How I Built A Reputation Just By Being Myself
I've had an interesting year, and that's putting it lightly.
On October 31st of 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 2.5 (yes, 2.5 isn't a thing, but it's worse than 2 and better than 3 so that's what they called it) esophageal cancer. On December 4th, I started chemo and radiation. Weekly chemo treatments and daily (5 day a week) radiation treatments followed until January 11th, when I then had to go on four days of injections to get my white blood cell count back up. I worked that entire time, and started growing my side business.
When that was done, I had a six week layoff until, on March 1st, I had my esophagus removed. I came home from the hospital ten days later barely able to walk, coughing my brains out, unable to eat, in incredible pain, and ready to quit life. I couldn't walk from my bedroom to the shower without getting out of breath and, for two months, I essentially became one with my couch.
I tried going back to work the first week of April but it was way too early. I just wasn't ready and I was in so much pain I could barely tolerate it. I longed to navigate the stairs, go down to my shop and make cool stuff again. I was dying to get back to making. I wanted to be "myself" even though I felt like half of the person I once was.
Then around the third week of April, something crazy happened. I started feeling better. I went down to my shop and made some book things for a couple of clients. I was getting back to myself. I made it my business to share my story over and over to anyone who would listen because I felt like if I could do it, anyone could do it. On the first week of May, I went back to work. Regular schedule, as if nothing had happened at all and in June I started chemo all over again to get the rest of what was left after the surgery out. I also kicked my side business into overdrive and started pushing harder than ever, and even started a new podcast to increase exposure and influence in my space.
A few days ago, I started the Couch to 5k running plan, and in April I will be running my first 5k if, as I keep joking, they have to drag me across the finish line on my back.
Now, nearing the end of August, I'm standing here looking back on what has been the wildest year of my life and thinking "holy crap, has this really happened?"
Yes. It has.
And people have noticed because I'm not shy about sharing the ups and downs. The good and bad are equally put out there. When I feel terrible, I don't hide it. When I feel great, I don't hide it. The wins, the losses, the warts and the smiles. What you see is me and it's all I know how to be.
I've always been open with my life. I've written about it, photographed it, video'ed it, and podcasted about it. I know it's not for everyone, but I always felt like if I could make one connection with one person, then I've done good in the world. Well that's where the real meat of this post comes from.
I've never thought of myself as an "inspiration." That's a heavy word with a lot of responsibility. When you inspire others, you've set a bar for yourself to be a model for them in some capacity, but the crazy thing is, I didn't do this by elevating myself or doing anything that didn't come naturally for me. I became an inspiration to people just be being myself and doing what I needed to do to not die.
Think about that, for a second.
People are calling me an inspiration for doing something natural to me: not quitting.
It would have been easy to give up at any point in the last year. No one would look at me differently, I don't think. Hell, chemo and radiation alone put most people on their ass. The surgery? Some people take a year to get better. Right now, as I write this, the chemo is absolutely kicking my ass and making me sick. What am I doing about it? Nothing. I'm dealing. Because I'm not going to give in to it. I don't give a damn what it takes I'm gonna claw, fight back, stand up, stick my chin out and beg the chemo to take another shot.
I've cried. I've felt terrible. I've had my "woe is me" and my "why me" moments and you know what? I let them happen, and then I move on because that doesn't make me better. That's an excuse to stop, and I don't stop.
A lot of branding experts will tell you there's a persona you need to create when you're trying to establish influence and become a person of relevance in your industry, and they're right, but what often gets missed by the Gary Vaynerchuks and others is that the persona you present doesn't have to be fabricated. It can be you, and the more that persona is you the more it'll resonate with people. I didn't create the profile of a cancer fighter with a smile on my face taking my lumps and pushing on. I just did it. It wasn't profile building or character development, it was me going out into the world and living a philosophy that says "I will not die this way."
I'm going to run that 5k in April. I'm going to survive chemo, cancer, surgery, and all that life has thrown at me. I'm going to have a successful side business that I hope will one day be my ONLY business. I'm going to win because that's what winners do; we win.
I'm not a winner because I play one on TV. I'm a winner because I go out every day and I seek the wins and I seize them. I take them and make them mine. Then I celebrate them, enjoy them, savor them, and you know what I do next? I move on to the next thing.
Stop trying to build your brand, and be your brand. It's much more impressive when people watch you living out a genuine, truthful, and authentic execution of your principles than any amount of polished character building you can do. Make winning your brand, then live it.