What’s in a name? Rather, what’s in your name? The pervasive inquiry of social media savvy is: “What’s your brand?” Oftentimes, discussions surrounding one’s brand arises in the context of professional sports and athletes. What distinguishes your brand? What makes your brand relevant in the bigger picture, if at all? After all, we too might be just asking.
Perhaps, the distinction is that the term “brand” originates loosely from “brand name.” for example, brand names like Apple, Microsoft, or say Ferrari. A brand evokes a certain prescribed quality or emotion associated with that name. The brand symbolizes or represents something more than just a company, more than just its product. That’s “brand association,” on some level.
For example, Ferrari’s brand could be Luxury and Performance. Apple with its newest iPhones might brand Cool Technology. Clearly, former Apple CEO, the late Steve Jobs’ brand was The Innovator. Really, just guessing. Our experiences of brands are definitely relative and personal.
The brand represents more than just a company, more than just a person, more than just an entity. The brand represents an idea that resonates with people, sustaining some value. In our social media conscious lexicon, your brand can be far more than just a symbol, a stereotype, or even a reputation. Your brand can be access to your possible legacy.
In the bigger picture, I don’t believe that we define our legacy. Those we touch and make a difference for along life’s shared journey shall define our legacy. The whimsical paradox of legacy, by definition: We shall never know our legacy.
Yet, along our shared journey, having a brand that resonates, that perpetuates value, that inspires others to invent their greater-than version of themselves can create profound legacy. After all, we all come into the world hoping to make a difference and leave the world greater in some way. I’m just saying.
NBA Superstar Lebron James has led his teams to nine straight NBA Finals, winning three NBA Championships. Lebron authentically acknowledges the hardship of being raised by his single mom in the underprivileged part of Akron, Ohio. Lebron arrived in the NBA anointed “The Chosen One” out of high school as the first overall NBA draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now a Los Angeles Laker, Lebron has eclipsed all expectations. Already on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore of Great Players, Lebron still pursues more NBA Championships. That NBA Mount Rushmore includes GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Lebron James.
Although, when asked about his legacy, Lebron said, “I want to be defined by what I do off the court.” Lebron built the I Promise School in Akron. I Promise School enrolls many underprivileged kids, mostly African American, providing them with an education and healthy meals. If the students do well and get good grades, they receive a full scholarship to Ohio State University.
Perhaps, Lebron’s brand is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Yet, what might be the more meaningful brand: A good man, who makes a profound difference in the World. Now, that’s Lebron’s profound legacy. Amen.
The late Kobe Bryant was Lebron’s dear friend and “big brother.” Like Lebron, Kobe was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft straight out of high school by the Los Angeles Lakers. The 5-time NBA Champion was posthumously inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame after his illustrious 20-year NBA career.
Before Kobe’s tragic passing, he had embarked in his second act of life as a filmmaker and storyteller. Kobe brought to bear that same passion and focus that distinguished his prolific NBA career. He won an Academy Award for his Animated Short Film “Dear Basketball”. Yes, Kobe lived a full life at 41 years of age. What’s truly sad was that he still had so much more to gift the world. RIP Kobe.
Like Lebron, Kobe possessed God-given talent, yet no one worked harder becoming the greatest that he could be than Kobe. ESPN Get Up host Mike Greenberg once asked Kobe regarding his legacy and his place among the Pantheon of NBA Greats like Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. Kobe said, “I really don’t care.” Of all the athletes Mike had interviewed, he said, “I believed him.” Kobe knew in his heart that he gave everything he had in whatever he did. That’s just Kobe. That’s his amazing legacy.
ESPN First Take host Stephen A. Smith once asked Kobe if he had a problem with people who did not have his work ethic. Kobe said, “No, I don’t. I have a problem with people who expect to be great, but don’t put in the work.”
Kobe’s brand legacy is “Put in the work.” That personally resonates with me. For 25 years, Mizukami Sensei was my Aikido Sensei, before he passed away. Regardless of my failures, my black belt promotions, he’d always say, “Just train.” Just train to invent the next greater-than version of myself. Sensei’s brand, his legacy is “Just train.”
My brand has evolved through my own trials and tribulations, including my personal depression and my abusive childhood—which was probably no worse or better than others’. Over the years, I got from Sensei that I just grind it out. I got from Mom that compassion and gentleness authentically define a good man. I worked with my therapist Lance reconciling my childhood fear of my dad.
I could separate my dad’s cruel actions from the man who, as a child, had also suffered tremendously with his Dad. I forgave Dad for being human. I stopped hating on me, so much. I started forgiving and loving myself. From Aikido, I got that everyone’s Zero – everyone’s starting point is different. That was my lesson in having compassion. This has been all part of my 50 plus year journey of discovery and healing.
By definition, I’ll never know my legacy. Yet, I continually create my brand: Love and forgive thine own self. Have compassion, because everyone’s Zero is different. At least that’s my hope. Still, in the bigger picture of fostering a legacy, what I hope for really doesn’t matter. My brand only sustains when who I am, what I do, and what I say makes some difference for others, especially for those I have mad love and respect for.
Meanwhile, on Planet Earth, I “just train” like Sensei would have reminded. More than just saying.
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