be the guide we need: on branding yourself authentically

tulips i bought for myself that became breathtaking beautiful

tulips i bought for myself that became breathtaking beautiful

which journeys are you on?
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which journeys can you guide us with?

Recently I spoke to a new friend, Zeynep, who’s embarking on a journey as a mindfulness teacher, and I said to her: you know, there are so many mindfulness teachers out there, but I could really see the niche that you’d fill, at least for me in my life.

I need someone to guide me on my inner work with my mind — not a spiritually cleansed, distant monk, nor a tattooed, juice-cleansed urban yogi, but someone I can fully relate to with my heart.

Someone who feels grounded, nurturing, relatable, authentic, who connects mindfulness and integrates it with day to day living. Where mindfulness doesn’t feel like the byproduct of an expensive trend, nor does it feel like I have to read a bunch of Buddhist texts (or attend a ten day silent retreat) in order to get the full experience. Not an ex-monk in his fifties, but an older sister figure giving me actionable - simple yet deep - suggestions, everyday, on how to live more mindfully.

Thank you for sharing your need with me, she said. I actually need someone like that too, in my life.

Our conversation fermented in my mind the rest of the week, and I started sprouting revelations on the nature of carving a niche, serving our audience authentically, and building a “brand” for oneself.

Here it is:

What we really want is a guide

Yes, we all love teachers and experts with decades of experience and expertise — especially in more traditional fields that demand mastery. But when venturing on journeys that are more wildly individualistic, sometimes what we want more deeply than a “teacher” is a relatable guide:

Someone who feels authentic because they’re honest. Relatable because they show us that they understand us; they’re not too different from us. Someone who’s been all the way down the road on the very journey we wish to take, who mirrors some parts of ourselves that we yearn to grow. They inspire us — because through their journey, we see our own potential, our own freedom. They are who we could become. And they can show us how to get there.

What are your different journeys?

I articulated above what I needed on my journey of mindfulness. But, we’re all on so many different journeys — all at once. Each journey is like a thread that intertwines with other journeys. We’re constantly seeking compasses and guides for our journeys in the form of knowledge, advice, and maybe most of all, inspiration. Let me list a few that come to mind for me.

my journeys of...

building a business, building a writing career, managing my finances, healthy living, self-discovery & self love, psychotherapy, dancing tango, caring for my body, caring for my spirit, spirituality, navigating relationships, sexuality, physical fitness, traveling, reconciling my female Chinese-American identity, etc etc.

You see what I mean? The list could go on. A journey is any adventure of discovery, where there is no clear cut path, nor standard metric of success. It’s deeply personal, and that’s the beauty of it.

To “brand” yourself is to claim your role as a guide

Ultimately, this is another lens on personal branding — how to build a niche for yourself as an entrepreneur, an artist, a community organizer, or a creator of any shape or form.

We don’t make things in a vacuum; the clearer idea we have of who we’re wishing to serve and why, the more likely it is that our messages will resonate, and reflect back at us. This is how we build community around our work — community defined simply as people on similar journeys, supporting and helping each other.

Be what you need: your own guide

After I spoke with my friend about what I needed in a mindfulness teacher, I thought to myself:

Well, what do I need from myself? Who have I needed to show up for me in the world? Which journeys am I most empowered to be a guide?

The truth is, we already are our own guides. If we’ve been way-finding for a long time (or even a short while), we’ve learned things along the journey that are precious and helpful for others. Our task, then, is to get really specific about which journeys form the basis for our work, and what kind of guide we want to be — for ourselves, first and foremost, then for others.

My journey is an intertwined journey of art and self-intimacy; a journey about art as transformation and introspection: a way of seeing ourselves and the world. My guide is a goddess warrior spirit — gentle yet relentless, soft yet powerful, a fearless leader with poetic potency; open, generous, and absorptive, an unconventional thinker, an intellectual and artist in every sense of the word. That's who I aspire to be everyday, who I want to show up for me - and my community.

What about yours?

  • What are your different journeys?

  • Which ones lie at the center of the work you do?

  • Who or what do you need most on that journey?

  • How would they speak? What would they sound like?

  • How can you embody that presence for yourself, and for the people you’re speaking to?

I’m curious to hear what you come up with. Write me and let me know.


Did you enjoy this? You might also like my post on branding for creatives, or the difference between creatives and creative professionals. You can also sign up for intimate weekly letters from me here.

I’m an artist and writer dedicated to making beautiful things, spinning poetic essays about love, tango, and homesickness, and sharing wild ideas about art as a source of transformation in our lives.