05/21/2013 11:13 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2013

Don't Honk the Wrong Horn!

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Be True to Your Brand
Several years ago I made, what I thought was at the time, a momentous decision. I was having a good year, and I wanted to show the world that I had arrived. And I wanted to show them I had arrived, every time I arrived. So, what did I do? -- I went out and bought the biggest and flashiest Jaguar I could find -- soft leather seats, shag carpet, pull-down picnic trays - the works. It was a real "Man Car!" Never mind that I purchased it the "girl" way -- didn't think I deserved a new one, so I bought it used, went crazy anytime someone looked at the car cross-eyed, couldn't drive it in wet weather (didn't handle very well) and was petrified of someone hitting it as the cost of driving it into the dealership for repair would decimate my daughter's college fund.

Prior to the Jag, I drove a 1980's Lincoln Town Car, an old gas guzzler that stuck out of my driveway, it was so long. While it was a mighty comfortable ride, I got a tremendous amount of ribbing for driving it, and after a while, I decided that it was inconsistent with my image and brand. Tooling around my Princeton, New Jersey neighborhood in my Jaguar propelled me into a whole new world of affluent cool -- or so I thought. The problem was that I was so protective of the car, I couldn't enjoy it. And I thought that way deep down, maybe I didn't deserve it.

One day, I pulled into one of my major client's parking lot, looking for a space that was clearly visible from the CEO's aerie on the top floor of the building. As I walked past his office, he pulled me in, and very excitedly told me that I had the best car in the whole lot and how cool I Iooked driving it, whereupon I took the opportunity to vent my insecurity about the car ("Well, I bought it used and got a really good deal, but it gives me trouble in wet weather, and I'm so afraid someone's going to hit it because the cost of fixing it would be astronomical, and my daughter put her cleats on the back seat and I almost had a coronary, etc., etc.").

The big boss, whom I will call Bob, turned to me and said, "Stop, stop -- you've ruined the whole thing. My vision of your coolness has vanished. Get out and come back when I have forgotten this conversation so maybe I can salvage some of my feelings of respect for you." While Bob always found a way to make everything about him, I did leave his office feeling acutely deflated, but also strangely relieved at the same time. I came to the conclusion that the purchase of the Jaguar was not a good one -- it represented an ostentation that I really couldn't afford (the car wasn't the problem -- it was the maintenance), really didn't need and conveyed an image that simply wasn't me. I sold it shortly thereafter and went back to my Town Car until I decided that a Lexus SUV (upscale, but not over the top) was the way to go -- and that's been my ride of choice ever since.

I went against one of the foundational practices I discuss in my keynotes and workshops -- be true to your brand. The Jaguar represented something I thought I should be, as opposed to who I really was. And every time I drove it, it made me feel insecure and nervous -- and it also hurt my back because it rode so low to the ground. And -- when one of my more superficial clients bought the whole image, I threw it back in his face by minimizing the car, the circumstances around the purchase, and my 'enjoyment' around driving it. Clearly, it wasn't serving its intended purpose.

Since buying the Lexus SUV, I experience much more inner peace when I get in the car. I think it suits me well, and if someone dents it -- so be it. It truly represents my personal brand, and while I may admire a sleek Jaguar from afar, I realize that I truly arrived when I understood that my brand was not enhanced when it honked the wrong horn...