Be Who You Are Not What You Do

Alex Grant and Lyndsey Silva show us how doing what matters to you can define who you are and help create your personal brand. 

Alex Grant is a St. Pete native who took on simultaneous gigs as a program manager with visionary venture capital firm The Engine, the head of Business Operations for personal growth accelerator Startup Island, and a part-time instructor at his alma mater, Shorecrest Prep.

In high school, Grant says his personal brand was “star swimmer and student leader.” In college, it evolved slightly into “student athlete and business club president.” He tried to do everything, in hopes that if he could just “figure it all out,” his life path would magically unfold before him.

A conversation with his grandfather changed all that. “‘I’m 75,’ he told me, ‘and I haven’t figured myself out yet,’” Grant says. “I realized that my brand had always revolved around what I was doing at the moment.”

Most personal branding formulas suggest starting with an inventory of your skills and interests. It’s an easy place to start — and to stop. And maybe that’s the problem. Your brand should be based around who you are, says Grant, not what you do.

Like many high-achieving students, Grant suffered from burnout pretty early on. It took an epiphany from his college roommate to get him back on track: “Let’s just pick three things.” Grant chose swimming, a business club, and an entrepreneurship co-living community.

He chose to jump into the local entrepreneurial ecosystem with both feet. Living in the eTower incubator taught him that supporting entrepreneurs at both professional and personal levels was the most sustainable way to grow impactful businesses. This led him to Startup Island, which offers retreats and immersive experiences that guide young people to connect their passions to their goals.

At The Engine, Grant helps entrepreneurs solve urgent social problems by crafting their stories in ways that appeal to potential investors and consulting on establishing LLCs and go-to-market strategies. At Shorecrest, he leads eighth graders through a yearlong Entrepreneurial Design Institute, which culminates in the production and marketing of actual goods and services.

“I’m not getting enough sleep,” he cheerfully reports. “But when you understand what gets you excited, it doesn’t feel like work.”

Building a brand isn’t just something you do for work or school. NEXT recently talked to Lyndsey Silva about how she used these techniques in an activity that changed her life … roller derby!

Every skater builds her own personal brand, starting with a unique name and number combo. The athletes draw on their interests and talents to create these personas. Silva, a USF St. Pete English major who graduated in 2015, skates as Boom Radley; her number is 800 — the designation for Literature in the Dewey Decimal System.

Skaters really commit to this branding, too, Silva says.

These fierce athletes often carry the branding over into their uniforms and equipment as well. Called a “boutfit,” since a match is known as a “bout,” the helmet, pads, clothing, and even makeup fill out a player’s visual identity. Getting involved with roller derby helped Silva be more assertive and taught her to stand her ground. She reports that as a rookie skater, she was intimidated by those with more experience and skill — until she learned that on the track, everyone is equal. “I’m no longer intimidated by people just because of their title or how long they may have been doing a particular job. I recognize that I have useful knowledge and skills that I can bring to the table, regardless of whether that’s the derby track or a meeting room.”

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