By Alexandros Chronides, APC Sports
I’ll have to admit it from the start, the title of this article is misleading. Most personal branding advice for both athletes and non-athletes revolve around the title of this article. They call on athletes to shape their future around their brand, which raises two problems for the athletes who decide to follow such advice. The first one is finding out what their brand, currently, is. Apart from very difficult, this is already problematic enough as it is based on current conceptions of the athlete, which means that it is based on events that happened before the athlete began planning for their personal brand and making branding decisions.
The second, even more problematic, and highly related issue is that at least the athlete’s current brand image, is based and formed solely on people’s and the media’s conception of him. It is, in other words, out of the athlete’s current control, almost by definition. These two issues then beg the question, why on earth would an athlete choose to build their future ‘around’ something which lies so outside of their personal conscious control? Sure, the athlete’s past actions must have contributed to their current brand image, but these actions, at the very least, occurred before the athlete ever decided to consider planning ahead, and building/expanding their brand. Therefore, why would an athlete build their future around something which they had no conscious control over and others had so much power in shaping and forming? Why would they hand over such power not only of their present, but of their future life choices to other people, including their non-planning, possibly less wise former self?
The answer is that the athlete should not do that. They should not build their future around their current personal brand. In fact, they should do the exact opposite.
Empowerment is a much-used word in today’s world, and very often we hear about athlete empowerment as a top priority of any stakeholder in the global sports industry. Well, empowerment is not an easy concept, and certainly not as easily achieved as said / mentioned.
That’s what the complete reversal of the title of this article, as planning advice entails. Athlete empowerment. The athlete should not build their future around the current perceptions of any one around them. The same goes for any human being, but we will keep it focused on the sports industry. Athletes, because human, have a great capacity to change. Change can occur due to personal experiences, active personal effort and large, even meteoric or traumatic events out of our control. Change can also be good or bad, depending on the nature of the abovementioned causes of change. Therefore, if the athlete builds their future around their current personal brand, they not only limit their personal capacities for change, to their present image, they limit their whole future path to a ridiculously rigid extent!
Rigidity is the natural enemy of adaptation, because it is the opposite of flexibility. You have surely heard of the famous saying: Adapt or Die. Both evolutionary biology and psychology teach us that this saying is almost a natural law, kind of like gravity, but for animal nature, of which humans are a sub-category. The ability of humans to adapt their behavior in order to fit their life circumstances is precisely why humans have survived for such a long time on this planet, and precisely the reason we have thrived as a species! Therefore, if you decide to follow advice and build your future around your current brand, you not only limit and disempower yourself to make choices as you see fit, you also limit yourself and your brand into a rigid framework where the capacity for change and adaptation is very very limited, and could eventually lead to you, or your brand image ‘not surviving’ after an outside event, or personal mistake /choice, requires a departure from the brand you currently have.
Your future, therefore, should not be built around your personal brand. Your personal brand should be built around your future.
But how do you ‘build around your future’? The future doesn’t exist! How can you build around something that doesn’t exist? Any building, surely requires a strong foundation, or at least an existent one.
This is where empowerment comes in. You get to decide what future you want to have. What do you want your future self to be? How do you want it to act? What do you want it to be able to wear? Eat? Promote? Express? The choice is yours. Once you have a rough idea about the above, then you can start building your brand around these future choices. For example, if you want your future self to be able to eat whatever they want at the age of 60, then you probably should not build your brand around the “very model of physical fitness” image that a lot of athletes have chosen, because you would have to maintain a strict diet and exercise routine well into ‘retirement’, like Arnold Schwarzenegger does.
A lot more can be said, and many more examples can be given, but the main lesson of this article has been delivered:
Don’t build your future around your brand. Build your brand around your future.
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