Fashion and Style: Expressing Your Personal Brand

Expressing yourself in different ways naturally develops your personal brand, even if that’s not your intention. Whether it’s through your words, your actions, your work or―as is the focus of this article―your sense of style, you can give others a glimpse of who you are and what makes you different.

How you go about expressing your style can also send a strong message. To me, fashion and style are synonymous. When we meet people for the first time, we can’t help but jump to conclusions about their personality and character, based on how they’re dressed. Superficial? Yes, but we often do it unconsciously.

Instead of criticizing it, I’ve learned to embrace it.

Career In Fashion

After my 6-year career start in Japan, I returned to Chicago not sure what the next chapter would be. I decided to explore my interest in fashion by working part-time at Bachrach Clothing. It was where I bought my first suit out of college and I had fond memories of shopping there. Ten years and a full wardrobe later, I learned everything about gentlemen style guides down to the details of how to properly fold a pocket silk or how to tie the perfect knot.

Putting outfits together is an art form. There are general rules you’re supposed to follow but with practice you learn when it’s ok to break those rules. It helps to start with the basics and then build from there. Once you have essential items that can easily be mixed and matched, you move to other details such as layering and combining colors, patterns and fabric. The fun starts when you accessorize. Finishing touches such as pocket silks, cufflinks, scarves and watches can transform ordinary to extraordinary. (See my Pinterest board on men’s fashionfor more details and inspiration.)

At Bachrach, I also learned the importance of fit over fashion. We’re often drawn to things that look great on the shelf or display. But when we try them on, certain things just don’t work well with our build. We may need to go up or down in size. Sometimes alterations are needed. When available and within our budget, made-to-measure usually gives the best results. It’s important to remember that regardless of whether something looks good from a distance, unless it fits you properly,  the end result won’t be as good as you expected. Forcing a fit usually leads to disappointment in the long run.

I’m grateful for these lessons learned. The time at Bachrach helped me refine my personal sense of style while I helped others do the same.

When I transitioned to work in e-commerce for Dreams Retail (before it was acquired by Fanatics), fashion took on a different definition. Acceptable dress code was very characteristic of sports fans and dot com culture (e.g. graphic t-shirts, snapback caps and even flip-flops). I enjoyed the freedom of the relaxed work environment and wore my gear my way. It was more in line with how I like to look and feel when I DJ a party, or when I’m at home. I couldn’t get totally away from suits and ties though. My closet was full of them and it felt like a waste. So every once in a while, I would break from the norm and come in dressed to the nines. As expected, I stood out like a pair of mismatched socks, but I made no apologies. I was doing it because it represented another side of me that I didn’t want to neglect. To my surprise, our President at the time, Kevin Bates, took a liking to it and declared an annual “Dashing Donn Durante Day” where everyone was encouraged to dress up (See featured image of me with Tim Glinski, our Don Draper look-alike). It was like the opposite of Casual Friday.

In retrospect, Dreams brought out a different side of me and helped me develop a healthy respect for the various shades of everyone’s style and character. When you go beyond first impressions, you’re often pleasantly surprised at the depth of character of the company you keep.

Now I’m back to wearing suits daily at Nordstrom. Many things to love about Nordstrom’s approach to business. One of the corporate values I enjoy most is the emphasis on being yourself. It’s more about expressing your personal style and not just about buying fashion. Among the many inspiring messages you’ll find on the walls of the employee hallways is the note below:

Fashion may be the form of expression, but the emphasis is on you. Fashion is one way of representing who you are and how you want people to think of you. Let the true you shine through.

As you may have already read from the news I shared, Nordstrom recently partnered with Ellen DeGeneres to launch her new line, The ED by Ellen DeGeneres shoe collection. Ellen sets a great example and she’s a champion of being yourself. How fitting!

Fitting is a great word to describe my career to date. At a glance, my path can appear haphazard and random. A closer look connects the dots between the things I love and the opportunities that presented themselves. My personal brand is about making meaningful connections in creative ways.

Personal Branding By Being Yourself

Personal branding, as a concept, sometimes gets a bad rap. I like to look at it as simply an extension of being yourself. The effort of branding yourself becomes negative only when it’s not authentic, not genuine ― when it becomes about fabricating an image that’s only designed to please others. Branding for branding’s sake is shallow. Let’s not do that.

So how do you represent your genuine self? When free to choose, what’s your signature look? And why? What does it say about you? Einstein was known to have identical outfits so he wouldn’t have to think about it in the morning. Other things were a priority. Steve Jobs wore his classic black turtleneck, blue jeans and gray New Balance. He had his reasons. How about examples from the people around you? When I was at Dreams Retail, Kevin Bates was known around the office for often wearing a black t-shirt, blue jeans and a pair of white Puma sneakers. To me this look matched his very approachable nature. For my other friends at FansEdge and Fanatics, it was common to proudly sport the jersey of one’s favorite team or alma mater. It was easy to see what they were passionate about and it often prompted conversations about their personal history and experience.

Albert’s typical head-to-toe attire consisted of an undershirt, baggy pants held up with a rope, and sandals.

His attitude was either people knew and accepted him, or they didn’t. Case closed.

Going deeper below the surface, it all starts with you and ends with how it all fits together.

What’s important to you?
For example, do you like simple or sophisticated?
Do you prefer loud or muted?
For you, is it in the details or the overall package?

I know it’s not that simple. So start with the basic questions and then dive into the more intricate details. As you build on your essence and layer in the other unique aspects of yourself, you begin to get a good sense of what makes you you. Then you can consider how this all fits with everything else. Is your current company a good fit? Maybe the company is a good fit but your role within the company could be better. How well do you gel with the team? Do they bring out your best, or do you feel you’re always at odds? Make some time and think about it.

Applying This to You and Your Career

It’s important to emphasize how unique and multifaceted each of us are. We’re different on the field and off, at work and at home, from one role to another. Our diverse nature gives us the flexibility to adapt from situation to situation, depending on what’s appropriate. You’re still being yourself. Just bringing out a different side of who you are.

There’s only one you. Like no other. Never has been. Never will be. So go ahead and express your one-of-a-kind style with confidence. Be comfortable not only with your personal style of dress, but also with your special style of speaking writing and working. Otherwise, you’re depriving the world of something only you can give. Building your personal brand will happen in due course.

“Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”
― Brenda Ueland

As you navigate your career choices, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to be someone you’re not and your integrity is compromised, get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. No matter what the potential rewards, don’t sell yourself out. At the end of the day, you’ll make the most meaningful impact by staying true to yourself and finding company that brings out the best you have to offer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my most impactful, rewarding and memorable years were at Dreams Inc where I was encouraged to be myself, manage in my own way and be creative in how I delivered results. Finding the right fit takes precedence over glamorous opportunities.

Again, fashion is just one of many ways to express yourself. You may agree it’s superficial and only a mere reflection of who you are. For your personal brand, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. Be Yourself. Don’t just try to fit in. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fashionista, old-fashioned, or if you couldn’t care less about fashion. Even when we’re buck naked, we should all be comfortable in our own skin.

-Donn

Sources and Related:

For The Introvert: The Quiet Evolution Before The Quiet Revolution

“When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.”

― C.G. Jung


“…the eloquence of silence. Silence is always part of great music. Silence is always part of great art. Silence is always part of great life.”

― Robert Fulghum, From Beginning to End


Pinterest Board:
https://www.pinterest.com/donnedurante/for-introverts/


The Woman Who Started The Quiet Revolution

Recommended Reading:


 

Comics for Introverts

from Grant Snider

tumblr_o3d6njH7Vr1qmoni4o1_500tumblr_njax8fEwxM1qmoni4o1_540

 

 


 



 

 

 

 

Playing with Your Hedgehog Outside of Work

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse]

It’s early Monday morning as I write this. For those with a traditional Monday-to-Friday work week, how you feel about getting back to work can tell you a lot. Just depends on whether or not you care to listen. Ideally, everyone would be raring to go, excited to return to a current project they’re working on, or simply looking forward to the unknown challenges of a new week. On the other hand, if you’re one of the many who have the Monday Blues, don’t complain about it. There’s a cure.

You could quit. I know that sounds extreme, maybe even unthinkable, but it’s true. You always have that choice. It’s rarely practical, but the option is always there. I don’t necessarily recommend it. We all have bills to pay and if you’re highly dependent on the income, that wouldn’t be a move to make hastily.

That said, it’s something to consider if you’re not excited to go back to work at the beginning of every week. That’s a sign that you should heed. Life is too short not to. So how would you do it?

You could do it in stages, or go all in and take a leap of faith. Hopefully, you’ve been good about managing your finances and making contingency plans. With the right things in place, it becomes more about timing. Timing is an art in itself so don’t hesitate too much. When ready, have confidence and move forward, knowing you’ve done everything you can to be smart about it.

Applying The Hedgehog Concept Outside of Work

What to do is a different, but important, question. Personally, I’ve applied the Hedgehog Concept to help me decide. Find a career or choose a business where the three circles below intersect. If you haven’t read Good to Great by Jim Collins, click through the illustration below for further background on The Hedgehog Concept as it applies to career choices.

 

To maintain multiple streams of income, I take this approach in parallel ― not as a substitution or replacement for what I’m already doing. This means focusing most of my time on the primary economic drivers while still committing to my extracurricular activities “off the clock.” Only when there are multiple initiatives in play do I consider quitting whatever contributes least to my overall happiness.

Start with Your Interests and Make Time For Them

This is one thing that works for me and what I’m suggesting to you. Set aside regular time each week to work on a hobby you love.  For some, it’s trying new recipes in the kitchen. For others, it’s blogging. For me, it happens to be spinning music as a DJ.

Whatever your hobby is, it’s important to make time for it despite the many demands on your already busy schedule. Avoid being lazy or making excuses.

I started DJing over 30 years ago while still in high school. Even though I usually get paid for it, I’ve continued to do it on and off simply because it’s fun. I love music and blending songs in creative ways. To see a packed dance floor of people letting loose, because of the music set I’m playing, is an incredible high. (At the end of this post, you can listen to a mini-mix I uploaded to SoundCloud.)

Last week, I volunteered to DJ a party for the school where my kids attend. Since I agreed to DJ a few weeks earlier, I had reason to dust off the equipment again and practice. It was like time-traveling to the past when I was a resident DJ at a club in college. I used to practice new sets all the time, imagining how the dance floor would react and looking for ways to put my personal signature on the mix. Over the past 3 weeks, I got lost in hours planning possible sets that incorporated the song requests I received in advance. Then I recorded the sets to listen to how the ideas actually came together. I enjoyed every minute of it.

After the gig was over, I remembered how important it is to make time just for the love of it. No need to wait for a reason. Whatever fulfillment I may not be getting from my other undertakings, I’ve found it’s made up in this area. So making the time commitment to my hobby helps provides balance. It has also set me up to succeed when I find opportunities to monetize.

“Study and work in whatever seemingly unrelated areas you are interested in, even if it’s just a hobby. That way, when your dream job/business comes up, you’ll be perfectly and uniquely qualified for it.”

― Sarah Jansen, writer and editor

Where It All Comes Together

Now back to work…Work could be and should be fun. Normally it’s not. That’s why we call it work. So, for now, if you have to work at a job that’s not your calling, but pays the bills, make time outside of work hours to do what you’re deeply passionate about. That might be cooking, writing, DJing…or in my case, all of the above. Perhaps you like to code. Some of you enjoy organizing events or managing side-projects. Doesn’t matter. As you get better and better at your chosen craft, you’ll improve your chances of finding the missing piece and putting it all together ― combining passion and skill with something that can drive your economic engine. Or in other words, creating a part-time gig, or even better, a viable career out of something you love and are also very good at.

I know fitness instructors, magicians, wedding planners, business consultants/owners and of course other DJs who’ve done just that. I’d love to hear if you’ve also managed to make the transition. What were you doing before and what are you doing today? Please leave a comment below.

Let me wrap up this set with a sample music mix created by my alternate persona, DJ ReCreator:

Use the following link if the embedded sound clip doesn’t load: https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/3d-blend-fancy-champagne-with-shirt-and-tie

You can also see the track list and download this mix for free on MixCrate:
http://www.mixcrate.com/djrecreator/3d-blend-fancy-champagne-with-shirt-and-tie-9203074

Cheers! Here’s to a happy work week!

Serendipity, Synchronicity or Just Plain Good Luck

jung-synchronicitysyn·chro·nic·i·ty
ˌsiNGkrəˈnisədē/
noun
noun: synchronicity
  1. the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.
    “such synchronicity is quite staggering

 


ser·en·dip·i·ty
ˌserənˈdipədē/
noun
  1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
    “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

“We often dream about people from whom we receive a letter by the next post. I have ascertained on several occasions that at the moment when the dream occurred the letter was already lying in the post-office of the addressee.”
C.G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle


“Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish.”
― Ovid


“Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind.”
― Louis Pasteur


“According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don’t bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second symptom is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous. (quoted by Carol Lynn Pearson in Consider the Butterfly)”
Deepak Chopra, Synchrodestiny: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence to Create Miracles


“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
Charles de Lint


“We do not create our destiny; we participate in its unfolding. Synchronicity works as a catalyst toward the working out of that destiny.”
David Richo, The Power of Coincidence: How Life Shows Us What We Need to Know


“When you stop existing and you start truly living, each moment of the day comes alive with the wonder and synchronicity.”
Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free


“At various points in our lives, or on a quest, and for reasons that often remain obscure, we are driven to make decisions which prove with hindsight to be loaded with meaning. (225)”
Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras


“As soon as we notice that certain types of event “like” to cluster together at certain times, we begin to understand the attitude of the Chinese, whose theories of medicine, philosophy, and even building are based on a “science” of meaningful coincidences. The classical Chinese texts did not ask what causes what, but rather what “likes” to occur with what.”
M.L. von Franz

Feedback on Your LinkedIn Profile

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse]

This was first written in response to the flood of requests for individual profile reviews. Henrik Kjærulff started what became a very popular group discussion titled “What do you like about the profile above you.” I participated by reviewing a few profiles in the comments section. The idea was to review the profile of the person who left the last comment, and in turn, the next person would review and comment on yours. Great idea, and as I write this, there are currently 953 comments.

There were no expectations regarding expertise from those who provided feedback. (I certainly do not have any.) It was enough to get some objective feedback on both the good and not-so-good. Most people were very constructive with any suggestions they provided.

As I reviewed earlier comments, I noticed the trend of people getting skipped. Not intentionally, but the flow would sometimes get sidetracked when someone used the comments section to thank the person who gave a review. There were also a few folks who may have missed the detail about first reviewing someone else before expecting one in return. Oh well, it happens. I tried to help out by taking time to review anyone who may have been inadvertently missed. I no longer expected mine to be looked at. It just felt good to help someone out.

So here I am trying to “work smarter.” As much as I’d like to comment individually, this post will hopefully summarize the feedback I found myself giving again and again. While this post is meant for a more general audience, I hope readers will still find a few things applicable to their individual profiles.

Profile Photo: At The Very Least, Have One.

There are plenty of resources and tips out there regarding the LinkedIn profile photo. I stumbled upon one the other day written by Rachel Zoe – “5 Tips For Looking Better In Your LinkedIn Photo“. Great tips so I’ll just emphasize what I think is the most important one.

Within the group discussion, one of my recurring observations was that several of the profiles had no photo at all. (If you’re waiting for the perfect photo before you upload one, you may be missing out in the meantime.) Rachel Zoe cites this stat in her post, “…having one makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by employers.” Personally I would love to update my profile photo with one taken by a professional photographer. Alas, I’m being frugal and just asked my wife to take a shot. Not ideal, but I’ll circle back to that eventually.

Avoid Copying Your Résumé Verbatim: Tell a Story

There was a point when my profile was pretty much the LinkedIn version of my curriculum vitae. This wasn’t necessarily ineffective, but when recruiters would reach out and ask for my résumé, I didn’t have any more information to give them other than what was already detailed in my profile.

I decided to follow the lead of some of my mentors and tell my story instead of just making bullet lists of my past responsibilities and accomplishments. I went against my own reservations about being too personal, and injected more of my personality. Now it feels more genuine and less scripted. I figure that if this turns off potential partners/employers, I probably wouldn’t want to work with them anyway.

This may be the wrong direction. I’m still not sure. You’ll know what’s best for your particular case.

Endorsements and Recommendations: Sometimes It Helps to Ask

When LinkedIn first rolled out the endorsements feature, I enthusiastically added it, perhaps too much so. I went overboard with the number of skills I listed. I’ve been fortunate to receive many endorsements from my peers and colleagues. Of course, I make sure to also give honest endorsements  for everyone I’ve gotten to know during my career. I’ve never asked for endorsements and I still prefer not to.

On the other hand, when it comes to recommendations, it’s a little different. Writing a recommendation for someone, at least a good one, takes thought. Everyone’s busy. So having someone write you a recommendation just because they like you so much, probably won’t happen. For the longest time, I only wanted to receive recommendations that weren’t solicited. I actually got a few. (Many thanks to…you know who you are.)

Then I decided to actually ask, albeit selective whom I asked. I made sure to give everyone an easy out so they wouldn’t feel obligated. It’s true what they say – you often get what you ask for.

Publish a Post: Stop Hovering

For the past year, any time I was editing my profile, my mouse would hover over ‘Publish a post’ but I didn’t feel I had anything worthy to share.

Hmm…I was fairly successful as a digital marketer. Should I write about that? Nah, too many people out there much smarter and with more expertise. Plus it will take too much time and I’m busy. Forget it.

I would move on to editing some other section of my profile.

Then I started journal writing again in the early hours of the morning. It was my way to capture important details of daily life and to reflect on my scattered thoughts. Since I was only writing for myself, I didn’t care about grammar, coherency, structure…I just wrote. It was in returning to this daily practice that I found inspiration to publish my first post. I wasn’t expecting much. I was only hoping that it might help others who were going through a similar career experience. After that first one, the subsequent posts followed without a lot of hovering.

As this relates to your LinkedIn profile, what you publish is an extension of your personal brand. It helps others get to know the person behind the job history and skills. For some it demonstrates their mastery in a specific field. For me, it’s about the career journey and how all the seemingly disparate moments come together.

LinkedIn Pulse can be a powerful feature if words don’t get in the way. Find the connection between what you do and what you love. The story will come.

Do What You Can Then Let It Be…For a While

During my career break last year, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to overhaul my LI profile and give it a major makeover. I tested and applied many of the suggestions I noted above. Eventually, I needed to just walk away. I was forcing it – with the aim of perfection – well beyond the point of diminishing returns. I’ve accepted that it’s probably best to let it gradually improve over time. To let my number of connections, endorsements and recommendations grow organically. To only post articles when I’m inspired. To shift my focus on what I can give rather than what I can get. Today, I’m ok with my profile, imperfect as it may be. It will improve in the long run.

I’d like to experiment with this being a “living” post. My hope is that I can continue to edit/add/remove/refine content within this post based on your comments and my personal experience. The sections covered initially only include what I found were common oversights. With the robust features that LinkedIn provides, there will be a lot more to cover as this post evolves.

Please leave a comment if anything I’ve mentioned is totally off-base or irrelevant. If most of it seems like common sense to you, please leave some suggestions on anything unique that you’ve found to be effective. Thanks in advance.

-Donn

[Last Updated: 03/04/2016]


Additional Reading:

 


Donn’s Blog: www.donndurante.com/category/career
Featured Image Copyright: inbj / 123RF Stock Photo

More Than Words: A Career Start in Japan and What I Brought Home with Me

It was the summer of 1991. Although I hadn’t officially finished school, I boarded a plane for Tokyo after being accepted into the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme. I had taken a semester of Japanese language during my freshman year but proficiency in Nihon-go wasn’t even a prerequisite.

My time as an Assistant Language Teacher was only contracted for a year. Six years later, I was still working in Japan. I had extended for a couple more years with the Ministry of Education. Then as I was packing my bags to head back to the States, a Japanese student/friend referred me to the CEO of a local language school which led to another 3 years in the private sector.

The entire cross-cultural experience influenced my perspective on everything from communication to customer service to relationships in general.

In terms of communication, I quickly learned the value of paying close attention and listening more than talking. It took incredible concentration just to carry on everyday conversation in a language I could barely speak, much less read and write. Surprisingly, even if I couldn’t find the right words, I was still able to carry on meaningful exchanges. Sometimes it was enough to just listen respectfully and then combine broken Japanese, simple English and a whole lot of gestures to respond. When totally over my head, I would bow and excuse myself as gracefully as possible. Sumimasen! To the Japanese, there were unspoken expectations and varying levels of formality depending on who you were speaking with.

Being a gaijin (translation: foreigner or outsider) I was often excused for making inappropriate or ignorant comments. I knew I could only play that card for a limited time. After the first year, I had no excuse not to understand the local lingo. More importantly, I needed to better understand the cultural expectations and social context surrounding both verbal and nonverbal exchanges. The more I familiarized myself with what made the Japanese culture unique, the more I appreciated the differences. It became easier and easier to understand what my Japanese friends really meant despite what they actually said.

My Takeaway: Words Are Important but The Nonverbal Means So Much More

More than 20 years later, this perspective still influences every interaction regardless of whether I’m with a client, a co-worker or family and friends. Understanding the subtleties of body language, or knowing when it’s better to keep my mouth shut, has had a huge impact on the quality of my relationships and the differences I’ve made in the various roles I’ve played. It has shaped who I am today and the opportunities that have come my way.

For example, when I DJ a party, the music is the language of choice. How I segue from one song to the next is based on how I read the audience and the mood of the moment. I pay careful attention to how smooth the transitions flow and how the party reacts. When I’ve done my homework and made the effort to understand the audience before the event, our “meeting” leaves everybody pumped up. I put the needle on the record and communicate through the song selections and the crowd replies by packing the dance floor. A track record of packed dance floors makes securing the next gig easy.

Whenever I’m responsible for a team, I flex my management style depending on the person or the group. As I’ve mentioned in my post about simply effective leadership, I always take the individual and the situation into consideration. This tends to produce much better results than the one-size-fits-all style I used to have. In turn, being an effective leader has afforded me greater responsibilities with greater rewards.

At the heart of it all, it comes down to understanding the details within the context of the bigger picture. The meaning of any words spoken or actions taken can change drastically depending on how you frame them. The frame can shift the focus. The context can change the meaning.

So this is what I learned so many years ago thousands of miles away:
It doesn’t matter what language you speak (Japanese or English, Music or Business). what you do and how you respond can mean so much more than the words you actually say. There’s a universal language out there that we all understand, and words have little to do with it. Da yo ne!

Originally published on LinkedIn

Translations:

  • Nihon-go – Japanese (language)
  • gaijin – foreigner or outsider
  • sumimasen – excuse me
  • da yo ne – isn’t that right!

Featured Image Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo