I’ve had very mixed feelings over the call for personal branding as an author or even just as an individual living in the 21st century. “Branding” sounds like “rut” to me; we don’t like it when our favorite brands change, right?
So I’ve been playing with the idea of a personal mission statement instead, trying to boil down concepts about the “right way to act” that I have absorbed over the years. Not surprisingly, many of the lessons I absorbed came from fantasy fiction — ideas about honor and defending the weak, about self-reliance and strength of conviction. But as I’ve grown, I’ve modified those early ideas a little, informed by feminism (most of the fantasy I read as a child was written by men about boys and men for boys and men) and Zen Buddhism and Taoism, among other philosophies and movements. For example, originally I thought a warrior needed to engage in physical battle. However, I’ve since read about the concept of a spiritual warrior and experienced enough other kinds of fights — for justice, for freedom, for health, and so forth — to understand that warriors come in many forms. As do, of course, scholars.
So here’s where my personal mission statement is right now, in the form of a graphic. It isn’t perfect. I’d like to add something along the lines of “In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped” … the acknowledgment that having a mission statement is itself kind of unnatural, an attachment to a certain self-definition or -aspiration that can be problematic. For now, “cultivate wisdom” encompasses that awareness.
Despite those problems, it seems to me to be a useful exercise, if nothing else because it’s helping me put into concrete terms those concepts that have guided my actions — what I’ve thought I’ve had to live up to and/or felt guilt about when I’ve failed to do. Knowing these things about myself, I can begin to modify this mission statement if I decide that it’s not good for me or others, after all. And until then it will serve as a personal reminder and inspiration.