven’t already, it’s time to get started.