Many people are not aware that when they begin to make a name for themselves, they are creating a brand. What’s more, that brand becomes quite hard to change once it is established in people’s minds.

When people begin to learn about you - whether it is at work, through a personal relationship, on your blog, or any other way you are establishing a reputation - they put you into a pigeonhole in their minds. Once you are in that pigeonhole, it’s really hard to get out.

People don’t always pigeonhole you based on a first impression. But as they learn more about you, they are finding a pigeonhole. And over time (actually fairly quickly), that pigeonhole gets solidified in their minds.

The problem comes when you want to make a change: switch careers, become a new person, reinvent yourself as a friend. How do you get out of that pigeonhole? It’s very difficult.


Changing Careers, and the Pigeonhole Obstacle

Let’s look at a really famous example. Michael Jordan tried to change from being a basketball star to baseball. Aside from the major difference in his talent between the two sports, people thought he was just dabbling in baseball. They still thought of him as a basketball star.

That’s not to say that you can only be limited to one thing. There are many people out there that have bridged the gap and been successful at two things. But, that is because they were known for both things from the beginning when people started learning about them. They didn’t have to change pigeonholes.


How It Applies to Your Personal Life

Just as people pigeonhole a famous author, athlete or other celebrity, they pigeonhole the people they meet in real life. So, when people meet you, they have begun the process of pigeonholing you. It might take a little while before they get enough information to firmly put you in a good pigeonhole, but they are forming their opinion from the start.

Let’s say you meet a new colleague at work. The first time you meet him, you will begin to form your opinion with the information you learn. Maybe you find him pushy, aggressive, or ‘salesy’.

Each of these impressions will help you make decisions about him. But you might not find a good pigeonhole yet. But after a few more meetings with him and a sneaky Google of him, you learn about his education, accomplishments, and family. You read his blog and get still more info. You meet with him again, talk on the phone, work on a project together. Soon you have a pretty good idea of the person, and you pigeonhole him firmly.


Can People Change?

But what if the guy wants to change? What if he no longer wants to be pushy and egotistical? What if he wants to be a better listener, more compassionate, kinder? Would it be easy for you to change your pigeonhole of the guy?

It is possible but it isn’t easy. It would take a lot of new information — his actions, words, new posts on his blog, stories from other people about things he’s been doing lately. This new information could get you to change your pigeonhole for him, but it would take a lot to do it.

The same applies to you. You are giving off an impression to others in everything you do, say and write. This is in your work and personal relationships. Each person is pigeonholing you. What do you think your pigeonhole is with them? It probably varies for different individuals, depending on how much and what people know about you.


How to Apply This Idea

What lessons can we learn from this? Simply to give your pigeonholes some thoughts, both how others are pigeonholing you, and how you are pigeonholing others.

Think about these things:

  • What impressions are you giving others in personal interactions? Online — through Facebook, Twitter, email, blogs? At work?

  • How do you conduct yourself — are you positive, energetic, thoughtful, kind, complaining, negative, mean, jealous, super competitive, helpful, creative, tired, confident, frazzled?

  • What pigeonhole would you like to have in others’ minds? Try conducting yourself so that it becomes true.

  • Do the pigeonholes of you in the minds of others matter to you? Maybe they don’t. Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe they do affect you, though, and are worthy of consideration.

  • What pigeonhole are strangers putting you in, based on your work and what you are putting out there in the world? Is this the pigeonhole you’d like to be in?

  • What pigeonholes do you put others in? What is this based on? Do you have all the necessary info to make a good judgment? Could you change the pigeonholes if you received new information?