146 – The Freedom to be You

In this episode, I will talk about the idea of “branding”. The story we have about ourselves is our personal brand and we do a lot to influence the way others perceive us. Practicing non-attachment to our brand may allow us to experience greater freedom to be ourselves.

Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 146. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today I’m going to talk about the freedom to be you. Keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learned to be a better, whatever you already are. If you’re interested in learning more about Buddhism, check out my book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, available on Amazon, or you can start out by listening to the first five episodes of this podcast. You can find the first five episodes easily by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the link that says, “Start here.” If you’re looking for a community to practice and to interact with, consider becoming a patron by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the link to join our community.

I want to give a quick update regarding community. The community was previously set up to only be accessible by people who support the podcast, but I understand that not everyone is in a position to be able to support the podcast, so I’ve made a change to the way that the community access is made available to podcast listeners. If you visit the website, secularbuddhism.com and you click on the link at the top that says, “Community,” you’ll notice there is still the ability to support the podcast. The donation for supporting the podcast is $3 a month, which is very minimal. It’s the equivalent of buying a cup of coffee. But if you’re not in a position to be able to do that, and you still want to benefit from access to the community, there is the option to click for a sponsorship, and you’ll be given access to the community on our discord server where you can still interact with podcast listeners and supporters without having the financial burden of having to make any kind of a donation.

I wanted to do that because I didn’t like the thought of having the community locked behind some form of financial aspect. I totally understand that depending on what stage of life or life circumstances, we may not be in a position to be able to provide any kind of support, and yet the benefit of having access to a community is so great that it shouldn’t be restricted to any kind of financial gate. So that’s why I made that change. Having said that, you may have noticed it’s been a while since the last podcast episode. I want to say a month or maybe even more now. While I haven’t been doing podcast episodes quite as frequently, I have been engaging with the community quite frequently. In fact, every Sunday we have a one hour live Zoom call. There’s enough content out there now, in this podcast, in the books that I’ve written, to be able to start discussing all of these concepts and ideas on a regular basis, talking about how they apply to everyday life.

So while I may not have been doing podcast episodes, I have been talking with the community in a very active way every week, as we continue these discussions on how to apply these things into day-to-day life. If you want to watch some of those past episodes, you can find those in the community. So join the community. You can find videos of our past Zoom calls, and engage weekly with myself and with other podcasts listeners on these topics. Again, having said that, I have every intention of continuing the podcast as I have before, but if it seems like I haven’t been doing much with the podcast, it’s because I’ve been doing a lot with the community. I am going to make every effort to stay up to date with regular podcast episodes. But sometimes life happens, podcast gets behind, but the community is where I’m more committed right now and I’m spending time with anyone in the community who wants to take these concepts and ideas and learn how to apply them to everyday life.

Okay. So, that was the announcement I wanted to share. Now, the topic I wanted to discuss in this podcast episode is the topic regarding the freedom to be you. This actually comes from the last four to five weeks in the podcast community. We’ve been talking about this weekly, and it all started with a discussion around the concept of branding. When I graduated from college, my first job, I interned at a company doing marketing, and then one of my first jobs was at an advertising agency. I learned a lot while working at the advertising agency regarding marketing and regarding branding. This specific agency that I worked for was known for coming up with the brand of what happens here, stays here for the City of Las Vegas. That was one of our customers at the advertising agency, was the City of Las Vegas or the… It’s not actually the city, but their ministry of tourism or whatever the acronym is for, the entity responsible for getting people to visit Las Vegas.

The agency had come up with this branding campaign that, “What happens here, stays here,” and I’m sure many of you have heard about this. It’s a very popular brand for Las Vegas. Branding is a very important aspect of marketing, but it’s not necessarily the same thing as marketing. Marketing is what you want your customers to do. For example, an advertisement that convinces them to call your phone number to hire you for air conditioning repair or whatever it is. But branding is something a little bit different. Branding is everything that you do to evoke a certain feeling from your customer, so that when they think about your company, they have a certain feeling. Many large brands focus heavily on being consistent with their branding. Apple has a certain feel, BMW, Audi, Ford. Any major brand has what’s called branding, and all of their marketing revolves around the branding.

It starts with something as simple as their mission statement. So think of branding as what a company wants you to feel about them, and marketing is more what a company wants you to do. Because I spent so much time at an advertising agency and learning the ins and outs of marketing and the ins and outs of branding, I started to think more recently about how we as individuals actually do the same thing. We have the story that we have about ourselves, and then everything that we do when we interact with others, revolves around maintaining the brand that we want them to associate with us. As silly as that sounds, I think it’s very real, right? You may have a story about you, which is, “I am an intellectual person and look at me how I read.” So when I post a picture on social media of, “Hey, check out this book that I’m reading.”

That’s all part of my subconscious branding effort to make sure that you know that I am a person who reads. Therefore I’m a person who’s intellectual, or things like that. The clothing that we wear, the way that we do our hair, the type of vehicles that we drive, the sports and hobbies that we participate in, all of these things are involved with our personal brand. I think it’s important to understand this, not because we’re necessarily trying to eliminate our stories or to eliminate our branding, but our effort is to understand ourselves. When someone does something or says something, why does it affect me this way? Oh, because it’s inconsistent with the branding that I have about myself, that I want them to perceive about me. Now, I’ve encountered this firsthand in my own practice when I was going through my transition of faith.

I had this story about myself, which is that, “I am a good person. I do good things. I’m not the type of person who’s going to intentionally do wrong. In its broadest sense, I’m not a bad guy. I’m not a bad person. I like to be known as someone who’s nice and friendly and who does the right thing.” That was part of my personal brand, or is part of my personal brand. As I was going through my faith transition, members of my faith community were starting to view me as a heretic or rebel. Worst case scenario as somebody who’s doing wrong, and in a best case scenario, as a naive person who’s being misled by the adversary. I really struggled with that because that was inconsistent with my story that I have about myself, which is that I’m a good person who does good things. It came to a head specifically with certain family members where I could perceive that they’re now viewing me as someone who’s led astray or someone who’s doing wrong because I’m no longer following the correct path.

It really bothered me. A lot of my anxiety or consternation came from the fact that I couldn’t convince this person that I’m still the good person. I’m still living up to my brand. So my branding had changed. They had a new view of me, and their brand of me was not my brand of me. A lot of my discontent, dissatisfaction, suffering arose from the discrepancy of the story that I had about myself versus the story that someone else, in this case, a family member had about me. I see this happens with businesses. A business that has a brand and does things that are not consistent with the brand, struggles with their image. They’re going to struggle with their branding. But when it happens to us personally, it’s a more difficult thing. When I saw this in myself and I was able to understand, “Oh, this is what’s happening. This is why it bothers me. It’s not so much that they’re perceiving me from an incorrect perspective, it’s that the feeling that I want others to have of me, I’m not able to achieve that anymore, and I can’t help it.

There’s nothing I can say that’s going to convince this person that I’m still a good person, because from their point of view, in terms of their belief system, I’m not a good person. I’m not doing the right thing because I’ve left the correct path, and I’m now venturing on other paths that are inconsistent with the one true way which they believe there is a one true way.” It was really helpful for me to understand, “Okay, this is a branding issue, and it’s not that there’s anything wrong with how they perceive me. The only thing that’s wrong is that I want them to perceive me another way, and I can’t control perception. I can’t control the story that someone else is going to have about me.” What that left me with was the freedom to just be me, and that involves, or that entails the freedom of allowing others to have a different story about you than the one that you have about yourself.

In that comes a sense of liberation, a sense of freedom. That, for me, was a turning point in my journey of understanding myself, of understanding my stories, understanding my unconscious branding efforts that I put out to the world, and then the wrestling stopped. I no longer felt this tremendous need to influence this one person’s view about me to make sure that that view is consistent with the view that I have about me, because I realized that just can’t be done. It really can’t. Maybe to some degree, with some people it can, but to an overall degree with all people, it can’t. We can’t control the narrative that others have about us. But what I could understand is all the efforts that I’m putting out there to determine what that narrative is, and that was really fascinating to understand that about myself.

So my invitation to you as a podcast listener would be to explore what are the stories that you have about yourself? What is the personal brand that you try to put out to your circle of friends or to the world at large, the story that you have about you? Because somewhere in the maintaining of that story, you may find instances of suffering, instances of dissatisfaction that would constitute the second arrow. If somebody doesn’t like the way that you are, they judge the clothing that you wear, or the career choice that you followed, or the ideological views that you have, the political views that you have or anything along those lines, you may find that it really bothers you, and the actual source of being discontent is the inconsistency that you’re perceiving between the story you have about you and the one you’re trying to put out in the world and the one that they have about you and that they are perceiving.

Just knowing that may give you the ability to engage a little bit more skillfully with that relationship you have with the person, the relationship you have with your story, and more importantly, the relationship you have with a story that someone else has about you. So, that was the general idea that I wanted to introduce. It’s been discussed in the last four to five weeks now in our podcast community on Sundays. We’ve been going into greater detail around the central concept of the stories that we have about ourselves and the notion of our personal branding. Again, the invitation here isn’t to change your story or to change your brand. I think we all have stories, and the moment I decided, “Okay, well, I don’t have a story about myself.” Well, then that is the story. The story of having no story is still a story. Everyone has their story about themselves.

Everyone has the branding efforts that go out into making sure others perceive you a certain way, and there’s not a problem with that. I think that’s a very human thing to do, but what becomes really powerful is knowing, “Oh, this is why I’m doing this. This is why this matters to me.” Then I can catch myself and I won’t get so caught up in my efforts. It’s like, “Okay, I see why I’m doing this.” And that’s okay. “I’m just doing it because I’m trying to control the narrative.” That’s okay too. Trying to control the narrative isn’t the problem. What we start to practice is non-attachment. “Okay, here’s the story that I have about myself. What does non-attachment to that story look like? Well, it’s just a story. I don’t have to fight tooth and nail over the story. I don’t have to get completely bent out of shape when somebody misinterprets me, my story and they have their own story about me.”

In the end, what you’ll end up with is a greater sense of freedom to just be you. The you that has a story, the you that sometimes defends the story, the you that sometimes realizes, “That was not very necessary. I’m going to stop defending my story.” The you that’s putting in efforts to make sure that the story that someone else has about you is the story that you’re happy with. The freedom to engage with the entire process of what it is to be you and what it is to have a story about yourself and what it is to feel offended when that story about you is misinterpreted or is inconsistent from someone else’s perspective. These are all aspects of being a human, a social creature that engages in social connection. So that is my invitation to you in this podcast episode, is to think about that.

I do want to echo the co-on that I shared in the last podcast episode was that, “There is nothing I dislike.” I think one of the keys to thinking about this co-on is how do we define I? Who is the I that can like or dislike something? Take that into consideration with this concept of the you that has a story about yourself. Which you is more you? The one that has the story or the one that is in the storyline? Those are fun things to think about. So that is my invitation to you. Hopefully, this concept makes sense. Again, I try to explore some of these key teachings and key concepts from the perspective of liberation and freedom because that’s what we’re after. It’s not about becoming a better you. I know that I mentioned that becoming a better whatever you already are at the beginning of every episode, but perhaps it’s less about changing who you are and more about befriending who you are. Befriending the you that you already are.

The you that you already are, has a story about yourself. So get to know that story. Get to understand all the activities that take place when you’re trying to influence that narrative for other people. Just greater understanding as the goal. With greater understanding comes a sense of liberation, the freedom to be you. So hopefully, I gave you something to think about over the next few days or weeks. I will work on another podcast episode topic here in the near future. Meanwhile, if you want to continue these discussions on a more regular basis, feel free to join Secular Buddhism podcast community by becoming a patron, or if you can’t, click in for a sponsorship. Both of these things are available on secularbuddhism.com. Click on the link that says, “Community.” That’s all I have for this episode. Thank you for taking the time to listen. Till next time.

About the Author
Noah Rasheta is a Buddhist teacher, lay minister, and author, as well as the host of the podcast Secular Buddhism. He teaches mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy online and in workshops all around the world. He works with others to make the world a better place as he studies, embodies, and teaches the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy, integrating Buddhist teachings with modern science, humanism, and humor. He lives in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with his wife and three kids.