The Case Against Personal Brands


In the freedom of the internet, each person has a choice to make.

SEO or the soul?

The soul sounds pretty, but it’s out of tune with the culture. In public, fighting for attention and resources, we are told to become a brand. The soul is a churning ocean with strange depths; SEO, meanwhile, is a well-cultivated chlorined pool.

One sounds romantic. The other one sells. And when people become products, when the internet tracks your social worth like points, selling is what matters.


Walt Whitman said that he contains multitudes. Remember him? I do. He was the grass-fucking hippie I had to read in the back of classes. But the line stuck with me. Oscillating between pride and fear, the string of myself tied in knots of contradiction, I found something relieving in knowing that complication was natural and human.

Of course, if you want those RT’s you’ll stick to the jokes, funny-boy.

There’s something childish in my fear of portraying a professional self. I worry that I’ll disappear inside a suit, my essence swallowed up by the adulthood I’d spent my whole life opposing and it’s awfully convenient that my social media preferences coincide with a Big Moral Thought. But when we find the need to professionalize our actual selves we limit our expression and our growth.

That’s right, our growth. In a SEO world, you know what the popular opinion is, and, increasingly, the know the cost for differing. Backlashes are quick. Trends immediate. Don’t be basic, except that calling people basic is basic now, and uncomfortable to boot.

Learn the language and the landscape before you think. Subscribe to it.

That’s dangerous and uncomfortable. Calcifying yourself to conformity is nothing new, and growing and changing has always jeopardized your sense of self. Think of how hard it is to grow up! But when we make it public and make a man a brand what was once a personal journey of self becomes a public exploration of marketability.

That sucks. Change is hard enough as is, and we don’t need to make it harder. The last thing we need to do is encourage even narrower conceptions of self when growth is a universal, uneven process.


Lastly, and ironically, there’s a selfish reason to remain yourself.

I get it. You want a real job and a LinkedIn is the way forward. You don’t want to get fired so you have to lock and hide yourself, putting  your name and face to a bland, corporate “online presence.” There’s a privileged, even snotty voice to the “be yourself! Fight the machine!” tone of my piece.

But there’s an advantage to being one’s self.

Look: I am not a uniquely good writer. On the internet, where anyone can write and pieces are considered interchangeable content, all I have left is me. It’s my curse and my asset. So, ironically, I am obliged to be me. It behooves me to whine, complain, and thrash aloud.

Being me is the only thing I can be uniquely great at. And, in the end, that’s the only way I’ll ever be successful. That’s true for you too. Robots are taking over, yo: the only edge we have is our souls. You may as well sharpen yours through sharing it.

Again, I direct you to the question above: SEO or Soul?

I’m sure you’ve heard lots of arguments in favor of SEO, dangerous presentations warning you that employers will be checking your Facebook, your Twitter, your Tumblr, LiveJournal, Vine and Yelp!.

I know, I know. SEO is important. Classes and conferences and meetings and blogs are devoted to it. The soul has no such PR.

But it has this piece. And, more importantly, it has you. 

Maybe that’s enough. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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