“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

— Aristotle

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

—  Confucius

“Be happy with what you have while working for what you want.”

— Helen Keller

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

— Steve Jobs

“Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

— Henry David Thoreau

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.

— Mahatma Gandhi

“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”

— Buddha

“And Now for Something Completely Different”

— Monty Python’s Flying Circus

I just read an article, which shall go unsourced out of kindness, on how important it is today in our exploding “gig” economy to focus on packaging yourself to meet gig-market needs. My reaction was almost complete horror. It seemed to negate living and being who you really are: a person.

Even more scary is that this writer was probably expressing the focus of a majority of her friends and associates: becoming a package of marketable skills. Obsessively.

You will not be surprised to hear that there are way-too-many articles on the subject of how to package and market yourself. If you don’t do this effectively, you won’t succeed in this highly competitive world. So they say.

Do you believe this? I sure don’t, after having spent many years doing mostly my own thing – that, thankfully, just enough people seemed to value. Why the disconnect?

If you don’t market yourself, you don’t get a good job or work

If you, like me, don’t view yourself as a human package of Cheerios (General Mills), then is any of this marketing stuff of value? Might be good to take a quick look here at what a decent example of these pitches offers:

Lolly Daskal writing in Inc. magazine had some interesting ideas on marketing yourself as a product package: “7 of the Most Effective Ways to Market Yourself Successfully. Who you are is the message to the world. What message are you sending?”:

“Unless you’re in business for yourself or looking for a job, the idea of marketing yourself may not sound like anything that concerns you. But it’s a skill everyone needs to master. Understand the basics and you’ll be prepared to position yourself as an expert. Here are seven proven strategies for marketing yourself successfully and effectively:”

1. Identify your niche. What are your interests? Your talents? Your passions? Think about the ways you already bring these elements together and explore the possibilities for how you can engage them in innovation and problem solving. Focus on the uncommon things you have to offer.”

2. Seek recognition for your expertise. Showcase what you know by building a knowledge base. Grow your reputation and promote your informed opinions. The hallmark of expertise is figuring out what’s information and relevant. Develop relationships with thought leaders and media representatives in your field and your community.”

3. Share your wisdom. Write prolifically about what you know to get your name in front of people as an expert. Contribute articles and blog posts any time you have an opportunity. Make sure it’s informative, well written, timely, and valuable to readers.”

4. Build a community. Create a network of like-minded people in your field and work on connecting deeply and really getting to know one another. Genuine expertise is always drawn to other experts, and in their company you can open up a whole world of new possibilities.”

5. Be of service to others. Become a trusted advisor and do what you can to help as many people as you can. How can you use what you do to be of service? Maybe you can offer your talents to a local nonprofit or set up an internship or mentoring opportunity to help someone starting out.”

6. Be social savvy. Spend focused time on social media tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and electronic groups in your industry. Share some of your expertise for free, and you can begin building a base of fans who trust you and look to you for expert advice.”

7. Remember who you are is the message to the world. Every word you say, everything that you communicate and do, is a message to the world. Just as a good organization protects its brand, protect your reputation by being intentional about the words you speak and the actions you perform.”

This is rather inconvenient. The article claims to address marketing yourself but seems to offer instead a set of mostly sensible ideas about being yourself. I can certainly relate to the latter, while the pretty strong, underlying “marketing yourself” pitch makes me feel like, well, a box of Cheerios.

Is she marketing herself, or just being herself?
Is she marketing herself, or just being herself?

Being yourself vs. marketing yourself

Is this as important a distinction to you as it is to me? Here is my take. Being myself, whatever that may mean in practice, is where I would start. If I don’t truly know myself – warts and all, as they say (or more kindly, strengths and weaknesses) – then how can I present myself as a value of some kind to a potential employer or client?

Stated in this manner, the question becomes: what do you have or can do that is of value to some paying folks out there? Closely related is who the “some paying folks” may be, and how can you connect with them.

Good old Lolly’s “identify your niche” counsel above sounds a bit b-schoolish to me but it may actually capture a good point in two parts: (1) What is it that I am really good at; and: (2) What is it that I can demonstrate to potential paying-folks in some persuasive manner?

If you can’t do this combo, you really can’t even get started on earning a living while being yourself. My view, at least.

And don’t think of it as a “niche” since that implies, to me anyway, that you are narrowly-focused. What if you are really a great, broad-gauged, problem-solver with some powerful knowledge, experience, and skills to apply to a wide range of needs and situations. Niche not.

Who do you most enjoy working for and doing what?

Some people actually think of this as focusing on your customer (or employer, client) and this person’s real needs and interests. A customer-focus no less. Who would imagine such a thing? Amazon, perhaps?

In practice however, and especially in this post’s context, it is much more and very different from a standard customer-focus. It involves targeting not just a good customer model but also and primarily the kinds of work that you most enjoy doing. It is in effect a personal focus that targets yourself-suitable customers. A reverse of the typical customer-focus approach.

Of course, this personal focus requires that you have a pretty solid understanding of “yourself”. Do you really know who “yourself” is in terms of being able to deliver value to a paying customer (or whatever) while at the same time doing what you love?

To my mind, this “yourself” combination is fundamental, and is marketing only in the most generic, b-schoolish sense. Do you really have a clear picture of what you do best in terms of serving a customer (or whatever) effectively, in ways that you enjoy? If not, this is where you need to start. Who exactly is “yourself”?

Being able to describe in just a few words what it is that you do best and most enjoy doing seems simple enough. But it is probably far from simple for most. Why? Because few of us, myself included, have ever thought much about our “work” in this way.

In any case, the next step is figuring out who you most enjoy working for, or with, if you prefer. Have you ever thought about this? Unless you are just starting out in the cold-cruel-world, you have probably run across at least a few folks who fit this bill. Who are they, and what was it about them that made your work for/with them enjoyable, fun, challenging?

When you have answers to both of these questions, you can begin the process of identifying situations that most-closely match these criteria for being yourself, as a person. This is effectively “market” research, assuming you are okay with using the term “market” to describe who you want to work for and what you most like to do in your work.

You are not the “product” in this sense but just your own definition of what you do best (love to do, hopefully) plus who you most enjoy working for (or with). Neither is primary. It is the combo that becomes the focus of being yourself.

Have I ever done this? Nope. Why? Never occurred to me, I guess. I just followed my interests and opportunities wherever they led. Sounds more like a non-plan, doesn’t it?

Physician, heal thyself

One of the better ways to see how well some “promising” idea or approach works is to practice on oneself. Not always possible but definitely worth the effort in many cases. A personal example of trying to define “myself”:

  • What do I most like doing? This seems easy: problem-solving, coaching, group process facilitation, sounding board, idea development (jointly with others), implementation planning – and especially learning. Each of these typically generates great variety in situation and goals. Variety I really like.
  • Who do I most like working with? Another easy one: Creative, innovative (you know these are different, yes?) people. People who are very good at what they do. People who are open to new ideas. People who know how to put ideas into actions.

Did this implicit myself-combo definition work for me? Pretty much, although most of my work (and even jobs) came through contacts – so many really wonderful people – and a few out-of-the-blue opportunities.

Most of what folks would call “marketing” that I did was mainly in testing of some ideas that popped up. Not much work from these efforts but many good contacts developed.

Do I have a marketable skills package? Really no idea, but probably not so much. I was too busy being myself, aka a person.

Gut tells me that this guy would be good to work with
Gut tells me that this guy would be good to work with

The downsides of being yourself

I have had a great deal of practice on this one. One might even say that I am an expert, based on firsthand experience. Being yourself, in retrospect, seems to involve a whole lot of learning. Mostly the hard way, so I have learned (mostly the hard way).

Getting work by being yourself is generally hard for all but the very best or luckiest. Especially if you don’t go at it continuously, enthusiastically, and energetically. Oddly enough, I have never really thought much about this. Too busy being myself, whatever that may be.

After some thought, my list of downsides is very short: You have to be comfortable with a highly variable income flow. There are some very good times and some very serious droughts. That means making sure you build a substantial drought cushion. You probably also have to be okay with uncertainty. Not everybody fits into this situation. Luck also helps a lot.

You have to be good at, and persistent at, keeping your contacts list fresh and growing. Most of my work – jobs as well as clients – has come along through contacts and connections. Referrals, mostly.

Marketing while being yourself

If a good deal of the foregoing sounds to you pretty much like standard marketing stuff, then I have not made my underlying point very well. Another try:

Rather than packaging yourself to target a specific market – which definitely is marketing in the b-school sense, being yourself is identifying a “market” or types of paying customers (or whatever) based on what you most like to do and who you most like to work with. Kind of creating a “market” definition to serve your primary needs and interests – yourself – rather than the reverse. Did this just muddy the water further? Hope not.

In any case, you will not be at all surprised to hear that “marketing and sales activities” of some kind are actually necessary to find enough paying work to live on. Standing on a busy street corner with a big signboard probably won’t work too well, although I haven’t tried it. Despite our intentions to be ourselves, we do actually have to “market” ourselves in some way.

Probably good to emphasize once again that it is the market that gets tailored to yourself-as-a-person through such marketing activities, not you-the-skills-package that gets tailored to some area of market needs you have targeted.

The heart of yourself-marketing-sales-activities in my mind is simply to communicate. Constantly. Not in a sales or marketing mode but mostly to connect, share ideas, and learn about another person (or organization). The person may not even be a potential source of work but may instead be a potentially good contact for referrals. And you often learn something of value, unexpectedly.

This is very different from doing a standup pitch or sales presentation as “communication”. In these yourself-interactions (“interactions” is a much better term than “communications” here), you may often talk very little but instead do a lot of listening. Some of “my” best ideas came from listening to others. Are you an effective listener? Vital talent in so many cases.

What about those who are shy or introverted?

I’m pretty sure that you know at least a few such folks. They don’t much enjoy “communicating” but are often very good at whatever it is that they do technically. In my engineering experience, it was a truism that companies always seemed to promote their best technical people into managerial positions. Result: great engineer becomes lousy manager. A double loss for the business. I recall that major engineer-builder Bechtel Corp. (San Francisco) tackled this by establishing two parallel career paths – technical and management. You could earn pretty much the same on either path.

The rocky road to earning a living while loving what you do

Let me not understate the rigors of this “yourself” approach to earning a living. It is not passive, in the sense of waiting patiently to see what comes along, but is very active – in building a large contact network among people you enjoy being with and interacting with. Contacts are the best work sources for most of us “yourself’s” out there.

I think also that you have to be a people-person – fundamentally – rather than primarily a strong technical resource. Are you a people-person down deep, or mainly a strong tech? Very important part of knowing yourself.

My coaching advice to the strong-tech types would generally be to find yourself a good employer where tech strengths alone can lead to very good outcomes. Organizations have much greater flexibility in accommodating a wide variety of personalities and skill sets.

Or so I fantasize.

Probably just landed her first “yourself” client or contract, yes? Hope so.
Probably just landed her first “yourself” client or contract, yes? Hope so.

Bottom line:

The gig economy has many people scrambling for work, even 24/7. Obsessively focused on matching whatever they can do with what their gig or side-hustle market wants. This trend may be changing many gig workers and freelancers into packages of gig-market skills. But what if you just want to be a person who loves what they do best and wants to earn a living doing it, regardless of gig, self-employed, or freelance market demands? This is certainly possible but it requires are very different approach from the standard “marketing oneself” nostrums.

“Throughout your career, marketing yourself as a professional is vital. Landing your dream job in this day and age is difficult – the job market becomes seemingly more and more competitive with each passing day. Therefore, marketing yourself as a professional and giving yourself a career brand is important for a number of reasons. The primary reason is, of course, to stand out to potential employers.”

“Marketing yourself as a professional demands a lot of self-exploration, which plays a huge part in helping you to narrow down your job search to ensure that you make the best career choices tailored to you. After all, you need to be able to understand what you are selling in order to market yourself successfully.”

“Once you grasp a better understanding of your talents, skills and experiences, you’ll find it much easier to compete in today’s job market – not to mention feel much more confident doing so. You’ll find it much easier to sell yourself in job interviews, as well as network with other industry professionals.”

“So how exactly can you effectively market yourself as a professional, to stand out in an increasingly competitive job market? Here are a few easy steps to help you get on the right track.”

Know Yourself. As a professional, it’s absolutely essential to be aware of your own key strengths and weaknesses. Otherwise, how can you expect to sell yourself to a potential employer? Where do you even begin?”

“Take a look at your past experiences to figure out where exactly your talents, skills and capabilities lie. Once you’ve identified your skillset, look at how it can relate to the career path you’re hoping to follow. This is the first essential step towards effectively selling yourself as the perfect candidate.”

“For the freelancer, self-marketing is the number one tool for finding work, gaining clients, and making the profits necessary to maintain a livelihood. And with more and more people turning to freelance work as their primary means of income, the freelance world has become more competitive than ever before, emphasizing the importance of self-marketing.”

“Knowing how to market yourself online as a freelancer does more than just put your name out there, though; as the majority of companies and people search online for a freelancer for everything from content creation to graphic design and more, making sure that you’re easily findable through the Internet is essential for success. Online marketing – as opposed to non-virtual marketing methods of old – is the most effective marketing means given today’s high levels of digitalization and technological-obsession. Plus, online marketing is much easier to measure and optimize than is offline marketing. Outbound marketing, for example, is very difficult to gather data and analytics on, whereas inbound marketing (which is done online), allows for easy metrics measuring so that you can make changes to your self-marketing strategy as necessary.”

Use Social Media to Connect. Social media is a blessing to businesses and freelancers when it comes to marketing, as social media provides people with the ability to connect with thousands of others at absolutely no cost whatsoever. As a freelancer, you absolutely need to be taking advantage of the benefits that social media provides you. Social media sites that you need to be on are YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr are all advised, but not quite as pertinent to your self-marketing approach. Use the former three to post a quick video about your skills and talents, advertise yourself using paid advertising, and connect with other users who will spread the word about the services that you have to offer. When using social media for marketing purposes, though, be careful of what you post. All content should always remain professional, and you should consider establishing a secondary business page in addition to your own personal page if necessary.”

“You don’t need a complicated marketing plan, selfie strategy, or growth hack to market yourself. If you want people to care about you and your work, double down on its quality, your commitment to those who consume it, and your willingness to share your expertise with the world. Here are seven simple ways to do that…”

1. Make things and put them into the world. Your work is your greatest marketing tool. People may ignore what you say, but they’ll pay attention to what you do. The more you make, the higher its quality, and the more willing you are to share it with the world, the more people will discover and spread the word about you.”

2. Help people. Be known for being generous. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will get you noticed by the people you help and the people they know. Selfish doesn’t spread.”

Doing what you love to do isn’t work
Doing what you love to do isn’t work