It is the year of our Lord 2017 and everyone is a self-proclaimed something.
The internet is full of media mavens, inspirational speakers, "nerds," "artists," and, of course, entrepreneurs. There are a lot of jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. But no matter who you are, the chief concern of millennials seems to be---branding.
Are you a momprenuer?
Are you a stylist?
Are you a blogger? What kind?
Oh, you're a chef? A healthy one or a "those vegans are crazy...animals are here for us to eat" one?
You DJ? Like forreal or with your laptop only?
How many followers do you have on IG?
You get my point.
It's gone so far that instead of asking people who they are, we say, "What do you do?"
We have reduced one another to doings instead of beings.
And while I recognize the "game done changed," I have to wonder, are we doing this all wrong?
Living in Los Angeles, it's a normal happening to be introduced to someone's brand representative instead of his or her true person. The brand representative is the one who says, "Let's get drinks," puts their number in your phone, and promises to email you this week – and you never hear from them again.
Life is curated now. And in an attempt to be #lifegoals for however many people think you're interesting enough to see everyday, we often deny ourselves the opportunity to just simply be.
It happened to me.
A few years ago---I had a breakdown. I was gasping for air on the floor of my godparents' home where I was staying because I had nowhere else to go. I was working a temp job and running an online magazine. I had a boyfriend who, at the time, was doing his best to help me stay afloat. But I was drowning. Financially, spiritually and emotionally---I was completely submerged.
I was embarrassed. I was angry. I was lost.
So, I did what a lot of people do at that crossroads: I hid.
I hid the parts I deemed not good enough.
I photoshopped my sadness into fake joy so that everyone around me felt comfortable in my presence. I made my soul match my bank account so that something, anything, could feel in sync. I was trying my best to disappear while everyone else seemed to be having the best years of their lives. I was telling myself that I had to be a finished product.
In my 20s. With, God-willing, a whole life ahead of me---I had to be perfect. After all, it was completely off brand to feel stagnant while everyone else was loving, living, and earning bigger than me.
I was fine with creating a picture of my life that was not true---as long as it looked good with a Valencia filter and a Beyonce quote.
I had to get real. I didn't have it all---I still don't.
I make mistakes.
My breasts aren't perky.
My butt isn't big.
And when you see me post in the gym, I probably haven't been in weeks. When I shop at Whole Foods, I always have to check my account balance and I just graduated to shopping at Zara instead of H&M. I'm not at all where I thought I'd be right now but you know what?
I am growing. I have no antiquated, harmful ideas of perfection to hold myself to.
I am enjoying the now.
I am a work in progress.
I am defining myself by no other standards than that of my own. Oprah once said, “Wherever I am, therein lies my brand"---and I couldn't agree more.
The most important business you'll ever brand is you. All of you. The imperfect broken hearted you. The you that exists regardless of who enters or exits your life. The you that exists far past listicles, bucket lists and 140 character declarations of having “it all." The you that is a work in progress.
Your healing—your freedom---it's in embracing that whether the whole world is watching or you're completely alone; you. are. enough.
Self-love is habitual. It is waking up every single day, facing yourself just as you are and committing to sticking it out: for better or for worse. It's remembering that your worth is not defined in white dresses, diamond rings, a glossy picture perfect feed or if you are someone else's #goals.
It is understanding that no amount of money, fame or popularity determines the value of the gifts you have to give. You need no one's permission to shine, sis. You only need to trust that whatever you're going through---whatever you may feel you lack---is exactly what will make you someone else's hero.
The Internet is full of gurus teaching others how to be a brand, but no one is teaching us the power of being yourself.
My life changed when I stopped hiding my scars and became committed to loving myself unconditionally and being authentically me. I want that for you. I want that for all of us.
And for the women we will raise, mentor, and inspire:
Let's stop pushing a false narrative of flawlessness and instead wear our imperfections like someone paid us to promote them. #ad.
Iman N. Milner is an actress and writer living in Los Angeles. She is the recipient of the 2015 ESSENCE Magazine Discovery Award and is known for the character Yazmin on Black and Sexy TV's "Chef Julian". Her first book "on breakups...and beginnings", is a journey through the process of healing after heartbreak and is available for purchase on Amazon and anywhere e-books are sold.