Branding U: Find your wider base

The "brand of you" is over. Not that you've done a bad job of defining yourself. (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 Even if you've done a great job of defining yourself, the idea that everything is about you is outdated.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. During the roaring '90s, (which is the term I will use when I explain to my kids why we have a $15,000 stereo in our penny-pinching household) 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 leaped upwards. Money and offers to work on exciting projects abounded.

During most of that decade, room existed in the economy for those who constantly asked, "How does this project affect me? How does this meeting help 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

 Absent an economy that grows faster than the speed of light, you cannot get to the top alone. You will have a long, hard climb, and you'll need someone to take you under wing. Good mentors are attracted to the idea of helping a whole person, not a self-created brand. Sure, it's exciting to lunch with an "insightful consumer-products marketer" or "creative technology dealmaker," but a whole person must stand behind that brand moniker. 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

In the late '90s, a division of Philips had a product development brainstorming session where each person wrote on a nametag who their customer was. More than one person in the room wrote "My Ass." Philips didn't do much to change the fact that the room was full of people focusing on themselves, and today, Philips Media is dead.

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

During the roaring '90s, you could jump from job to job without help from anyone else. Now, you need staying power since you're going to be at the company a while. 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 stupid 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. But I'm saying that we're past the '90s and the next decade will be about balance. Balancing work life and personal life, yes. But also balancing loyalty to your career and loyalty to your co-workers. Crafting a solid image of yourself and leaving a soft spot for people to really connect with you. This balancing act will replace the act that is the brand of you. The decade after the '90s should not be about recovery. It should be about community. And that's a context where we can all succeed, just on new terms.