Brand Newsletter Week 1: Trusting the Process

Amy J. Wilson
16 min readSep 6, 2023

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In the past six months I’ve had an uptick of people curious about how I’ve been able to go out on my own and brand myself. I know how powerful stories are, and so for the month of September, I’ll be launching weekly newsletters all about my brand process and story.

Here’s a sneak peek at the posts to see week after week:

  • Week 1 (THIS WEEK): My entrepreneurial journey which led me to my brand. Why would I want one and what are the elements of a brand?
  • Week 2: Who is Amy J. Wilson? What is her mission, vision, values, purpose?
  • Week 3: My journey towards my look and feel of the brand; what was my inspiration?
  • Week 4: Three things I’ve learned about myself during this process

I hope you’re able to keep coming back here. Also, if you’d like to get updates on all my insights and stories, please follow me on Substack, Medium or LinkedIn.

Like a sparkling diamond, we all contain various facets and identities. This has been both a joy and problem for me throughout my career. I’ve now found myself having to explore the nature of those facets, to put myself out in the world with a new brand. Trying to encapsulate me as a human and letting others receive what I have to offer hasn’t been the smoothest ride. All of these things scare me for different reasons, and yet there’s growth in the process.

In my most recent Newsletter I go into great detail about how we increasingly need a breadth over a depth of skills as we step further into the 21st century. I’ve also mentioned that I’m on my fourth career, seamlessly reimagining myself in the “in between” times to mold into more of who I am meant to be but also to what the world or market needs right now. But now it’s much more public.

People want to label you: to know who you are and what you do for the world. Because they want to know how to categorize you and size you up because then they know how to manage or deal with you. To them you’re one thing, but not another, and you’re definitely not this thing that you want to be.

As someone who has avoided boxes for most of my life, I’m painfully aware of this natural human desire to place us all in boxes. My career manager in the consulting industry once made me rewrite my entire resume — after spending time including my interests and future goals — to just include strategic communications projects so that he can “sell me.” I learned at that moment that in order to work I needed to mold to what society wants me to be, and not imagine a different future that I wanted.

Fortunately for me, right around the same time I sparked conversations with a new team who was pitching an idea to our yearly Ideas Festival to design an open innovation and crowdsourcing tool to use with clients, essentially taking this 100-year-old services firm into the product development firm for the first time. I quickly became their technology lead without actually having a technology background. In a phrase, I was “winging it”, and learned that many other people have no idea what they’re doing and are throwing the proverbial spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. Our team later was declared a finalist, received funding to build out our idea and I found dozens of mentors that would help me level up into this new role and see the intersection of communication and technology in a new light.

Picture credit: Leeloo Thefirst

So when the time came for me to brand myself, I was reminded of past experiences where people underestimated me and I rose to the challenge to accomplish the thing despite the odds against me. How can I write down all the things I am capable of doing, when I’ve been winging it the whole time? And what about loving what I’ve been doing — where is there room for that?

And let me tell you — it has not been an easy process — but one in which I’m immensely proud.

A Timeline

This coming December will be my five year anniversary of me becoming a full time entrepreneur. I’ve had many people ask me about the path I’ve taken as they’re hoping to step out on their own and create the life that they would have lived without the weight of the world on their shoulders. I thought I’d write it down so others can read and learn alongside me.

On Friday, December 14, 2018 I stepped foot into the abyss of a sabbatical and wasn’t sure where I would land. Some people take sabbaticals to study something specific, others to reconnect with loved ones. To tell you the truth, this time my sabbatical was to find myself. I stammered through the muck like I imagined all the people now returning from Burning Man felt after they were deluged with rain in the desert. And Burning Man is an apt analogy here — it’s 10 Principles of radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy are all pieces that I’ve touched on upon my journey in some way.

I chose to leave soon thereafter on what I call my “Eat, Pray, Self-Love” journey — to travel solo for six weeks to India and Thailand. When in Bangkok, I got the call that we all dread: my mother called to say my father had a brain injury and was flown to the hospital via Shock Trauma. “Stay in Thailand, Amy — that’s what your father would want you to do,” said my mother, in shock.

Over the next 24 hours my dad’s condition worsened and it was clear that he was brain dead. I took the next flight out for the 24 hour journey back to Baltimore when my mother stated: “You four girls are my limbs, and right now, one of my limbs is missing.”

As I settled back into the winter of grief in DC and Spring blossomed, I could see the crocuses of my soul start to peep out from under the dirt. I started writing, working with a new program called the Creators Institute to write a book. Four years ago I was working on my first draft of my book manuscript, developing my thoughts on two words that were alive for me at that point: empathy and change, and interviewing people on those same topics.

In a few short months later, I moved to San Francisco for a Tech Policy Fellowship in 2020, was smacked with the global pandemic and escaped to the quiet of my childhood home in the middle of the woods with my immunocompromised mother. I finalized my book, went through book surgery to reconstruct my whole book, and readied it to be released into the world. The problem was that I didn’t know how I’d get it out there.

That Fall (three years ago) I found myself in a friend’s condo gym straddling the weight bench with my heavily masked head in my hands, wondering how I would launch my now written book out into the world with my friend Saleema. My problem would be this friend’s start of a booming startup company, Ripple Impact. I was the first client of the company, and was a guinea pig of sorts to help launch their Accelerator offering into the world. I was lifting other people up as they were lifting me up.

I had a decision to make: what was my brand? We debated: should I live behind the book or should I brand myself as Amy J. Wilson? What a scary proposition this last part was — who am I if I am not behind something or someone else, raising them up?

I was holding a lot at the time: launching a book into the world, creating my company, helping my mother clean up and sell our childhood home, and dealing with the effects of the pandemic (it was the end of 2020). At the time I hid behind my book while focusing on my mental health and helping my mother with this transition. I soft-launched my company, creating a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and followed where the wind took me.

Since the book launch, I’ve completed dozens of speaking engagements, podcast interviews, launched my own podcast (Empathy Power Up), facilitated workshops, worked with dozens of clients from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to the nonprofit Jobs for the Future, to teaching Innovation for the Public Good at UNC Chapel Hill. With each new project or role, I’ve learned a bit more about what my clients need or want, and more importantly, what I want to do and be.

A combination of the Ripple Impact Accelerator and my SBA Score Mentor at the time, Ken Kido, helped me understand that I’m not my book — I am so much more than that. That I do, indeed, contain multitudes and there is so much to celebrate — and so much to grieve from my past. And I still was mentally blocked from stepping out on my own as Amy J. Wilson.

In January of this year I began the early stages of my brand journey, with questions like what’s my ultimate reason for existing (purpose), what difference I want to make in the world (mission), to how will I achieve that difference (vision), what guides me (values), what my business does (in one sentence), the why of my business name, and words that describe my brand. I also asked questions like what is my dream client? What problems is this client facing? What will these people be drawn to in your business? And, then I had to look at competitors in my field, and what sets me apart from those competitors (value proposition)? All of these things contributed to my brand story.

Instead of me asking these questions of my clients, I’m asking them of myself. It is so much harder answering them for myself than it ever was for any project I’m working on. I revised this version several times over, created a board of advisors for this transition, and iterated some more. Next, I worked with a branding expert to work on the look and feel of my brand (more on that in week 3).

Recently I made the commitment to release my self doubt and take real action instead of hiding. Well, here I am folks! Now on the cusp of my five year anniversary of my entrepreneurial journey, this feels right. It’s becoming more crystal clear with each new iteration, and can only go up from here, I believe. Please receive me, my work, and mission, and share some love and projects upon which you think I’d be a good fit.

If this work intrigues you and you’d like to learn more about the end result, I invite you to read the menu of options I just launched last week.

Learning Moment: What is a brand?

The branding process begins when you need to evolve and shift, oftentimes seeking to drive growth and a new direction. You may want to reposition yourself within their current market, broaden your appeal, or you may be looking to expand into a new space.

At the beginning of the journey I had to ask myself a whole bunch of hard questions, filling out a questionnaire that follows three big areas:

  1. Brand Essence: This is the core of who you are as a “brand”. What is your purpose, mission, vision, and values? What products and services do you provide? Who are your competitors? What is your value proposition (what makes your brand different)?
  2. Brand Messaging: Identifying the types of messages you want to share through your brand, which represents your values and purpose. What values do you bring to your work? HOw do you want your clients to feel? What adjectives describe your brand? What other brands do you love? What is your brand personality, and how do you want to talk about yourself? What is your tagline?
  3. Brand Look & Feel: Embedding the essence and messaging of your brand in all elements of the brand identity. What colors do you want to use and why? What elements do you want your brand to represent? What photos, textures, patterns, colors, fonts, etc. do you like or want? What should our logo look like?

At the end of this experience I shared my thoughts with my trusted advisors for feedback. And, I got a mouthful — they all gave me feedback in a loving way, asking for clarity where there was none, and for me to help get to the root of why empathy is so important to the workplace, in our world, and more importantly how might we get there. The Ikigai framework (see above) helped me not just home in on what I want, but what the world needs as well.

Lastly, after I had a good next draft of the main document outlining all the above questions, I then moved into working with designers to design my look and feel, which took about a half dozen rounds of edits to get it right. I’ll be going deeper on look and feel in Week 3 and will share my personal brand process.

Activity: Your Reason for Being (Ikigai)

Lately I’ve been observing a new string of labor unions forming, dozens of layoffs happening and people saying that they’re leaving their organizations for more fulfilling work. Many have reached out looking for thoughts or advice on where to go next. The tool that I reach out to the most is the Ikigai Framework for these moments, because it gives you the questions you need to know where you’re headed.

Ikigai means “reason for being” in Japanese, which is where this concept originated from. It is an intersection of four circles as part of a venn diagram (see picture to the right). Note: this is a westernized version of the original. If you want to know more details about the original version, visit this guide here.

On one side is what you love and what you’re good at which is focused on our innermost thoughts and desires. The other two circles are what you can be paid for and what the world needs, which looks outward to the world. In the center of this venn diagram is your “ikigai,” what you’re meant to do.

This exercise is the best one I’ve found that helps us get to an answer upon which we can iterate and add onto as we discover more about ourselves in the process. Note, that a branding process is a lifelong journey. We’re always changing and evolving, and so every few months or years we’ll need to understand where we have shifted, and where the world may have as well, and recalibrate.

Here are some questions to guide you in answering each one of these four parts:

What Are You Good At (Skills and Strengths)

  • What do you never get bored with?
  • When do you feel happiest?
  • What were you doing when you last lost track of time?
  • In the past, what has left you feeling energized?
  • What would you continue to do even if you did not get paid?

What You Love

  • What do you never get bored with?
  • When do you feel happiest?
  • What were you doing when you last lost track of time?
  • In the past, what has left you feeling energized?
  • What would you continue to do even if you did not get paid?

What The World Needs

  • What can you do or offer that would bring meaning to others? BONUS: Is your work directly/indirectly supporting The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals?
  • What problems in your society would you like to help solve?
  • Will your work still be relevant a decade from now?
  • What is the world lacking?
  • How could you be more involved in your community?

What You Can Be Paid For

  • What would you be doing if you were not in your current job?
  • Can you make a good living doing this work in the long term?
  • What does the competition look like? Can you spot a niche?
  • Which jobs, positions, or tasks spark your interest?
  • Are you already making a good living in your line of work?

What Do You Value?

  • Think about a challenge you’ve experienced in the past. How were you able to get through? What strengths did you exhibit that may have helped you overcome that hard struggle?
  • Who are the two people in your life that you most admire? What qualities do you see in them that you aspire to?
  • What are the kinds of personal values or principles that you bring to your work?

Bring It Together

  • Passion: Look through what you’re good at and love to find areas of overlap that identify your passion (skill & interest).
  • Mission: Look through your passion and what the world needs to see areas of overlap that allows you to give back to your local communities and beyond (interest & need).
  • Vocation: What are some kinds of vocations that will allow you to earn and give back to society at the same time (need + get paid)?
  • Profession: What are the skills you’ve listed in what you’re good at and what you can get paid to determine some of your best professions (skills & get paid)?

Mindful Moment: Future Self Meditation for Branding and Business

Have you met your future self? In a way, that’s what we’re doing when we put out our brand. I incorporate lots of meditation and mindfulness in my practice, and it helps me to know what’s important in a given moment.

Listen to this short meditation by Chris-Anne Donnelly to helps calm your mind and envision what that future self might be. This is particularly helpful if you find yourself stuck on brand strategy or how to move forward with your project. This method pulls more information from your subconscious and helps you move ahead more quickly.

My Hopes for the Next Five Years

At the turn of the new year I have a habit of completing the Year Compass, a way to process the past year and look forward to the new year. My one word for this year is Beloved, which I write about extensively here. Besides beloved being the meaning of my name, I’ve devoted much of this year to loving myself, taking imperfect action, and also accepting love from others. I believe that this brand process is just the next evolution of who I am, as I look forward to the last quarter of the year.

I’ve moved out of isolation, into a deep community, and have been witnessed and held by those I hold dear. And on top of that, I’ve thought deeply about the concept of Beloved Community as Martin Luther King, Jr. coined it, committing towards somatics, somatic abolitionism (from Resmaa Menakem), and as a Founding Member of the Institute for Equity Design and Justice. At a dinner recently on this topic, I realized more fully that we have never known what equity and justice looks like and it’s going to take much longer than expected. I’m doubling down on the commitment to raising deeper awareness within myself and to creating more brave spaces. Sitting on the fence between this year and next, I’m wondering what the next year, three, or five years will bring for me, and I have a pretty good idea of what I’m looking for.

This Spring I started having monthly lunch meetings with one of my favorite people Victor Udoewa, who is helping to reimagine the future of design through radical participatory design (an intro to his philosophy is found here).

We’ve shared so much, from books or podcasts we love, to ideas we have and hope for the future, and finally what’s next for the two of us. Victor mentioned some lessons learned he received while reading Rachel Cargle’s A Renaissance of Our Own: A Memoir & Manifesto on Reimagining, which is in my audiobook queue. Cargle is a highly lauded modern voice in feminism and racial justice, and her book is “a deeply personal and insightful testament to the power of reimagining to dismantle the frameworks and systems that no longer serve us while building new ones that do.” She’s also the founder of The Loveland Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls.

Here are the three lessons that Victor shared with me as her three “highest values” for the future. Cargle says: “exploring and implementing the highest values has been life changing for me as I have been able to really reimagine my existence to reflect not simply routine or expectation but the things I value most.” I think it’s the best principles that anyone can hope for in this moment:

Abundance: To have an abundance of something is to have more than you need. It’s often used to describe positive qualities, such as “an abundance of love.” Abundance is the opposite of scarcity, which is what many of us are stuck in often when we view life. We see the world as not having enough, us not being enough, and not enough of everything to go around.

Ease: To feel ease is to feel the absence of difficulty, effort, or weight on our shoulders. It’s knowing that there isn’t a burden that you’re carrying through life, a quiet confidence that everything is going to be okay. Life flows naturally like a stream of water along a riverbed. It’s fluid and emergent. I ease into my day just as easily as I ease into sleep at the end of my day, and it feels like a bed when you pull the covers over you on a cold winter night.

Opportunity: To have opportunity is to know that there is possibility for a brighter future. It is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do that thing in our life that we were meant and want to do. It opens us up to be a conduit for love and light and can fill the world around us. In this space of light and energy we are creating, we can open ourselves up to the infinite possibilities of our creative universe. May it be so.

Resources

The Top Five Signs You Need a Brand by The Being Group: Are you wondering if or when a brand is necessary? Spoiler alert: it has a whole lot to do with change!

How to Develop Your Branding Strategy by Canva: How to do a brand audit and plan your branding strategy. The best brands incorporate audience feedback, use organized brand kits, and create a continued opportunity to build reach and awareness.

The Three-Hour Brand Sprint by Jake Knapp for Google Ventures: How to make the abstract idea of “our brand” into something concrete. This workshop helps align your team on the company’s brand.

I used to think this is how I’d feel at the end of this process. It’s not exactly the case, but it’s quite liberating.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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Amy J. Wilson

Author, Founder, and CEO. Empathy for Change. Movement maker, storyteller, empathy advocate.