Fire Your Image Manager

"You Are Your Own Brand"  "5 Steps to Empowering the Brand You."   

As I try to make School for Seekers* more available and build my own consulting practice**, common wisdom emphasizes the importance of branding myself. After all, since I don't make widgets or art or cookies that I can show to people, I am my product, with my own specific "voice" and areas of expertise. I have to present what is uniquely mine, curate that presentation, perfect my websites, my elevator pitch, my one-pager, my photos, my color schemes, my markets, and my media strategies. 

All that "I" and "my" turns my stomach and makes my head hurt. 

We spend much of our mental time managing our image. We hide our vulnerability or billboard our brokenness. Clean for company. Dress up for parent conferences, down for grocery shopping. In church, we are "fine" or "blessed." We "give to charity" when in fact the money has been painfully extracted from us. Our kids are "Student of the Month" and we are "Proud Parents." We know that anger is publicly acceptable, sorrow is not.

We know how we want to be seen by others, and study how to cultivate that perception. It's not that we're being false, necessarily, but that we are always keeping one eye on what others think of us. Or what we think of ourselves, minute by minute. 

The problem with the common wisdom of self-promotion? 

@@Common wisdom is rarely wise, not very common, and usually spiritually childish.@@

A few weeks ago I became totally distracted during therapy. I can't even tell you what we were talking about--it was that trivial-- when I caught myself thinking "you can't tell her THAT."  Which was quickly followed by "what is therapy for?" and "for chrissake, you're PAYING the woman!"  Thinking about whether to say something that was on my mind prevented me from doing just that, and instead fixated my attention on what my therapist would think of me if I said it.

How much psychic effort do we spend guarding our pride or eliciting sympathy?  Blaming other people (which is a form of self-protection)? Stretching the truth? Hiding it? We lie to ourselves to keep up our self-understanding, to keep the idea of who we are from crumbling under the reality of who we are. 

@@To gain spiritual richness we have to stop chasing social reward. @@

When Jesus said that we have to lose our lives to save them and the Buddha spoke of detachment, part of what they were talking about was letting go of our investment in how we appear to others. That's the whole point of Matthew 6, in that famous passage about praying or giving in private. Jesus wasn't condemning public acts of prayer or of charity, but our ego's desire to be noticed and commended for our noble acts.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1, NIV)

Becoming whole and holy means thinking more of the woundedness of others and the glorious beauty of God than of what others think of us. Spiritual growth requires pushing out the boundaries of the ego container that shaped us as we grew up physically and socially.

@@To mature spiritually we have to fire our internal image managers. Send them packing. Lock the door behind them and withhold their final paycheck. @@

Now, I believe with all my heart that the work I do, as an individual and through School for Seekers, is life-giving. I believe that through God's grace and my hard work, I have something that often helps others. I've seen lives change, light bulbs go off, leadership get saner. I know it's good, and worth doing. I don't know how to get paid more consistently for doing it, but I know it's worth doing.

I also know that my deep-down, get-real, not-saying-this-to-impress truth is: On my best days, I'd rather grow up than get hired, maturing into full union with God and communion with you.  

So I'm firing my full-time internal image manager, though I know she may wind up doing some contract work while I'm still growing up.


*School for Seekers (SFS) is the work that I do with Benton Stokes, building sandboxes and safe spaces for communion with God and community with others. He is the director of worship arts at Covenant of the Cross church, where I've been privileged to work for three years. Benton's also a gifted songsmith, a Spirit-led musician and a soul friend. You'd like him.

**For a couple of decades now, I've been consulting with organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, doing staff retreats, vision casting, and strategic planning. I've had multiple speaking and teaching gigs, and I've preached on the order of 700 times. I've edited a number of books in philosophy and Christian spirituality, written dozens of liturgies, created highly experiential worship environments.  I've also coached and counseled countless individuals and couples.