Halloween gives us a free pass to be silly, weird, outrageous and terrifying – to adopt any image we want without harming our brand. For 24 hours – or a long weekend, if we’re lucky – we can peel off the carefully planned layers of our persona and pretend to be anyone or anything we want.
Without consequence, we can be a monster, a pole dancer, a roll of toilet paper or a stick of gum.
Or we can remain in our grown-up clothes and be a stick-in-the-mud instead.
Which did you choose and why?
Better to be Read than Dead
If you spent the weekend in sweat pants, khakis or whatever passes for your version of casual attire because you don’t like Halloween or weren’t in the mood to celebrate this year, that’s fine by me. But, if you wanted to dress up and didn’t because you didn’t have a good reason – a young child or an office party – this makes me sad.
Because, if you can’t take a risk on Halloween, how will you ever take any on the other 364 days of the year? And, if you don’t take a chance on your brand, it will die of boredom. And no one will care enough to attend its funeral.
Your personal brand is a precious commodity. It needs considerable and careful attention.
Every keystroke puts your reputation on the line, and thoughtless comments can mar your reputation. So you should be scared. You should suffer a moment of apprehension before a blog post goes live or a tweet reaches your followers.
But it’s better to sometimes offend half of your audience than to frequently put all of it to sleep. It’s better to sometimes be wrong than to always be bland.
Feeling Blue, Azrael?
Such thoughts ran through my mind this weekend when my daughters decided they wanted all of us – humans, canines and feline – to dress up for Halloween this year. It was Devil’s Night, and we had no plans – and no costumes – for the holiday. But we needed some silliness in our lives. The last few months have been stressful, our spirits taking an extended rollercoaster ride because of Bri’s illness and the premiere of Run For Your Life, a Lifetime movie based on my memoir, Quicksand: One Woman’s Escape From the Husband Who Stalked Her.
I wasn’t convinced we could come up with one costume, let alone 6, in 24 hours. But I’ve learned not to underestimate my daughter’s collective will – and talent. So, we opened up Bri’s costume trunk, Kelsey’s makeup kit and the household craft closet (which I’ve dubbed the “unfortunate area” as it is always a cluttered mess) and got to work. More precisely, the girls worked on Halloween preparations, while I worked for KOTAW.
Apart from OK-ing the idea, making a trip to Michael’s for sparkly gold paper and braiding the girls’ hair, I had no role in the planning and outcome, which resulted in the following costumes:
Minnie Mouse. Lucy, an 11-year-old maltese-poodle mix, is the newest addition to our family. For nearly a year, she ran away from her house to ours (or cried until we collected her) on a near-daily basis. One day we were too tired to bring her home so we let her spend the night, and another night and another – and her owner never came by to retrieve her – so we now call her ours. We had no idea if Lucy would consent to any form of dressing up, so the girls kept it simple. She turned out to be an entirely amenable model, which means she chose our home wisely – the girls are already talking about what she’ll be next Halloween.
Azrael. Doosis didn’t have to lift a paw to play the evil cat from The Smurfs. The girls positioned Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Brainy Smurf etal around her. Lucky Doosis didn’t have to watch the show either. I couldn’t remember the show’s theme, so Kelsey explained that the Smurfs were magical forest creatures who were always in danger from Gargamel and other evildoers who wanted to kill the blue elves for their “Smurfiness”. After watching an episode, I sided with the villain: “Maybe he wanted to kill the Smurfs because they’re annoying.”
Super Girl. This costume, fashioned out of a pair of pajamas, was a natural fit for Ivy, who rescues lost animals, nurses kittens and leads the fight against Pit Bull discrimination. Ivy, by the way, loves to dress up. She’d don a new outfit every day if we were so inclined.
Elsa and Anna. Kelsey did an amazing job perfecting the makeup so she and Bri could dress as the sisters from the Disney movie Frozen. Unfortunately, the lighting was way too bright when I took photos, so the detail was washed out. But my daughters are the everyday embodiments of sisterly love and loyalty, and it doesn’t take a camera to capture their devotion to each other.
Wonder Woman. For an hour, I sat in a chair with my eyes closed while Kelsey painted my face and Bri created the super-power crown and bracelets. I marveled at my daughters’ artistry and thanked them for the symbolic gesture. Twenty years ago, when it would have been more age-appropriate for me to play a comic book heroine, I would have been embarrassed. And I probably would have refused to be photographed. I would have missed out on the fun and the compliments. This year, I went out in public with patriotic eye makeup and a Wonder Woman tattoo on my cheek. No one looked at me weirdly, asked me if I was on my way to take a granddaughter trick-or-treating or en route to the loony bin. People treated me normally. A few told me I looked pretty.
This is partly because it was Halloween but mostly because of my attitude. I didn’t exude awkwardness so no one else felt uncomfortable either. My face is scrubbed clean now (except for a few remnants of the not-so-washable tattoo) but the joy of this Halloween is permanently etched onto my heart.
And so is this personal branding lesson:
Stop Iff-ing and When-ing Yourself to Death
I used to be one of those people who dressed up on Halloween only if I had a party to attend or a trick-or-treater in tow. And I didn’t limit my “if” conditions to a single day of the year. I was the person who would change jobs if I got a better offer or start a business when the timing was right. I let outside influences control my decisions.
Because I didn’t want to take responsibility for making wrong choices. I didn’t want to risk making a mistake.
But the biggest mistake was not taking any risks. I wished for change. I dreamed of the day when all the stars would align in my favor. I waited for things to improve.
Nothing actually changed, though, until I got off my iff-ing wish stick and dared to reach for the stars without a good fairy (or retirement plan) to back me up.
Yes, it’s scary and not just on Halloween. But it’s also the best treat I’ve ever given myself. And it’s the one I’d like to give you:
Take a risk today. Big, small or tiny. Do one thing you never thought you could – or should – do. I bet it will make you feel like a super hero.
And it should.
Personal branding is mandatory in the digital age. You can’t escape it, but you can overcome your fears of this marketing must. What about personal branding scares you the most? What’s the biggest risk you took that paid off? What’s the next risk on your agenda? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to make your brand risk-happy and worry-free!