It’s so easy to Flock …

Similarly to the post on The Pursuit of Happiness where I address how happiness is a choice, this post looks at how being different is a gift.

You’ve probably heard this is number of times, “Stand out. Don’t conform. Be original” And you’ve probably appreciated what it means, but have you really thought about it. To flock is to fit into the crowd, to follow standards and simply, not be different. Now, let’s unpack this concept of “being different”.

Your life’s path, though perhaps not how you planned it, is different from that of your peers. Your dreams are different, your desires are different and your journey is different, because of your choices or because of measures beyond your control. Why then do we conform to what others deem the normal life choices. That you need to be married at a certain age, bear children at a certain age, have career goals or have achieved academic or career objectives/ positions by a certain age? Why do we feel inadequate if we do not drive a fancy (ridiculously priced car) by a certain age or have fancy homes because our peers do? This is flocking… to fit into the cookie cutter life mold that has been deemed ‘normal’ by societal standards.

What does not conforming mean? It’s not just about your personality traits, its also about your ‘life traits’. While a trait, as defined by google, is “a distinguishing quality or characteristic, typically one belonging to a person, here we can see a life trait as “a journey descriptor belonging to a person”. So while you have characteristics which combined makes up who you are, so too is your life unique, made up from choices and for lack of better wording, luck.  More individuals are defining their own life standards. Indivuals are deciding to get married later, to wait to have kids, to travel more, to focus their careers. They are redefining standards, but as more and more people shift and thus adjust to these standards, they merely normalize these as new standards. While people then still consciously decide to select these life choices one should not feel pressure to select it. Basically, decide for yourself what path is right for you. Do not follow a life path because society deems it as normal or right … only you can define what is right for you.

I refer to my parents as an example. Both got married after the age of 30, in fact my mum had no intention of getting married, both traveled first before settling down and my mum is 3 years older than my dad. Now while this is all the norm now a days, I am talking 35 years ago. Back in the day this was not the norm and especially not in an Indian community. Nope, not in the least. If you were 25 and not married, you were past your sell by date or what they termed in the old days, ‘left on the shelf’. While I think that my mom was pretty brave and a trend setter, her life choices which was seen as not normal back then, is kinda a way of life today.

And thus, do not flock by needing to achieve career objectives according to societal standards. Careers that bring money or social status too shift with time. A few decades ago being a doctor, lawyer or teacher was the height of career success (at least according to a South African Indian family’s standards). While those careers are still commendable career choices, today I would be more financially rewarded if I were a qualified plumber or electrician than if I were a teacher. And in just a few more years financial and social standards of succeeds will shift too, as new career developments become front runners for career goals. Thus, set your own career goals according to your passions and your own objectives and not society’s, as you will be the one having to work that job in the field you choose.

Do not flock by needing to conform to romantic ideals; do not settle just because society thinks you’re reaching your sell by date. Do not flock by needing to fit into life moulds; just as you are unique, your life path is unique too. Do not feel the need to set your objectives based on the comparatives of others in your social circle. Once you make peace with who you are and what you want out of life, is when you will be happy. Only YOU know what you want out of life. You need to look into yourself and decide on the career path that YOU want and the life path that YOU want. Look for what will make YOU happy, not everyone else.

 

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

I doubt there is anyone who does not really desire to be happy. Ever since I can remember my mom has said to me, “I can live in a tin shanty, survive on buttered bread and tea but as long as I am happy, that’s all I need.” I guess happiness means different things to different people :). But I also think that the concept of what makes us happy changes too. I’ve also just prayed for happiness, that is my ultimate desire. But what is ‘happiness’ exactly?

In the pyramid structure of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he identifies an individual’s needs as “physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualisation’. The attainment of these supposedly makes one happy. Does it though? As I started writing this article I did a little research around the hierarchy of needs. Funnily enough came across articles with the same title, ‘The pursuit of happiness’, linking to Maslow’s theory. While Maslow did say that obtaining one need is not depended on fulfilling another first, does obtaining any of these lead to happiness? I do believe that we can be happy when we achieve these needs because I have yet to meet a happy starving person. Just really ‘hangry’ ones. I’m sure you have also heard someone say, “Dude, you just need to get some!”. This implies that one will be much happier once they’ve been sexually intimate. These are trivial examples but I do believe that the lack of love and sense of belonging is one of the reasons for breakdowns in society. Maslow is right in saying that these are elements that we need as human beings but is unlocking every element in the pyramid the ultimate secret to happiness or is happiness fleeting.

Is it in our human nature to keep setting happiness-goals once we have obtained the desired happiness that we initially wanted?  We always say, ‘when I get my next job’, ‘when I get married’, ‘when I have kids’. Yet when we get to that ‘when’, we still are not entirely happy. That is human nature I guess. In this time of excessiveness and societal pressure, we are constantly striving to get more and to be more. This means that we are never satisfied when we reach that goal, we just set a new one. Thus, this “happiness becomes elusive.

So then, how do we obtain happiness? The answer is simple yet so profound. My college pointed this out to me recently and it’s the simplest thing, happiness is a choice. I have heard that a number of times but when she explained it to me, it made so much of sense. ‘Happiness is a choice’, because YOU choose whether or not to be happy. So I tried it. I had an argument with my husband and we were both upset, but then I chose to be happy. I didn’t sulk and bang and fling things (although he was a pretty tempting target), instead I started singing and was rather chirpy and soon we were having a normal evening.

Look this is not always possible in every situation, but in those that you can choose to be happy, choose happiness. Sometimes our hormones and emotions get the better of us. But take some time out to deal with the feelings and then choose. Do not dwell on the situation, because it will take over your mood. This attitude will make for a happier you and in turn a happy household. In the words of  Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy”.

Seeking Likes

The time is 10:10am, I select the picture I want to upload to Facebook.    ‘Ahh, I think my family looks so cute in this picture but let me just edit it a bit’. I choose a filter; #swipeleft, again …. again. ‘Ok, let’s stick to the original, may be I’ll just add a light effect’. Perfect! Save.                                         *It’s now 10:30am, aaaand, Post!                                                                              *10:31am, hit refresh. No likes. Ok, let’s do some work.                                 *10:35am, hit refresh. 1 like. Work, work, work.                                              *10:45, refresh. 5 likes.                                                                                                    OMW! Katy uploaded a picture of her toes 5 minutes ago and she already has 103 likes. FML! I am so unpopular!

What is it about the world of social media that can make an adult feel like Carrie at her prom? We’re constantly seeking the approval of others. The more likes I have, the more popular I am. The more likes I have, does it relay to the more liked I am? Surely so? Why else would I get the amount of likes I did? Maybe I am not such a nice person? Maybe I don’t have as many friends as I thought I did?

We need to evaluate things properly and not emotionally. Just because Alex has 2000 friends on social media, doesn’t mean he has 2000 friends in real life. Hey, for all we know, Alex could be a recluse whose only access to the world is through a social media window. The point is that because someone is popular on social media, does not make them more popular in the real world than you. It does not make them more liked or a better person than you. In fact Facebook algorithms are more the reason that Alex gets more likes than you, other than the fact that Alex is more popular than you 🙂

But in actual fact, there is a reason that we crave getting likes. I told a friend that I didn’t like posting pictures on Facebook because I didn’t get as many likes compared to my other peers. I felt so unloved. He laughed and didn’t get it. Of course it didn’t help that he was Mr. Popular. But there actually is much research out there on the impact of social media on ones self esteem and mental health.  Getting likes on social media triggers areas in the brain and releases chemicals that makes you feel good. “The same brain circuits that are activated by eating chocolate and winning money are activated when teenagers see large numbers of “likes” on their own photos or the photos of peers in a social network, according to findings from a new study in which researchers scanned teens’ brains while they used social media.” https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/social-media-likes-impact-teens-brains-and-behavior.html#.WT2umOuGPIU

The more likes we get, the better we feel about ourselves. And if you get more likes than a friend who is on the same social level as you, then you feel almost like you’ve accomplished something, it is pretty rewarding. Similarly, while getting likes can boost your esteem, not getting likes can lessen your self-esteem. But sometimes the likes are not even attained through whether people actually like your picture/status or not. What I found more interesting was that In deciding whether to click that they liked a photo, the teenagers were highly influenced by the number of likes the photo had. When they saw a photo with more likes, they were significantly more likely to like it themselves. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/social-media-likes-impact-teens-brains-and-behavior.html#.WT2umOuGPIU.   Those tricky algorithms again.

These studies may have been conducted on teenagers but I know that it filters through the age groups. The thing that we need to remember is that you should not measure your value on the number of likes you get. Sometimes your Facebook ‘friends’ would not even so much as greet you in real life. I have avoided in public, like literally avoided, people I have as a friend on Facebook. People will comment on your personal pictures like they’re your bestie, yet they won’t even say 2 words to you if they had to spot you in public. The same way people can be social media trolls is the same way that people are friendly to you in a social media space. We feel safe behind a screen.

The point is that, while the world of social media may have redefined what the concept of being ‘liked’ is, just because one has more likes it does not necessarily mean that they are more liked. Do not define your value on the number of likes you get. Do not measure your worth by comparing yourself with the likes that others get. You, are not your number of likes!

The Kardashian Effect

I have never been a fan of the Kardashians! There, I’ve said it! I could never fathom how a bunch of people could become famous and make millions off basically being vain. Why are superficial individuals like Kim and Kylie (Jenner) the center of attention while warriors like Malala get 15 seconds of fame? What have these individuals done for the world that they are constantly portrayed in the media?

On the flip-side, why would people stay glued to the TV watching people simply being dramatic, spoilt adults. My sister-in-law and even my mum-in-law would watch the show and involve me in conversation like I knew what was happening. I then asked why they would watch such mindless shows as those and they would respond, “Because it’s nice to see these people live the lives that we cannot”. And finally, it all made sense. We watch reality TV to escape, to dream and yes, to just be mindless. There is so much negativity going on in the world and so much that is expected of us that sometimes it’s nice to just dumb down (and there is no better dumbing down than watching reality shows). We know that we can never be the Kardashians (and most morally respectable people would not want to aspire to be them) but I get why people watch the show. You see people live in luxury and having nice things, it kinda is inspirational.

But knowing that these people do not have anything ‘real’ to offer, why does the media continuously focus on these people? I get the whole thing that it’s supply and demand and that the public want to know about them and this is why they sell. It’s all about money at the end, the press need to make money and selling mindless media makes money, it’s like the fast food of the food industry; cheap and unhealthy but satisfying and addictive. Do these people have to dominate media so much? Surely we could shift the focus from the meaningless to more affluent people making an effort to change the world. Let’s be more responsible in who we give exposure to. Let’s be more responsible in what we consume, if there is no demand there will be no supply. In the words of Eminem, “I’ve created a monster cause nobody wants to see Marshal no more, they want Shady, I’m chopped liver”. Look, the Kardashians have monopolised the media for years, they’ve become the ultimate Frankenstein creation that everyone wants to see. They are followed by millions and have influences over those said numbers.

I have accepted the Kardashian presence (and in my analysis of the whole situation have some what come to bask in the wonder of ‘how did they do it?’) but I wish they would just do more with it. The have the capability to change perception and influence so many in a positive way. Look, I have done some brief research as I was really skeptical on whether or not they think of others than themselves and I was rather surprised to see that they, especially Kim, do give back. Although, I maintain that they could be giving back way more than they do, the point is they do even though they don’t have to. I just feel that people in their capacity have some sort of social obligation to give back be it financially or positively influentially. After all, it is because of the social sphere that they are famous (or rather infamous).

The issue that I have is with the societies that stem from exposure to these Reality TV individuals like Mama June and her lifestyle choices, The Kardashians and their lives of excessiveness, Geordie Shore and their drunken, half clothed lifestyles, The Real Housewives of almost every American State and their socialitical woes . By being exposed to these shows and exposing generations following to it, we are cyclically reproducing these types of individuals. I am not saying that these people only exist because of the media, the media has just alerted us to them, they exist whether or not we see them. What I am saying is, do not place them on a pedestal and make their behavior OK. We need to be raising more responsible, free thinking, dynamic individuals and we need to expose the world to more of them. I am not saying that the world is going to change once we start to do this but if we can shape exposure, we can shape thinking and if we can shape thinking, we can shape behaviour. Perhaps a bit idealistic in my approach but hey, no change was ever made off the back-foot of negativity and pessimism.

Learn From the Lives of Babes

By the age of 21 I was an entry level celebrity; I had been on national radio and on national television (a few unplanned times). I was a songwriter who had a published song, I had traveled to 2 continents and 3 countries and I had finished my first degree.

At the age of 25 I was declared a Master (officially, not self-proclaimed), I had traveled to another continent and 2 more countries, I had worked for a Fortune 500 company and was on a You Tube video (big deal, almost everyone has been on a YouTube video, but I did for all the right reasons). These may seem like minor accomplishments when listed, but they are more than many accomplish in a life time.

I always said that I want to experience as much as I can in life, I do not want to simply live it. And without even realising it, that is exactly how I have been living. Although I have accomplished so much, people and life constantly have me questioning myself and my capabilities. But as my mother always tells me, “No one can ever take away from you what you have achieved!” And you should NEVER let them!

Also, should you have not had the opportunity to be the person you always dreamed you would, remember it’s never too late. Samuel L Jackson only became a household name after the age of 40, and he is currently one of the top earning actors. At the age of 65 Colonel Sanders started working on the world’s most famous chicken, KFC. Vera Wang first started out as a figure skater, she later tried her hand at journalism. She didn’t open her first bridal boutique until she was 40 and is now world famous for her designs. (http://motto.time.com/4274259/famous-people-later-in-life)

And if you still think that you’ve passed your sell-by date just take a cue from a baby. Every time they reach a milestone (and they reach over 100 milestones in the first year), they have reinvented themselves, become someone new. As a baby develops they learn new things about life and they keep changing to adapt. If you flashback to your life over the years you will realise how much you have changed and how different a person you have become. You have had and you still have the capability to be amazing, you just don’t see it because you’re looking forward. It’s so much easier to be brave when we look at life in retrospect because let’s face it, the future can be scary. The thought of doing something new can be daunting but you have the capability to do something new, to learn something new, to take on a challenge or even to start a new career path, you are never too old to and it’s never too late.

Another thing to learn from babies, is to never be afraid of failure. A baby fails at almost everything new that they learn, and not just once but a few times. They never master crawling, walking etc. on the first try and they never give up even though they keep failing at getting it right. If you see the world through the eyes of a baby, you will look at the world in wonder and see all the opportunity that it holds. If you think of life as an experience rather than a process you will realise that everything that has happened in your life has led you to where you are and it has all been a part of your experiential journey, for some or other reason. And if you look at life this way, you will also see how much of life you still have ahead of you to experience.

The Masters student who could not get a job …

The year was 2011 and I was a Masters graduate who was confused, torn, jobless. I had studied for 7 long years believing that the post-grad qualification was my key to a successful career. This was not the case and I was devastated.

I had studied Media, a brand new course with loads of promise, at a prestigious university. After much debate, I stayed on to do an Honours and then a Masters, convinced that I could pave the way in this developing field. During my studies I got my first job that would start my career. I was an Account Executive in a small PR and Communications company. I had an amazing client, General Mills, and what I learnt in this small agency in 10 months was equivalent to what some would learn in 2 years. Because I had studied for 19 years straight I felt I needed a break and visited the UK for 2 months. I did this however at the expense of my job.

When I returned to South Africa, I rested the weekend and the Monday after accepted a job as an Executive PA. A job I thought would be a temporary solution till I find work in my intended career field turned out to be a painful, depressive never ending stay due to the looming recession. Don’t get me wrong, the people were wonderful and so was the company that I worked for but because I was eager and ready to leave my mark in world of Marketing, I was devastated by the constant rejection and became mildly depressed by my failure.

After much debate I eventually resigned and took a job as a sales person for a bi-annual publication. Against my better judgement and for 1/5 of what I was earning, I knew I had to take a risk or be stuck in regret. I worked for 2 months and never got paid. Again, I felt like a complete failure. I was now 27 and watching all my friends progress around me, buying cars and homes, while I could not even get a job. I began to ask … “Why Me?”

I then, still feeling like I had spent 7 years wasting time, I took a job as an intern at a media agency. I was promoted to become an Account Executive before moving on to another company managing my own portfolio. I finally thought that I was building my career when I got retrenched. This time though I was not angry or resentful (admittedly though, not till after about 3 weeks, immediately after the retrenchment I exhibited all 3 initial stages of grief, in 2 minutes). I did some introspection and realised that I really did not like the job that I was in and did not want my career to take that path. I wrote down the job I really wanted and lo and behold, I am doing that job today.

I currently work for an amazing company with flexible hours and a great leadership. To top it all, the company is centered on people and giving back, a passion of mine. Look, there are days that I question if I should be moving on. We all want growth, we are human and we have a need to progress and mature, it’s our nature. For the most part I am happy, really happy and as you’ve read, I was not always. It has been a gut wrenching, soul breaking career journey that ultimately affected my life’s journey but I would not change it for anything. For what I thought was my career struggle was actually life teaching me to grow. I’ve become stronger and I take comfort in knowing that I did not give up.

If you are in some sort of stagnation right now, remind yourself that this too shall pass. Ask yourself what do you want and ask yourself how are you going to get it. If the thing you want is not that easy to obtain as there are always deterrent factors in life, just breathe and step back. Sometimes we don’t really know what we want and this is the Universe’s way of telling you that the path you seek is not the path for you. Do some introspection and really get to know yourself. Remember that building your brand; finding out who you are and ultimately what your purpose is, begins within.

To Blog or Not to Blog

So … after 2 years of owning (and paying) for this blog site I have finally activated it, hooray!!

The aim of this blog was to delve into the psychology of branding; to look at how personal branding begins from the inside, to look at the influence of the media, especially social media, and how it can affect how we see ourselves and thus affect our personal brand. The point was to help individuals understand how branding themselves begins with a change in mindset, how to find internal peace and happiness before we can change our external appearances or address outside influences.

There are infinite blogs out there and I hope that you find this one helpful. I hope that it can assist you if you are challenged in dealing with building your brand, trying to find your self in this ever changing world and trying to make sense of the influence that the media has on us.