1979 - 1998
Develop your brand. It's everywhere. I recently went to a leadership conference hosted by my employer (yes, like many of you, I do have a day job) where the concept of branding the leadership within our organization was a major focus. This didn't shock me, and I felt like I was ahead of the game thanks to my experience as a writer. I've been focusing on developing my own brand for months now, so it's only natural that the concept would apply to my profession. Not that the two brands are otherwise connected, only that I get it. Nor do I think that my organization lacks a brand.
Since before I worked for this hospital, I knew what it stood for - Quality. As a member of the community, my organization has always stood for quality. You could go to another hospital in the area, but if you wanted quality, you went to this one. Now, we want to brand our leaders. We want to define what our leaders stand for and what it means to be a leader where I work. It's not only about what others expect of us, but also what we will come to expect of ourselves.
But branding yourself can be daunting. It's your identity, and to do it, you have to know yourself. If you don't, you may find yourself feeling anxious about not knowing "who you are."
This happened to me when I was preparing to get married for the second time. The first time I got married, it was easy. I changed my name to my first husband's name. It's a social norm for many people, and doesn't necessarily take a lot of soul-searching. But getting married for a second time, well, that's a different story. I now had a list of possible names from which to choose. Should I hyphenate? And if so, which names should I use? The nice lady at the government office pointed out that I could use any combination of my maiden name, first husband's name and my second husband's name. I was completely overwhelmed, to say the least. Stick with me here, because this really does matter.
I honestly hadn't thought about what my new name would be when we made this appointment, so I did what any person in a state of panic might have done - I called my mom. My mom was never the type of person to tell you what you should do. She's great to talk to, but in the end, you have to think for yourself. So I ended the call feeling just as confused as when I dialed her number. In the end, I decided to keep it simple. I was going from a nice short four-letter last name to one that is nine letters wrong. Hyphenating was not an option knowing that I sign my name hundreds of times a day as a nurse. I made a deal with my husband to change my name to his, so long as he did the paperwork. If you've ever changed your name, you know what a pain in the neck it is, and I had already done it twice (once to my married name, and then back to my maiden name after the divorce). My husband happily agreed since that meant he was getting his way. (His vote was for Kobayashi.) The nice lady was very patient as I worked through my little identity crisis.
For years I've been Michelle Kobayashi and it was never a problem. Then I decided to become an writer. Unlike my professional brand, I don't stand for an organization. I stand for myself. Who I am and what I call myself are part of what distinguishes me from all other writers. Early on, I read about searching for other authors with the same name to see what comes up. Turns out, there is another Michelle Kobayashi who has published graphic novels. There's also a dentist in Hawaii. (Kobayashi is like Smith in Japan.) So I decided to use my middle initial: Michelle A. Kobayashi. It certainly makes me stand out in search results, but what I realized tonight is that it leaves out a major piece of who I am.
When I was 21, my sister, Barbara, died in a tragic motorcycle accident at the age of 19. My family was well known in our community, and her wake was attended by an tremendous number of people. The Luce family was in crisis, and hundreds of people turned out to pay their respects. I wrote Near Mrs. to share her story and how I dealt with losing her. I didn't want to focus on such a macabre subject, so I made it a subplot, all be it an important one for the main character, Hannah. I always intended on publishing this story under both my maiden and married names - as Michelle Luce-Kobayashi.
This led to another identity crisis. While I wanted to publish this book under my maiden name, I hadn't planned on publishing my middle-grade series under the same name. My identity now is Michelle A. Kobayashi. Or is it?
Being one of the Luce-girls (go ahead an giggle, we always joked about it ourselves) is part of who I am. My father was the only rooster in the hen-house, surrounded by my mom, my sister Janet, Barbara and me. I will always be one of the Luce-girls, and to think that this would not be a part of who I am as an author is absurd. My family is a huge piece of my life, and to just be Michelle A. Kobayashi would be like dissecting out an essential part of who I am.
So tonight I made a major decision. I've been gearing up to start my own website to continue the process of self-branding. My original intention was to select the domain name "michelleakobayashi.com" as I did with this blog and my gmail account, but in light of this little epiphany, I went ahead and registered for michellelucekobayashi.com. I'm comfortable with my decision. It feels right when I think about it, and for me, that's a sure sign that I'm on the right track. You may have noticed that I've changed the name of my blog (again). I've learned to trust my gut, and it's telling me that this is right.
I didn't start out knowing exactly who I am and what I stand for. That's something that evolved. But I know now. I'm Michelle Luce-Kobayashi, and I'm a writer of captivating fiction, be it women's or middle-grade or whatever else I choose.
What about you? Have you always known your brand? Or is it something that you figured out as you went along?