Not about you: Figure out how to create community
The "brand of you" is over. Not that you've done a bad job of figuring out what you are. (You might have, but that's not the point.) Even if you've done a great job of defining yourself, the idea that everything is about you is outdated.
There was a time when, in fact, everything could be about you. Before the recent “downturn,” many people did very well thinking only about themselves.
There were so many jobs available and so few people brave enough to assert that they knew what they were doing that those who aggressively defined themselves as experts and demanded to be treated as such made huge leaps. Money and offers to work on exciting projects abounded.
In those good old days, room existed in the economy for people who asked, "How does this project or meeting affect me?" Alas, that economy is long gone, replaced by a jobless economic recovery and a demographic nightmare: Baby Boomers with insufficient savings to retire, Gen Xers with resumes crammed with busted Internet dreams, and a Generation Y army near college graduation and ready to do your job at half your salary.
However you define yourself, you don't have the luxury of thinking the world revolves around you. Instead, as you downplay “brand-of-you” thinking, consider these tactics for career success:
Show a bigger-than-brand self
You can’t get to the top alone. You’re going to have a long hard climb, and you need someone to take you under his wing. Good mentors are attracted to the idea of helping a whole person, not a self-created brand. Mentors need to feel as though they're making a difference in someone's career and life, so plan to show a significant part of you, not the brand of you.
Aspire to top-notch customer service
New technology allows us to serve and be served in a way that was unheard of 15 years ago. Successful companies nowadays are obsessed with customer service, and you must be, too. This means you must be flexible, insightful, and outwardly oriented. In other words, stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about your customer. That's the best way to get ahead right now.
Be loyal to a base wider than yourself
In the old days, say 25 years ago, you could jump from job to job without help from anyone. Now you need staying power. The easiest way to stay a while is to make sure you feel connected to the people you work with.
So make some friends. And even when you can't be friends, be nice. Work late on your boss's pet project without complaining. Give a sympathetic ear to an annoying co-worker. Mentor someone who you think is hopeless. Respect the fact that each person in this world has something to offer; you just never know when it will reveal itself.
Strike a balance
I'm not saying we should go back to the 1950s where men looked at their company as their father and their wife as their maid. Today’s workplace is about balance. Balancing work life and personal life, yes, but also balancing loyalty to your career and loyalty to your co-workers. Craft a solid image of yourself and leave a soft spot for people to really connect with you. This balancing act will replace the act that is the brand of you. This work environment should not be about recovery. It should be about community. And that's a context where we can all succeed– just on new terms.
Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column several years ago, but now she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new columns.