Imagine the set of a talk-show on TV back in the 80s. Peter Oviomo is thin, bearded, and sitting in the interview chair. Bushy hair grows in unruly patches from the side of his otherwise bald head. His eyebrows sprout from his forehead like wild hawthorn in bloom. He’s wearing a Tie & Dye shirt over baggy jeans. His fingers are stained from black ink.
Oviomo, a retired Marketing professional, talked about Poetry; and what he said about the challenges Poets had to face made much sense. However, though he certainly looked the part of “legendary Poet,” the audience didn’t take him seriously. He wasn’t known, he wasn't authentic and didn’t appear to be a credible expert whom they could identify, like, and trust.
What was missing?
Fast-forward to 2009. There she is; young, brown skin, head wrapped in a scarf, with a lovely simple African print dress. This time, it’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presenting at TED; one of the most prestigious speaking gigs. In a fluid and flawless presentation, Chimamanda explains the danger of a single story. She knows what she’s talking about. This audience wanted a credible expert, and they got one. She didn't just 'look' the part, she 'knew and proved' the part with quality substance; she's authentic, and a well-honed professional in her art. Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice. She can break 7 of the 12 so-called rules of writing, and get away with it.
Because she’s earned a tremendous amount of sovereignty by showing up day after day for years, with her own authentic cultural voice, delivering something remarkable: concise, well-written expressions of her ideas.
If we want to find our way out of the wilderness of obscurity, we have to fight for our own audiences; showing up day after day, consistently writing and working smart, non-stop. We must earn sovereignty, just as Chimamanda did, in our chosen field of endeavor.
If we put Peter and Chimamanda in the same room to discuss marketing, would we take Peter more seriously than Chimamanda? Absolutely. However, if they spoke about artistic liberty or the mechanics of writing, we would probably take Chimamanda more seriously.
Summarily, we live in a message-dense, decision-rich environment. It is an information onslaught. To make sense of all this content, we want narrowly defined professionals. We want credible experts. That’s why your reputation is critical. Don’t let others decide how you are perceived. Become the master of your own reputation by staying consistent and authentic.