How I Stumbled Upon My Personal Brand

I always knew I wanted to be writer. In third grade, after completing an exam, I took out a sheet of loose leaf paper and wrote my first story. It was not glamorous, by any means, but something inside of me ignited on that day. I suddenly had an outlet for all the stories swirling around in my imagination (I was a big daydreamer).

And while this passion stayed with me through middle school, high school and even college, I decided early on that writing would not be my career. I didn’t want monetary influences to take anything away from the joy that writing gave me. I never wanted external forces to have a say in whether or not I was good enough.

So, I studied psychology in college and ended up evaluating education and training programs at a large urban hospital. While I enjoyed my financial independence and the colleagues I worked with (some of whom became good friends), I wasn’t a big fan of the work. I soon realized that the reason I didn’t like the work was because it didn’t align with who I was.

Throughout school, I had worked hard to overcome what I considered “weaknesses” when it came to analytical skills, but the truth was, I relished in an environment that was more creative. So, why had I followed a path that was in conflict with what I enjoy doing on a daily basis? In short, the answer was simple: to prove that I could. I’ve struggled with many insecurities over my lifetime, the biggest one being I am not good enough. To challenge my own beliefs and those around me who may have influenced this misguided perception, I went out of my way to prove that I was good enough.

And then I was diagnosed with an incurable chronic condition. Life suddenly seemed too short to spend time proving I was good at things I didn’t enjoy doing. In 2010, more than a year out of college, I left that analytical-oriented job and went back to school for a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and publishing arts.

Back to Creative

Graduate school was tough. My professors were demanding. I’d never been instructed in writing before – everything I learned was through reading and trial and error. I almost failed my first year. I started questioning if I was good enough. But I had some peers who supported and encouraged me. And then that stubborn pride kicked in: Maybe I’m not good enough? But screw it; I love writing so I’m going to prove that I am.

Over the next three years, I continued to experiment and push my limits when it came to writing. And then I arrived at my thesis. As a part of the program’s requirements, we had to write, design and self-publish a short book of essays, stories or poems (depending on your focus). I wrote a series of essays on growing up in Kentucky, grappling with mental health, relationships with my family – anything that didn’t touch on my experience with that incurable chronic condition that had kick started me to this program. My advisor and fellow classmates encouraged me to at least mention diabetes in my essays – it was a unique perspective, a new way of life that I had learned to embrace to survive.

I hadn’t written about diabetes since I left that hospital job. I didn’t want to talk about it, much less write about it. I didn’t want it to destroy the happiness that writing brought me. But I’m not against trying something for the sake of saying I at least tried. So, I sat down one afternoon and started writing about my life with Type 1 diabetes.

A few weeks later I had a manuscript. It went through a series of revisions, and the design stage was one of the most stressful periods of my life, but upon graduation, I had a published book titled Sugarcoated. And for the first time since I’d been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, my family and friends and a new wave of readers began to grasp what life was like living with this disease. My writing was no longer my writing. It became a voice for advocacy, empathy and shared stories.

The Beginning of a Brand

I wanted to keep the conversation going, so in the fall of 2013, I started my Sugarcoated Diabetes blog. I used social media and word of mouth to foster an audience. Four years later, the blog remains my constant. I’ve continued to grow my audience as well as my content, using it as a platform to advocate for health care reform, better access to treatment and research for a cure. But to pay the bills and grow my skillsets, I’ve explored various professional paths from editing and web content management to digital strategy to directing communications efforts.

A year ago, I felt stuck in my professional path. I hired a life coach to dig deeper into the barriers preventing me from finding and sustaining a role that I “loved.” I wasn’t sure that I had been successful with my investment in a creative-oriented career, and when it came to my writing, I didn’t feel it was good enough. I wondered if my blog was inhibiting me from exploring a more fulfilling path.

And then my life coach said this (I’m paraphrasing, of course): What if your blog is not a hindrance? What if your blog is your own personal brand? You want to do more with Type 1 diabetes. You want to do more with your writing. And look what you’ve done. You’ve spent the past four years cultivating an audience, improving upon your writing style and raising awareness for something very personal to you. The foundation is already there. Now, what do you want to do with it?

I had been so focused on meeting society’s expectations on what makes a writer successful that I hadn’t even acknowledged that I had created my own success. My blog makes me happy. It keeps me writing on a weekly basis. I get to be my own boss (a work environment I’ve come to learn that I thrive in). I have a creative outlet and source material for a future book. I have an audience that I connect with, and I’ve met other people with similar experiences to mine. I stay connected and know that I am not alone.

This certainly took time, patience and dedication. But by staying true to who I am and encouraging a path that makes me want to write every day, I stumbled upon my own personal brand. While some readers may judge my writing or my stories, I do not. I write for myself, but I publish that writing on my blog to connect with people, to support progress and to give something back. This is true to who I am and how I thrive in the world. I am not happy unless I am somehow connecting with others, and I am not fulfilled unless I am doing something creative for myself.

For now, that’s good enough.

--- Tracy Gnadinger

 

Here at The Niche Movement, we have a large community of people who are inspired by our words, experiences, and real world advice. We are continuing to feature some inspiring members of our greater community through the Tell Us Your Story Series here on our blog, as well as accepting new contributing editors to write their own for our blog. If you or someone you know would like to be featured, or become a contributing editor, please send us a DM or email our founder Kevin O'Connell at kevin@thenichemovement.com