The Biggest Mistake I Made While Building my Personal Brand as a College Professor


Okay, it seems that I do love talking about mistakes! A few days ago, I shared my top three mistakes as a college professor. Today, I want to share with you the one single biggest mistake that I made while building my personal brand as a college professor.

Why do I love talking about mistakes? For this one reason: although they expose my weaknesses, they also force me to reflect on myself and empower me to improve.

Are you ready to learn my single biggest mistake while I was building my personal brand? Here it is 👇🏽

The single biggest mistake that I made while building my personal brand was that I didn’t have a “why”.

I realized that I never truly asked myself this “why” question. Over the past two years, I have been actively building my digital footprint as a college professor. The results have been rewarding. However, can it be better? Yes, absolutely. Recently, I did a self audit of my personal brand, identifying its strengths and weaknesses. I realized that I was missing an essential piece in building my personal brand: I never asked the “why”:

Why do I want to be on social media? What do I want to get from having a digital presence? How is my digital brand going to move me closer to my long-term goal? And what is my long-term goal?

Answering these “whys” are important. It is the worldview that governs our day-to-day activities and life choices. For example, because I believe in veganism, I choose to not eat meat; because I value family staying together, I took an unpaid leave from my work to come to South Korea to be with my husband while bringing the kids; because I believe in lifelong learning, I prioritize my time to learn at least one new thing a day. Our “why” gives birth to our actions.

Without asking this “why” question up front, my personal brand struggled in two major aspects:

🔶 The first aspect: I don’t have a clear underlying theme that connects all my stories together.

I am a college professor who has a love affair with social media and technology. I use Snapchat to share my role as a teacher and my day-to-day life. This was all good until I started my sabbatical in September 2016. Why? Because I was not teaching any classes, I suddenly lost my focus in my storytelling.

This change was very apparent in my Snapchat stories. I became scattered, random. Losing focus in one’s stories is exactly what you don’t want for your personal brand. When I looked at the brands of some of my close Snapchat friends, they all have a clear central message that interlinks their storytelling, such as Joe Wilson @joewilsontv, Chelsea Peitz @ChelseaPeitz, Helen Blunden @ActivateLearn, Natx Wang @natxwang, Karen Freberg @kfreberg, JoAnn Krall @JoAnnKrall, Sandra Centorin @SandraCentorino, Chris Strub @ChrisStrub, Sandie Sanche @CrazyKaleLady, and many more. On Snapchat, people tend to use an emoji to categorize a Snapper’s content to organize their Snapchat feeds. For example, if a Snapper talks a lot about food, a food emoji is probably being used to categorize his or her content. I asked myself, what’s the emoji that people could use to describe my stories? I couldn’t think of any. It was a strong wake-up call.

To this day, I still remember what Sue Zimmerman @SueBZimmerman once told me during a Facebook live after a Twitter Chat. She said,


Four words! So simple, yet powerful. I realized that I have not been in my lane for a long time. Maybe I even lost sight of the lane that I was supposed to be in. When you reach this stage, your personal brand will soon be on a trajectory to go downhill and be lost in the noise of today’s digital age.

🔶 The second aspect: I started to chase after shiny objects

One thing that doesn’t change in today’s digital age is how fast things change. There is a new app or tool coming up nearly everyday. I started to jump from platform to platform — chasing after the new and shiny without truly understanding why I was there at the first place. Not to mention how exhausting doing this was. I completely lost sight of my goal.

Your “Why” and My “Why”


Simon Sinek is the person who got me started thinking about my “why”. If you haven’t watched his TED talk on the “Why” question, make sure you spend some time today to watch it here. It will revolutionize your thinking and actions.


I’d like to end today’s article by sharing my “why” and encouraging you to think about yours.

Here is my why: I am here to discover and discuss ways that educators can use technology to digitize and innovate their curriculum to enhance teaching and learning. I see myself as a bridge to connect what is happening inside the classroom with what is happening outside. My long-term goal is to shrink the disconnect between the two camps so that schools can educate competitive students to excel in the 21st century.

I firmly believe:

If technology has the power to shrink the physical distance among people, it can also demolish classroom walls, the physical walls that have been confining our intellectual growth.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog! If you have friends who are struggling with building their personal brands, maybe they can learn a thing or two from my mistakes.

P.S. Don’t forget to write down your “why” in the comments section. Would love to hear from you.