Self Branding – Taking Ownership of Reputation

A Reflection on Self-Branding


Recently, I’ve been reading through the book “Branding Pays” by Karen Kang. I decided to buy the book after reading the following introduction:

Personal branding—that is, creating your image and guiding your reputation—has never been more important than it is today. Why? Because globalization and social media have made the world smaller, more connected and infinitely more competitive. Your competition for a job or business opportunity may be anywhere in the world—at the desk next to you or continents away. It has never been more important to differentiate yourself from the pack…

Branding Pays by Karen Kang

This “creating your image, and guiding your reputation” resonates with me because it fits into one of my major life goals:

Life Goal #6 – Taking ownership of my life—including my actions, desires, and mistakes.

I finished the last page yesterday, and despite its usefulness, I’ve decided that this book will not have the privilege of a permanent space in my library. I feel ilke this book is only useful for a specific stage in life like pregnancy or getting into college. Also, the relevant and essential material of the book could probably be summarized in 5 pages or less. I’ll probably read it one more time, take personal notes of the book, and then gift it to a friend.

Commitment to Transparency and Ownership

After reading this book, it’s contents helped strengthen my commitment to be publicly clear about who I am and about my intentions. This desire to be vocal about my beliefs arose from three recent life events:

  1. I’ve recently been placed in a situation where my reputation is on the line.
  2. I am serving in a ministry where there is mistrust between leaders.
  3. Whatever I make from now on, I want to be proud of my final product and be willing to share them publicly without shame. If I am wrong, I’ll openly admit my fault and take ownership of my mistake. (I was inspired to share my ideas openly and publicly after seeing a proposal by MT.)


One of my concerns about sharing this book to a friend is that it was clearly meant for a secular audience. While not stated directly outright, the author frames self-branding as a means to leverage oneself into an advantageous position in the workplace. My interest in “self-branding” is to primarily build a character of authenticity. My hope is to take ownership of my reputation in order to promote mutual cooperation, clarify personal vision, and flesh out my inchoate ideas with everyone around me. I’m not saying that the book’s overall message is bad. It’s intent is just not what I am looking for at this point in my life. As a result, I focused more on the templates and applicable tools provided in the book rather than on the underlying philosophy that the author was trying to promote.

“BrandingPays System – The 5 Steps

The “BrandingPays System”—as the book calls it—is divided into five steps. The 5 key steps are the following:

(The short description of each step is summarized by me in italics. If you want a more detailed description, you should just buy the book.)

Step 1: Positioning – Articulate your uniqueness in your area of interest.

Step 2: Messaging – Describe yourself in a way that is memorable and evidence based.

Step 3: Brand Strategy – Build a framework of your reputation based on both skills and personality.

Step 4: Ecosystem – Build a network of support and fellow leaders.

Step 5: Action Plan – Develop and execute a plan that concurrently builds skill, expertise, and publicity.

(Branding Pays also talk about symbols, personal vision, and social media.)

Opinion and Summary

I like the author’s step-wise approach to self-branding. One aspect I like about this book is how overflowingly resource rich this book is by providing supplementary resources for each step.

If I could summarize what I learned from this book in my own words, it would be the following:

Whether or not you take ownership of your reputation, you already have a reputation. Your boss won’t promote your reputation, nor will your hard work, nor will your accomplishments. You are living in the epoch of the digital age where anyone can look you up and judge you from the little information available. Now is the time to stand up and take action or be left behind.

What do you think? Should we take an active role in guiding our reputation?

Let me know.

God Bless,
Often Z.

Running, Blogging, and Spring Forward

I don’t know why, but when life becomes very stressful, I start to read a lot of books. I’m almost done with the book Branding Pays by Karen Kang, and I’ve got to say that it is… Interesting. I’ll be done with his book by next week so I’ll talk about the book in more detail then. I enjoyed reading the book, and I think it’s relevant to myself and to the lives of people around me.

Indirectly, this book is teaching me how to be authentic and take ownership of my life. My words have impact and so I should not say them carelessly.

This is especially true with my friend LT, who is currently going through a lot right now. He should skim through this book because it is relevant to his current situation.

LT’s a very interesting person. He lives and breathes social media. When I was trying to kick-start my blog, I asked him for advice. I still can’t wrap my head around how proficient he is with social media.

Honestly, this situation is the first time in my life where I haven’t seen him confident and in control. I feel like he put a lot of trust in the anonymity of the internet. If LT’s situation has taught me anything, it is that words have power. They can build up and can destroy. They can linger like a seed and grow at the opportune time, but they can act like a ticking time bomb, exploding unexpectedly at inopportune times. At first, I viewed this event as an ominous foreshadow of my blog, but now, I see this as a cautionary tale of careless words.

After listening to a few of Jocko podcast and looking at his Instagram feed, I was inspired to wake up early to exercise. I set the alarm clock to 4:30am, but have been consistently getting out of bed at 5:30am. It was drizzling this morning, but I still decided to exercise. I ran to a local coffee shop near my house, bought a banana and a cup of coffee, and then ran back. It was really enjoyable.

During my stay at the coffee shop, someone mentioned that daylight savings was approaching so I would lose an hour of sleep. This might be a problem if I still want to wake up at 4:30am every morning. Anyways, I hope waking up early and running will become a habit that I will consistently do in the future.

Wish me luck!
Often Z.

I Am Sad

It’s a strange time in my life right now: My housemate is leaving; my brother did not make the Match program; I’ve been spend my waking hours focusing solely on work and ministry.

In the process of standing up for the truth, my decisions have led to the abrupt end of half of my friends whom I have invested in for the past 2 years. It even came to a point where someone texted me saying, “You are not my brother, period.” I feel sad that I lost friends. Lost comrades. However, I feel no guilt for maintaining my integrity and not succumb to outside pressures to disregard or disobey California or Federal law.

Even though I am sad, I’ve made it a point to not drag everyone else down with me.

I just messaged Mae. I just told her that I love her and that she is beautiful. Just knowing that my words might put a little pep in her step makes me feel a better.

Once Spring Break starts, I’ll relax and focus on self-improvement and reflection. The situations that I got situated in over the past three months stretched me and but I became a better person as a result of these trials.

However, others felt hurt because of my actions. So, I ask for your prayers. May we forgive each other for any past sins or wrongdoings and work together as we pursue God.

Revamping Inductive Group Bible Study

I had a discussion with many of you about how to revamp the Inductive (Group) Bible Study Program. Recently, I took a “ScaleUp Speaker Series” class with CH at MoFo in Palo Alto and want to implement their class style to IGBS. (Everytime I see IBS, I think of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. That is why I added Group to the acronym). Essentially, MoFo’s classes are a series of 9 modules that meets consistently every week on Friday and cycles back to module 1 once all 9 modules are completed. Each module can be taught individually but they also build upon each other. I thought that this style of “Credential Program” is really clever because (1) it is consistent and can build momentum, and (2) people can begin at any point in the series. This is great because we can invite people who are interested and want to only attend one class. Visitors do not have to start off with “Lesson 1”, but can jump in at any time.

However, KYT shared a valid concern: Yes, this module style will increase the quantity of visitors, but it may lower the overall quality of resulting Bible Study leaders. In-depth programs—such as the Inductive Bible Study Program—often requires a linear progression of thought (where basic foundational lessons are first introduced and then future lessons become more increasingly complex.)

Course Description

In order to make sure that the program is both invitational and rigorous and, I divided the program into two parts:

  1. Introductory Course
  2. Advanced Bible Study

Yearly Schedule

The proposed yearly schedule is shown in the year calendar underneath:

MonthWeek AWeek BAdvancedSeason
JANIntro 1Intro 4Adv 1
FEBIntro 2Intro 5Adv 2Winter
MARIntro 3Intro 6Adv 3
APRIntro 4Intro 1Adv 1
MAYIntro 5Intro 2Adv 2Spring
JUNIntro 6Intro 3Adv 3
JULIntro 1Intro 4Adv 1
AUGIntro 2Intro 5Adv 2Summer
SEPIntro 3Intro 6Adv 3
OCTIntro 4Intro 1Adv 1
NOVIntro 5Intro 2Adv 2Fall
DECIntro 6Intro 3Adv 3

Introduction Course

This course is for people who want to learn about the basics of group Bible Study, gain a greater holistic appreciation for bible study, and approach bible study in a way that both edifies yourself and your bible study mates around you.

1. History of the Bible
The bible has not always been so freely available and ubiquitous as it is now. In this session, we look at the history of the Bible from the Early Church to the Modern Age to help provide a better perspective on the importance, benefits, and limitations of modern group bible study.

2. Bible Perspective
What does the Bible say about… well… the Bible? In this session, we will discuss biblical perspectives on (1) authority of scripture and the law ; (2) hearing and obeying the words of Jesus; and (3) the validity of the “inerrancy” of Scripture.

3. Observation, Interpretation, Application
What is the sequential thought process when actively reading the Bible? In this session, we will learn essential questions that we need to ask ourselves and in our bible study at every step of the process.

4. Tiered Questions
In this session we will learn how to use questions to guide discussion and foster discovery of God’s spiritual truths.

5. Cultural, Historical, and Thematic Perspectives
When we read scripture, we often cannot determine the  author’s original intent because of the cultural and historical barriers of the passage. Even worse, we often misinterpret scripture because we place our own bias into the message. In this session, we will discuss ways of “putting ourselves in the shoes” of the author’s original audience.

6. Unique Variations and Styles in Bible Study
No two bible studies are the same. In this session, we examine different styles, approaches, and perspectives on successful and engaging bible studies that you can suggest or apply to your own.

Advanced Bible Study

This course is for people who want to take it to the next level and learn how to prepare and lead a bible study on their own.

Note: Attendance and completion of all Introductory Lessons is needed for the credentials of the Advanced Bible Study Leading course.

1. Textual Grammatical Analysis
Learn how to break down a text and examine a passage of scripture by grammatically organizing it into a logical sequence of events. Also, learn how to find the beginning and end of single-session or multiple-session bible study lessons.

2. Generating the Essential Question Set
Learn how to generate a set of questions based on the Textual Grammatical Analysis. Afterwards, we discuss how to determine the essential questions of the passage.

3. Lead a Bible Study
Put your preparation, practice, and training to the test. Lead a Bible Study and learn how to get and accept critical feedback from your friends and colleagues.

So if you are extremely serious about finishing the credential program (Introductory + Advanced), you could finish it in 3 months… (Three classes a month), but if you take it easy, you can finish it in 6 months with plenty of opportunities to attend classes that you’ve missed.

Things I learned from MYT

I’ve been thinking about my friend MYT. The more I work with him, the more I learn about a hodgepodge of British spelling & word choice, Chinese culture, and Anglican theology. Which is strange cause he isn’t even British. I’ve only known him for about two and a half months, and in that time, he has indirectly taught me many important and unimportant topics/lifeskills.

Neato Tidbits of Information:

  • Discord: Good for Collaboration Projects
  • Trello: Good for setting overlapping deadlines for big projects. I still like Gantt Charts.
  • Enquire vs. Inquire: Apparently, they are different. Who would have thunk?
  • Clutch. Definition: great, essential, potent. Example: Did you see the dog catch the tennisball? That was so clutch!!!
  • Application of Myer Briggs: After discussing with him about me being an ENFP, I researched it on my own. I watched a video about ENFP, and it SPOKE to me. Their description of me was eerily accurate. I’m a little creeped out.
  • Flow of Chi can affect ones bowel movements.
  • Taking walks is good for you.
  • Pan fried taro tastes good. Surprisingly meaty.

Book Recommendations

  • Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is cool for both personal devotions and group service.
  • Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  • Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

Google Ecosystem

Recently, my workflow has entirely been primarially Google-centric. So much, in fact, that I decided to buy a Chromebook.

Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I used Word, PowerPoint, Excel… Even in my workplace, Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google sheets have become the industry norm.

I bought the Samsung Chromebook Plus primarially because it includes a stylus. The feature I use the most would definitely be the voice-to-text feature on Android phones and Google Docs. While I use this feature more on my phone due to convenience, the built in Google Docs voice-to-text tool is much more robust. You can seamlessly type and talk at the same time. This may not seem so impressive until you try it out for yourself. My fingers go into editing mode while my voice flows freely in freewrite. It’s an odd feeling, but once you get the hang of it, the “writing process”, if you can call it that, is much more enjoyable.

My brother JZ is much more fluent in with the Google ecosystem than I am. He has a pretty good workflow when using Google keep and Google calendars. I’m still in the process of implementing Calendars and Keep into my workflow.

My slow descent/ascent (I still don’t know which…) to the Google ecosystem was not an intentional one. When I first started getting into computers in highschool, I got into (1) web-design, (2) Linux (First Debian, then Ubuntu, then Mint), and (3) creative writing. I fully defenestrated from Windows into Linux by the time I reached my senior year of highschool. Over time, I began to use Google products more and more. First was Gmail, then Google Docs. When Android came out which used Linux as its underlying framework, I jumped into Google headfirst.

Hopefully, all these “cloud” products is not a fad. Also, I hope that Google does not bear hidden fangs and turn 180° against their motto of “Don’t be evil.”

I’m excited about the cloud, but like everyone, I am hesitant to share my whole life. Part of me always asks, “Am I sacrificing privacy for convenience?”

And deep down, I already know the answer to my question:

“I am.”

Mirrors and Books

I am in TC’s house in Southern California. I arrived late last night. Technically, I arrived this morning because by the time we reach his house, it was 1AM.

The first thing I noticed when visiting his house was an innumerable amount of mirrors. Mirrors in the dining room, in the living room, on the walls next to the stairs leading to the second story.

It was strange. Not the mirrors. They are a common feature in late 70s and early 80s architecture. I was just surprised to constantly see a reflection of myself wherever I went. Seeing my messy hair, my collared shirt, and my tired eyes from a long plane trip.

I was too tired to really look around, but this morning, I also noticed that his house was also filled with Christian books, Bibles, and devotionals. I skimmed through a few books and realized they serve a similar purpose as the mirrors.

Delayed but not Unwelcomed

So my plane was delayed again. First it was 9:15PM, then it was 9:45PM, and now it’s 11:00PM. So now, I’m going to be stuck in the airport for another hour. I’ll arrive in LA past midnight.

Not that I am complaining. There are a lot of problems that are happening in the organization that I’m serving in. I’m flying to LA to a meeting that I’m not particularly enthusiastic to attend. I’m part of a group that is, essentially, sweeping the rug out of a long-standing—but illegal— leadership structure and force the organization to be compliant to the law. At first glance, my actions may be considered extreme, but the actions of myself and other co-leaders was a last resort after months (and depending on your perspective, years) of vocal concern, reasoning, and opportunities for repentance and change. I believe my actions are both legal and moral. I’m nervous. Tomorrow, I may lose friends.

Yet… despite my nervousness, I know that I am making the right decision. For the sake of authenticity and compliance as a leader, I was forced to walk a narrow path. I’ve pushed myself well beyond what I thought emotionally possible and still found strength and resolve to spare.

Update: I lost some friends.

More Books!

Mae, if you are skimming through my blog… you can just skip this one. Nothing to see here. Just move along.

Well… I bought more books. Again.

I’ve been trying… honestly trying to round down my collection of books into a neatly organized and concise resource library. With much trepidation and melancholy, I managed to get rid of about 1/2 of my library.

My goal was to limit my library to my 6 shelves, but I am going to have to revise my original plan. I need a bookshelf specifically designed for a constant stream of books coming in and out like summer reads, ‘to read’ books, devotionals, blank journals…

Anyways, I browsed around the available books at Goodwill and paid a total of $3.50 for 5 books. I am writing down some of the books on the blog because I feel guilty—especially after I told May that I would stop buying books in order to read the ones I’ve got— and want to justify my purchase.

List of Newly Acquired Books

Team-Based Strategic Planning: A Complete Guide to Structuring, Facilitating and Implementing the Process – C. Davis Fogg

I bought this book because I am currently serving in an 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is needs a lot of long-term strategic planning. I am partially to blame.

When I picked up this book, I was surprised at how in-depth and practical content. This book essentially builds a corporation from scratch and as it slowly forms the organization, the author discusses the importance of each working part.

Of all the books that I bought from Goodwill, this book was my least guilty purchase. I’ve skimmed through this book for more than 2 hours after purchasing the book, and I’m pretty sure that this will find a permanent residence in my resource library.

Christian Prayer through the Centuries – Joseph A. Jungmann

Recently, I’ve been reading about, contemplating, and praying about… well… prayer. I was introduced to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) by MT and LT. Also, my conversations with Father SM have been enlightening to say the least.

This book caught my interest because:

  1. it was written by the “greatest liturgical scholar of his generation” (pg viii).
  2. it goes through the changes in thought, approach, underlying philosophies of Christian prayer throughout history.

Despite using it occasionally these past 3 months, the rigid structure of the BCP as a congregational prayer book and as a personal devotion is still new to me. Yes, I understand that Jungmann was a Jesuit priest so much of our theological beliefs will differ, but I don’t think that our differences are so vast that it will prevent me from enjoying this book. I mean, I believe in about 90% of what Roman Catholics believe, and Roman Catholicism is pretty cool. Almost every serious-practicing Roman Catholic friend I’ve met, I consider a sibling in Christ.

Better than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers – Edited by Don George

This book is “a collection of original travel stories told by some of the world’s best novelists…”

I want to write more short story travelogues. I am hoping that this book will give me some inspiration.

I have some journal entries that I want to flesh out and make into full-fledged stories like my Roadtrip with Mae. I am used to writing fiction stories, but travelogues are outside of my normal genre and writing them is certainly outside of my normal comfort-zone.

Well… now that I listed three of the five books that I bought from Goodwill, I feel a lot better about my purchase. I’m not going to list or describe the last two books because I think that my attempt to do so will negate all the headway I’ve made so far in justifying my purchase. So, I’ll just keep the rest of those books a secret.

Hopefully May will forgive me.