Astrea’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Sandra Bekvalac, Student Casework and Engagement Officer, reports on a recent event from Astrea, Birkbeck’s network for women working in professional and support roles. The event explored the value of building your personal brand. 

What do these items have in common: a brooch of a dancing cabbage; a satsuma; books; a necklace with a butterfly wing in it; a canvas tote; a scarab?

Other than they aren’t cats and therefore have no chance of going viral on the internet.

The answer is that they were all on display in Room B04, in the Malet Street Building on Thursday 29 November, at Astrea’s networking event hosted by career coach Anna Gordon. You, our lovely members, pulled these very personal and precious objects from your bags and pockets. Some of you even allowed us to touch them. We were amused and inspired by them in equal measure. For the objects were more than just objects. They were slices of yourselves. A cabinet of curiosities full of physical representations of your values, your purpose, and your ideal selves.

If this sounds ethereal and deep, it’s because personal branding is, as it turns out, both ethereal and deep. I didn’t know this before Anna’s talk. In fact, I thought branding was incredibly shallow, meant for things and not people. I was one of the people Anna mentioned in her presentation who think of ‘branding’ as a dirty word. I’ve realised that my dislike of branding was all a horrible misunderstanding. Branding isn’t about objects and sales, though it can help you sell yourself to employers more effectively. It’s not just about value, but values, and honesty.

As part of building our brands, we talked a lot about authenticity. What makes a brand authentic? What does authentic mean? As a Film Studies Masters student a few years back I remember grappling with the various meanings of the word, and whether it mattered. What I learned from Anna, is that it just means honesty. In order to brand yourself effectively, you need to know who you are, and what you believe in. In other words, branding can be about soul-searching.

So there we were, in room B04, looking into the dark and uncomfortable parts of our souls. I don’t know about you, but I learned some stuff about me that depressed me a bit. I learned that what keeps me up at night is worry, and that I do the work that I do because it pays the bills. From the groans I could hear from around the room while I was completing the soul-searching worksheet Anna had given us, my guess is that some of you were similarly depressed. But I also learned some things that made me smile and helped me see myself, and my work, differently. I learned that I am happiest when I’m writing. Anything. Emails. Shopping lists. Blog posts. That I long for what I long for because I want to leave a tangible mark on our planet, and not just a scar caused by climate change. I also learned that I am happy when I’m learning new things. By the end of the worksheet, I was getting excited about learning all this new stuff about me and about branding in general.

All of this could be just information. But in B04 with Anna Gordon this stuff transubstantiated. It became more than just stuff. Like the objects in the list, it became stuff I could use to build my brand: what makes me who I am, what marks me out and makes me special to employers, what I stand for.

Thank you Anna, for so many valuable life lessons all crammed into two hours on a Thursday!

The last thing I learned was that working on your personal brand can be empowering. Anna’s session helped me, and I think many of the other attendees, to articulate who we are and want to be and to communicate this to those around us. Which brings me to one really good reason to build a unique and consistent brand, which Anna also briefly touched upon in her talk. Branding facilitates communication, which helps us connect to one another better, be it through social media or in a room talking about objects that represent us and our values.

Connections are the whole point of everything we do at Astrea. Good connections don’t just mean improved career opportunities. Good relationships with Colleagues make us feel valued and part of Birkbeck’s mission, which can make us happier in our current roles.

The event on 29 November was very well attended. It was especially nice to see so many brand (no pun intended!) new faces. If you’ve never been to an event, for whatever reason, give it a go! Networks are cabinets of curiosities. You might find opportunities for learning you didn’t expect and meet some lovely new people. And as if that isn’t enough, there’s always free coffee and cookies!


2 thoughts on “Astrea’s Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. What a lovely blog! Thanks so much for such a personal and thoughtful reflection on the Astrea meeting. It’s so great to see how much we are all learning through our Astrea sessions.

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