Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Being a Brand Chameleon Is Good for Your Karma


Reputation vs. reality is where the Myers-Briggs sensory types are mistaken.

In Judaism, we learn that reputation is priceless: “A good name is worth more than the finest oil.”

Life is not only about the physical. It is also very much about appearances. From a business perspective this makes sense, of course, but it's a moral thing too. When you act good, you inspire others – and the opposite, too. (As we know, creeps are eventually found out, so don't bother leaning on appearances.)

And it might seem like a little thing, but your reputation – call it “brand,” whatever – comes not only from your actions, but also very much from your name. In Judaism, for example:

• We aren’t allowed to say G-d’s name, except in prayer.

• We aren’t allowed to give up our Hebrew names. That’s why religious Jewish kids get one Hebrew, and one English.

• The prayer book lists a unique Hebrew passage relating to your name, that you will be asked to say when you've crossed over to the Other Side.

Of course there are times when you have to go by a different name to survive. The heroine of the Purim holiday used her dual names, Esther/Hadassah, to facilitate the salvation of the Jewish people from the evil Haman. During the Spanish Inquisition, an entire generation of Jews went underground, pretending to be Christian. And so on, throughout time, until today.

Given that assimilating has meant survival for my people for thousands of years, I see that managing one’s identity is more than just a nice-to-do. It is a matter of staying alive. You have to understand who you are, versus how you are perceived, and adjust yourself accordingly in order to get through.

In good times it might be just a matter of getting a better job or changing careers. In uncertain or dangerous times, morphing can require a much more pervasive effort to transform yourself.

Many people, unfortunately, feel like any attempt to change is like a betrayal, and they get caught in a failure loop out of an inability to adapt.

Don’t be like that. Be like Madonna. She has reinvented herself a million times, but she is fearlessly still the same person on the inside.

Madonna is a branding genius.

When you’re too stuck to your name, you end up stuck in a pigeonhole too. Even if you are successful for a time, others can copy you and then your value is gone. Take another tack and you’re copied again.

The real way to succeed is to detach completely from your name. It is you, but then again, it really isn’t. It’s more like a manifestation of an identity that is part of you, and there are other parts of you it doesn’t cover.

To be good at branding today you have to manipulate the name rather than it manipulating you. What you want is to be transparent but also ultimately elusive, mysterious, unknowable except when you are ready to present yourself.

In thinking about this I have found a simple application of Kabbala/Buddhist philosophy to be helpful. In the end we are all part of the vast, unknowable universe. We are bits and pieces, but ultimately and overall connected. So the goal of being here, philosophically, is for ordinary people to make visible those connections and learn that being good to one another is the same thing as being good to ourselves.

Know who you are, be proud of your identity, but always be ready to change your manifestation as needed. Not your inner self, but your outer colors.

Your financial and physical survival may one day depend on it.

On that lovely note - good luck!


Chameleon image here.