Alison had published three books, delivered a talk at a renowned conference, and advanced her distinct brand enough to garner gigs around the world.
So, what was the problem?
“I’ve kind of run this thing to its end. I’m ready for what’s next, but I don’t know what that is. And whenever I get an inkling, it seems radically different from what I’m known for.” She wanted to start off her new year with a whole new “thing.”
She wanted to Break Brand.
And sometimes, most times, that’s fine and necessary. But this kind of situation raises profound doubt. The kind of doubt the Alisons of the world experience has a different hue than the kind of doubt, say, of someone just starting out with his first venture ever. Alison’s kind of doubt comes post-success, post-mastery. She’s already accomplished in one field. So, for her to arrive again at uncertainty makes her think she’s a failure or a fool for surrendering success in that one proven arena. To become an uncertain apprentice again who must ask for guidance feels, to the accomplished professional or creative, kind of vulnerable.
But this junction of doubt turns out to be profoundly normal for successful people who excel in creative and entrepreneurial fields.
The hard part for Alison and others of us like her is staying in the confusion long enough to let something real and true germinate. When we cannot endure the unknown next horizon, we often respond in one of three ways:
Stick with the safe thing.
Leap to another safe thing.
Get stuck in paralysis.
#3 is not an option. #s 1 and 2 are mis-directed in times of such doubt. Why? Because they both are focused on “the thing” – the work itself, the offer, the service, the business. In fact, Alison came to me wanting to know with some certainty how to find, kind of quickly, what the next safe thing might be.
To fertilize this confusion, the most self-aware innovators don’t focus first on the market or on their “thing” or their niche. They take inventory of themselves. They admit, no matter their list of accomplishments and accolades, that self-knowledge is a constant unfolding on the professional and creative quest. To get clear with what their best work will be or become, they first have to get clear with themselves – what matters to them, who they are, how they distinctly make things or engage others.
This knowledge requires a different approach than what many professionals are used to. We’re not talking about navel-gazing, but we are talking about taking stock of things that don’t show up in Big Data metrics spreadsheets or SWOT analyses. Such self-knowledge requires accessing different parts of the creative brain and creative “insides” than simple self-analysis and values lists, goal-setting and New Year’s Resolutions do. It requires imagination, reflection, curiosity, wide-open wonder.
Real self-knowledge also requires perspective from others. Why? Because self-knowledge has two sides. One side of self-knowledge is that interior terrain of our unique memories, ideas, dreams, quirky ways of obsessing or thinking or creating. The flip side of self-knowledge is how other people perceive us.
If you want to advance your brand or break brand, take stock of what matters to you and who you are, first. The vision will follow.
But here’s the thing: When conceiving a new year or new mission or new brand, we need people to bust our biases for us.