I’ve been thinking about branding a fair amount lately. Probably because my Naïve Pilgrim Instagram account is new, I’m getting a lot of ads in my feed promising to help me define my brand and grow my following by thousands a day.

I took marketing classes in college and understand the importance of branding, especially in business. As a consumer, I need to know what to expect from a company. But I’m a little more skeptical when it comes to a personal brand. It feels a bit artificial, and very permanent. Branding is literally taking a flaming hot piece of metal and searing the flesh of a cow with a design so that the animal’s ownership is indisputable.

This reminds me a little of a tattoo, which I do have. And while my tattoo does mean something to me, it isn’t my brand. And it certainly doesn’t mark my ownership.

A personal brand feels like we need to have ourselves all figured out so we can present an image to the world. A very certain, specific image. As someone who spent much of her younger years working pretty hard to present an image to the world, I’m quite set on the resolution that I don’t want to go back to those days. I’m a complex person with conflicting feelings and behavior. I change my mind. Sometimes it feels like the only things I know for sure are that I have a relationship with God and my favorite color is red. Those are constant. The rest feels quite variable.

Developing a brand takes a lot of time, effort, and usually money. Businesses have teams of people choosing the exact colors and fonts that will portray the precise image of their company. I don’t want to invest most of my resources into developing a brand that dictates my decisions.

The other day I saw an online ad for a master class. A famous fashion designer, whom I admire, was saying that everything you do needs to be in support of the brand. This works for business, but what about for people? We could spend our lives trying to develop and then support our brand, our image of ourselves, instead of actually living our authentic, complex lives.

Peacock 2Admittedly, I could (and sometimes do) spend hours playing around with editing photos to make them look the way I want them to. But I’m not trying to always make them look the same, just what feels right in that moment. I’m after a mood more than the same look every time. Although red is my favorite color, I would hate to commit to wearing it and it alone for the rest of my life. I like a variety of colors, tones, and hues. My life isn’t a perpetual stream of Instagram Pink, and I don’t want it to be.

I don’t want to censure myself if something doesn’t fit “the brand.” I don’t want my life to be so committed to “the brand” that I can’t post an interesting or heartfelt picture because it’s the wrong color scheme.

More importantly, I don’t want to be defined by a contrived image I feel obligated to present to the world. This is confining, not liberating. It sets me up for failure, and judgment when I deviate. Perhaps it can be okay to be me – an eclectic mix of contractions and mixed emotions. Maybe the variety that is me can complement not conflict, because it’s all me.