The Problem with “Marketing Yourself”

mountain

I’ve sat on this topic for quite some time, mostly because I am guilty of everything mentioned below and because it has great potential to be taken out of context. But no matter how many times I abandoned the draft, a tiny tug inside brought me back until the words were simply gone. After many weeks, I have decided to publish my thoughts come what may.

It is a post that needs to be shared, for better or worse.

As many of you know, I’m in the marketing/PR industry. Shouldn’t I be telling you how to market yourself instead of warning you not to? Maybe, but that would be doing you a disservice. Because no matter how competitive the job market may be, no matter how many of your friends seem to have it all together, and no matter how many awards you’ve won since college, I believe there is one thing that should never be marketed.

You.

Before I elaborate, I want to take a moment and explain. When I say that you should never be marketed, I don’t mean your hobbies, pet projects, side businesses, blogs, or employers. Otherwise this post (and any subsequent sharing) would be totally hypocritical and useless. I’m specifically referencing the internet’s increasing demand to curate our lives in an unnatural way, the craving to be seen and impress on both a personal and professional level. Not the sharing of your thoughts, but the sharing of your soul. I’m talking about your daily life.

But before we dive in, let’s go back 20 or 30 years ago. You would call your closest friends to share the news of your engagement. Your growing list of professional awards would be read only by your next employer. If your boyfriend surprised you at the office with roses, you would gush over a cup of coffee with your best friend. Life was shared in community, a place where good news could bloom in stride with the rise and fall of life. A few years ago, you never had to compare yourself to the world.

Sounds relaxing, right?

Today, the social landscape is a little different. We are encouraged to promote ourselves for better jobs, better dates then better spouses, better houses, better lives. I especially feel the pull in the PR industry, where it’s common to brand yourself as an industry expert gain credibility (which is a joke at age 24), and your personal brand is almost as important as the work you produce. But the reality is, marketing yourself is an unhealthy practice spiritually, emotionally, and physically because – no matter how you feel – you are more than what people think of you.

“We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Due to the public nature of social media, we are constantly branding ourselves – whether deliberately or not. When good things happen, we broadcast it to the world not because we want them to share in our joy but because we feel like we are supposed to. We want to keep up, stay in the game. I know I do. And with this mindset, it is impossible not to live for achievement instead of experience.

Today we have the power to control the message of our day-to-day lives through LinkedIn updates, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram photos, Goodreads updates… The list goes on and on. Nearly everything we do in 2016 is public information, and that’s dangerous. What happens when we are suddenly given the power to influence our public perception like a brand? We reduce ourselves to advertisers and goods, and we lose our purpose.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” -Psalm 139:14

When we begin to see ourselves and others as commodities instead of souls created by a loving, intentional God, we become susceptible to unhealthy competition, resentment towards those who appear better, and low self-esteem when we fail to impress. We are blind to the bleeding heart behind the sterling resume or the anxiety weighing down the new mom. When we value ourselves only as much as others do, we lose sight of our own potential and the God-given worth of our friends and family. Because when the camera is always on, it’s hard to be genuine.

When there’s no room for error, it’s hard to just be human.

Of course, it’s never wrong to celebrate the joys of life with friends and family – the little moments and the big. Life is about love and community. But there is such a fine line between celebrating and bragging, and I know because I often tow both sides of the line. I think this is an increasing struggle for my generation. When our lives are so easily broadcast, it’s hard to know the true motivation of our hearts and even harder to keep our pride in check. We no longer recognize the beauty of humility, a trait that has been revered throughout the Bible and history. It is so easy to mask our insecurities in self-promotion, which can only breed arrogance. When we choose to market ourselves, we choose not to humble ourselves.

But there is wonderful news.

We don’t need to market ourselves to be thriving, joyful people. Noah wasn’t chosen to build the ark because of the blueprints he uploaded to LinkedIn. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a successful national leader because of his influential Instagram quotes, and Galileo never published a DIY guide on how to chart the stars. These people accomplished amazing things through humility, by engaging with others instead of marketing to them.

So whether it is for a day, a month, or even the next year, I challenge you to turn the camera off. Continue to promote your art, your business, your blog, but save some moments for yourself. Choose humility over a fleeting sense of pride. Do things because you want to do them, not because you want to be seen doing them. Have secrets. Chase humility. Choose to see human needs instead of filtered photos and job promotions.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:12

Let’s choose to pursue wisdom. After all, if we all take a break from marketing ourselves we might just enjoy being ourselves.

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Why does the Virgin Mary always wear blue?

Growing up Baptist, I’ve learned to take a few church conventions for granted. One question, though, has plagued me every Sunday since I was a wee Awana’s cubby. A five-year-old Sunday school student may not be able to explain the meaning of communion or articulate the difference between a Lutheran and a Methodist, but there’s one thing all preschool church-goers know beyond a shadow of a doubt: the Virgin Mary always wears blue.

But why?

As the Catholic Family blog points out, realistically Mary’s clothing would have been kind of drab, plainly colored, simple in structure and modestly dyed in a dull shade at best. So why the fabrication? Pun intended. The reasoning behind Mary’s wardrobe is more complicated than I would have guessed, as many explanations are out there to be considered. Surprisingly enough, though, Mary hasn’t always been so keen to the sky blue hue she most often dons today.

“The older, classic and more representative color is dark blue,” wrote Rev. Johann Roten, director of the Marian Library-International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. On a student FAQ page, he wrote that “Mary’s dark blue mantle (cloak), from about 500 A.D., is of Byzantine origin and is the color of an empress.”

“The Virgin Mary” by El Greco, 1595

Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic news site, offered somewhat of an expansion/alternative theory. The OSV writes that the dark blue color of Mary’s mantle represents a kind of waiting that occurred in the darkest part of the night, which corresponds to the Catholic celebration of Advent. The OSV also suggests that the color parallels the many associations between Mary, the moon and the stars, which is seen in Revelation 12:1 and depicted in the stained glass artwork below.

The Virgin and Child by unknown, 1505-1510

According to the OSV, the mantle had symbolized protection since well before the Middle Ages, as women would conceal babies and other vulnerable people inside for safety. Handy, right? After the Middle Ages, however, artists began using a sky blue for the cloak, which illustrated her status in the Catholic world as protector and mother of the Earth. The Catholic Family blog supports this interpretation, adding only that the color blue also symbolizes tranquility and peace. Because the majority of Christian denominations share a common heritage, this lighter shade of blue is most commonly used today even in non-Catholic sects of Christianity.

Stained glass window at St. Mathew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, 1912

So although there may never be one definitive answer to the question that haunts Sunday school veterans everywhere, one thing is certain: Mary’s attire is deeply rooted in Catholic symbolism. This likely explains why many of the leading sources on this topic stem from Catholic organizations, too. So this year at your church’s annual Christmas pageant, when you spot the Virgin Mary sporting her signature blue, you can lean to the person next to you and wow them with your Sunday school trivia.

You’re welcome.

3 Spiritual Lessons from HIMYM

Confession: I’ve been on a serious HIMYM kick lately (Thanks, Netflix.) We’re talking a season a week, here. As I’ve been watching, I can’t help but draw some parallels between the show and my own spiritual life. That probably sounds strange, seeing that HIMYM isn’t a faith-based show or anything, but I’m inclined to believe spiritual lessons are all around us if we’re willing to be open-minded. With that being said, I present to you 3 spiritual lessons from HIMYM.

1.     It’s okay to be scared.

“Doesn’t being scared let you know you’re onto something important?” – Ted

Ted

Think back to the last time you took a leap of faith and followed God’s calling. Whether it was something huge, like becoming a missionary, or something small, like joining a church, there’s a good chance you felt nervous and maybe even a little scared before taking the plunge. Don’t let that stop you. Just as Ted points out, being scared means  there’s a good chance something big is about to happen.

2.     Mistakes happen.

“There are certain things in life where you know it’s a mistake but you don’t really know it’s a mistake because the only way to really know it’s a mistake is to make that mistake and look back and say, ‘Yup. That was a mistake.’” – Lily

Lily

Not everything in life is black-and-white, and it’s so easy to get confused in the gray. Romans 3:23 reminds us that no one is perfect, and we are absolutely, 100% guaranteed to make mistakes. When you do, don’t wallow in regret and self-loathing. Sometimes you just have to say, “Yup. That was a mistake,” and carry on (Romans 6:6.) Remember, God can use even the biggest mistakes for his glory.

3.     It’s all about the journey.

“You can’t jump straight to the end. The journey is the best part.” – Robin

Robin

David, a man after God’s own heart, wasn’t always a spiritual hero. Neither was Jonah, Peter, Mary Magdalene and plenty of other Sunday-school superstars. It’s no secret that every spiritual life has its ups and downs, and a good testimony isn’t just a snapshot of the ups. Like a good book, your story takes time to develop. So be patient, rejoice in today (Psalm 118:24) and make the most of your spiritual journey.

I hope that you found something worthwhile in this post. If you have absolutely no idea  who Ted, Lily and Robin are, I suggest you get yourself a Netflix subscription and dedicate a weekend or two to a truly fabulous show. If you have absolutely no idea who Jonah, Peter and Mary are, might I suggest you hit up an online Bible and dedicate a weekend or two to some truly inspirational stories. Now that you’ve read my post, I have a question for you.

You know that I think it’s possible to find religious value in nonreligious places, but do you agree? Tell me what you think in the comments below.