Go DARE: BRAND Your Own Self!

Shriver ReportOver the past few weeks, Maria Shriver–the Kennedy daughter and First Lady of California–has been prominent across more media outlets than Octo-Mom, Kate and Jon, and Balloon Dad–combined.

By now, we all know that Shriver is the coauthor–along with TIME and the Center for American Progress (a politico-educational think tank founded by President Clinton’s ex-Chief of Staff John Podesta)– of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything.

But, DARE to look closer:  That’s not the only property Shriver is promoting.

For sure, Shriver has parlayed a powerful alliance and a statistics-packed intellectual property combined with her considerable celebrity and influence to mount a massive and masterful media blitz about 21st century American women.  She’s also reclaiming her BRAND as a media personality in her own right, in her quest to return to her long-time career once her husband completes his final term as Governor.

When Everything Changed
The Shriver document covers territory that scholars and scholarly writers have explored expertly in the past–from Betty Friedan to Juliet Schor to Barbara Ehrenreich to Sue Shellenbarger to Gail Collins, and others too numerous to mention here.  In fact, Collins’ newest book, When Everything Changed–a history of American women from the 1960s to the present–is garnering rave reviews as â”scholarly” and â”masterful” as well as â”sly and witty.”   Like Shriver, Collins has generated extensive print and TV coverage.

But there’s a big difference between the others and Shriver as chroniclers of the American woman’s experience.

Take Collins, for example, who is first and foremost a bona fide researcher, scholar, and writer–her voice that of a fellow working woman who’s actually been in the trenches.  Collins is a media personality second, and a celebrity–well, not so much, or a distant third.   The same goes for Schor, Ehrenreich, and Shellenbarger, all of whom have contributed much value to the scholarly canon about the challenges and opportunities real women face in their personal lives, careers, and as champions of important causes.

So, if you’re as avid a student of the media and its notable or notorious (or both) celebrity personalities as I am, you maybe can forgive me for harboring the skeptic’s view that the implicit (if not explicit) goal of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything is to create a compelling platform and unique journalism BRAND for Shriver herself.

Here’s the catch:  I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her doing that.

While visionary, intelligent, motivated women over 40 can’t all become scholars, writers, or media personalities, they all can learn a lot by observing Maria Shriver.  In this recessionary environment, every woman over 40 needs to identify, capture, and maximize their own BRAND of expertise to distinguish themselves.

Luckily, the Internet helps–via every form of online branding our DARE -ING ancestors and sisters could not even imagine.  The point is that we all need to stop whining that we couldn’t possibly aspire to Shriver’s accomplishments because, unlike her, we don’t have a posse of production professionals, nor the battalion of personal trainers, nannies, housekeepers, nutritionists, wardrobe stylists, hairdressers, make-up artists, and coat-holders  (every successful media personality and politician has a coat-holder) who surely toil around the clock to get Maria ready for her close-ups.

Hey, I do sympathize with the whiners:  I don’t have the time most days even to blow dry my hair, but when I do, I try not to let myself obsess that Shriver has on speed-dial the name of someone whose sole mission it is to apply massive amounts of setting gel, muscle, and kilowatts in twirling perfectly sectioned shafts of her nearly two-feet-long swath of hair into the fat, smooth, shiny curls she bobs around and up and down during her 7 A.M. network TV show interviews.

But that’s as far as my sympathy and empathy go for my fellow whiners.

So, if you can tear yourself away from obsessing at Shriver’s uncanny ability to channel the oratory bombast of her uncles in enunciating every syllable of her sound-bites as if she were a Pentecostal minister issuing the most dire warnings to repent or else,  I’ve got some BRAND-Aids for you–yes, you!–to develop, expand, and market your expertise.

  1. The universe assumes (demands)–fairly or unfairly–that if you’ve lived for four decades or more, then,  of course, you’re an expert–at something or someone or some place. Before you can convince anyone else, though, you need to believe it yourself.  Think hard about your particular interests, passions, concerns, issues, hobbies, and other worthwhile endeavors you’re drawn to (or could be) in the course of your daily life.  It shouldn’t be that difficult to identify a particular expertise you already have, or to choose a topic you want to learn and master to the point where you can become an expert–so much so that you could get paid for it, or even quit your day job to do it.
  2. Regardless of your family background, education, career choice, job history, financial situation, or lifestyle, you’re an expert already–at hard work. Sure, Shriver was born into and married one of the most powerful personal brand portfolios in the world.  But, her great-, great-ancestors were not.  They had to work to earn it:  Their brand equity was built on sweat equity.  We all have to start somewhere, and what better time to start than when you’re over 40!   Once you’ve identified an expertise that you can be proud of, and that you think you can talk and write about, help others with, or even teach, go do it!  If you can personalize your expertise so that it’s perceived to be inimitable – i.e., something you do better than most people–all the better.
  3. Expanding and expounding on a particular expertise is beneficial for so many reasons, even beyond your career or other financial gain. There’s an entire branch of science that studies the â”elasticity” of the brain as we get older, and how learning new things can help us stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other ravages of aging.   And, you don’t have to be bookish about it:  There are at least seven different kinds of intelligence; just pick one from this list:  (1) verbal/linguistic; (2) mathematical/logical; (3) spatial; (4) musical; (5) bodily/kinesthetic; (6) intrapersonal; and (7) interpersonal.   Surely you can DARE lay claim to one or more of those, or research one that piques your interest and get good at it!
  4. If you really want to learn as much as possible about a particular subject to the point of becoming an expert and getting recognized as such, seek out others who have similar interests, experience and expertise in your area of focus. Universities and colleges, professional organizations, trade associations, nonprofits, networking groups, and other communities, online and offline, are a haven for people who already are experts,  want to become experts, or want to hang out with, learn from, and leverage their expertise.  Again, Maria Shriver is an excellent example:  While she already has the family credibility, media credibility, and political credibility she needs to return to the spotlight as a media personality, the fact is that, as a Governor’s wife, she’s had to refrain from news reporting (conflict of interest and all that) for quite some time.  So, she needed a new â”hook”–a new BRAND platform for her return to journalism.  Aligning herself with the Center for American Progress enhances her intellectual credibility and logistical efficiencies (imagine the herd of cubicle dwellers that actually did a lot of the work to put The Shriver Report together).

True, few women over 40 have the power and influence to land in TIME and across the NBC media juggernaut in one full swoop like Maria Shriver has done, or to work with a powerful educational think tank–plus flaunt storybook-heroine hair and expertly smoke-shaded eyelids on morning TV in front of thousands of viewers afflicted with terminal bed-head, eye lint, and cellulite, while also sounding like they’re channeling God delivering the Ten Commandments to Moses.   (For all that, you definitely need a posse.)

But this is also true: By the time you’re over 40, you can recite from unaided memory the brands that promise to rid you of wrinkles, bump up your butt, and overflow your mo-jo–but do you know what and where your own brand is?

So, why not DARE shore up something even more powerful–your brain cells! Figure out what you’re good at now that you’ve been on the planet for more than four decades.  Get as smart as you can about it, or about something you’re really passionate about.  Then, think of yourself as a brand, dream up your own slogan, find all the places and people with whom you can claim and proclaim your expertise, and get yourself out there. Go DARE!