Answering these questions will help you come back to yourself so you can finally move forward.
Over the summer I had the privilege of spending a week in Atlanta, the city where I started my professional life. I thought about all the jobs I held there in my 20’s: stints in fashion and music, and promotion director posts at a pop radio station, alternative newspaper and finally at TNT, where I made a name for myself in the cable television industry.
Because my visit to Atlanta fell on the eve of my company’s 21st birthday, this trip down memory lane took on a profound significance. I tried to recall what attracted me to the South and specifically, to Atlanta. What was it about working in fashion, music and TV that got me out of bed in the morning? Who was I then? What were my dreams? What defined success for me?
I held these questions in my mind as I walked the tony neighborhood of Brookhaven– inhaling the smell of fresh cut grass and noticing how each person I passed waved hello. Over two decades later, I still admired the stately architecture, the incredible food, the warm, sunny landscape, and how folks down here just seem to know how to let loose and have a good time.
I was coming back to a part of me I had somehow lost.
Looking back is a critical way to move forward. Evolving your brand requires going back to the beginning—looking at your motivations and intentions—keeping what works—letting go of what doesn’t. Of course, some things are best left in the rearview mirror, but to get unstuck, we have to rediscover our strengths and passions and build on them.
Without the courage to say “No” or prioritize what’s truly important, you will go down the rabbit hole.
When inspiration is lacking, ask yourself these five questions. I’ve found that if you answer quickly and honestly, you will get back to the innocence of your endeavor and point your company and your career in a fresh new direction.
1. Why did I/we get into this business? What was the attraction?
2. Who are we serving? Do they still need what we offer?
3. What is my/our true purpose? Does it resonate now?
4. Where do I/we want to go? Is it inspiring?
5. Will the story I am/we are telling take us there?
Stepping back from day-to-day tasks, competing interests and our own need to please and placate, can help us to come around to the essence of who we are and the work we need to do to fulfill our potential.
In 2011, Oprah ended her trademark 15 year-old Book Club. Though she claimed it was to focus on building other aspects of her empire, there is no doubt that the controversies sparked by her selections left her feeling dispirited and alienated from one of the cornerstones of her brand.
The same summer I stood in Atlanta, reliving my past and pondering its role in my future, Oprah re-launched her book club. Version 2.0 not only exposed her audience to thrilling literature and the joys of dissection, discussion and dissent—it also reconfigured the concept to involve readers via social media platforms. Oprah rekindled one of her great loves—reading—and re-branded it for a new age and a new generation of readers.
In business, the story is the same: Apple just debuted a line of brightly-colored iPhones, reminiscent of those clamshell iBooks that attracted millions of consumers in the early aughts; whether its slogan is “Generation Next,” “For Those Who Think Young,” or “Live for Now,” Pepsi always returns to its tried-and-true ad campaign featuring pop stars at the top of their game—from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears to Beyoncé.
What theme can you bring forward that’s been buried? What passion can you rekindle in a fresh way? What do you need to let go of to get back to the real you? If you listen to your gut, you’ll always come back to the fundamentals of what makes your personal brand and business thrive.
Rather than climb the rungs of some elusive ladder, I have been moving in an upward spiral my entire professional life—coming back to the people, places and ideas that spark my passion. It’s the circle, rather than a straight line that moves us forward. I hope I’ll keep seeing you on my way back around.
When your business or career gets off track and everything becomes maddening or mundane, stop and take inventory.