I’m currently an MS in Marketing student at the CU Denver Business School. As a part of my degree, I took a Maymester personal branding course through the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship. I learned more about myself than I bargained for thanks to the class’s lecturer, Jung Park, and guest speakers.

Dipping a toe into entrepreneurship

Last year I moved from Chicago to pursue my graduate degree at CU Denver. As a marketing student with dreams of consumer behavior research, I had no desire to pursue anything entrepreneurial. However, when I heard about the Marketing & Personal Branding class, I knew I wanted in.

As a part of a class assignment, I sent out a survey asking my family and friends to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses along with my happiest and most stressful moments.

My undergraduate work was in marketing and psychology and as a bit of an anxious narcissist, this assignment wasn’t anything new for me. I’ve always asked my friends and family to understand how people viewed me.

Getting to know ‘me’

It turns out you don’t have to be a narcissist to benefit from personal feedback; it can be a strategic exercise. While this class is not difficult in the traditional sense, the subject matter is challenging because it requires quite a bit of introspection.

Over the three weeks, we evaluated our survey responses to determine our strengths, weaknesses, and their respective sources.

My survey results showed that I am stubborn and independent – both strengths and weaknesses –because I grew up as a child of divorce. My mom left my family when I was an infant, and both of my parents are currently on their third marriages.

We evaluated our goals for the future and define what happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment mean to us. What do we want to leave behind? For me, it’s kindness and pleasant surprises.

I found that answer by looking back on an experience I had when I was 15 years old.

At 15, I hadn’t heard from my mom for 10 years when she came back into my life, pregnant with twins. I wanted to be a part of their lives, but I didn’t know how to accept my mom again. My family advised me to avoid her. After thinking it through, I realized that if I didn’t offer kindness and forgiveness then no one would.

I want to be someone who can and will offer kindness and compassion to the world.

Valuing the connections I’ve made

Jason Regier, Paralympian Rugby player and Danish wheelchair rugby team coach, speaks to the class.

I think the greatest opportunities in this course are the connections you make with the people you meet.

Each class features a different guest speaker who shared his or her personal struggles and how he or she came out on the other side. Their stories were inspiring, and frankly, pretty reassuring.

One speaker, Jason Regier, suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. After years of physical therapy, he became a Paralympian Rugby player and now serves as the the Danish wheelchair rugby team coach.

We also heard from psychologists and successful businessmen. Stories were shared, tears were shed, and everyone came away with new perspectives.

As a class, we learned how to be vulnerable enough to share our own struggles. My peers shared how their current definitions of success don’t allow for enough time with their families. Others shared stories of overcoming grief and loss.

I shared how my grandma’s cancer diagnosis and death affected my graduate school plans. When she was diagnosed in 2015, I was actively applying to CU Denver. I spent my days working full time, and my nights and evenings between studying for the GMAT and spending time in the hospital with her.

She went through many treatments and surgeries before being cleared for a trip to her hometown in Italy. When we returned in September of 2016, we found out that the cancer had spread. She passed away a month later, one week after I was set to move to Denver.

If I can get through that incredibly stressful and tragic time, I know I can get through anything.

Taking a hard look at yourself

Together our class learned how to be open and build connections. The hardest part is evaluating yourself – it feels just a little too close to home – but, the main theme of the class is about taking risks and being comfortable with the unknown.

Jung does an excellent job of designing the course so that each speaker and topic cohesively flows and connects over the three weeks. It feels less like a class and more like an inspiring 12-day seminar.

Jung was always available, offering help beyond the scope of the class. I enjoyed the class so much, that I intend to do an independent study with him next semester to further explore my personal brand.

Looking back on the survey, my family and friends painted a picture of me as an intelligent and friendly people-person that could benefit from some extra confidence and self-esteem.

The first step in building that confidence was opening up in that class and telling my story.

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