By Dylan Smith

It is easy, as millennials, to fall for the misconception that we are free; free to do whatever we want without inhibition, to define ourselves and recreate ourselves with every new day.

From what I have seen, most people feel as though they won’t have to answer for the decisions made in school, and that once the weekend of collegiate iniquity is over, the professionalism and formality that is innate to every graduate will surface, and we will all be able to redefine ourselves, just in time to enter the job market.

However, I recently learned that the opposite is true: the personal brand that you are creating for yourself now will haunt you for the rest of your life, like spilling wine on a wedding dress before the ceremony. It is a lesson that I wish I had been taught at the beginning of my college career, (my wedding dress has already been stained, if you will) so I will speak to the topic now, in hopes that the information will help someone who’s glass is still half full (of wine).

This week, The Nevada Sagebrush staff was afforded the opportunity to listen to Brett Simmons, a management professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and curator of TEDxUniversityofNevada, as he spoke about the importance of personal branding. Dr. Brett (as he is known on Twitter) provided the staff with quite a bit of information within the hour-long speech, ultimately constructing the structural importance of our personal brands.

Of all the information given by Dr. Brett, the most important thing I came to understand is that, in the digital age, there is no longer a separation between your “home life” and “work life,” no difference between the “professional self” and the “informal self,” and this is especially true online.

With growing opportunities to permanently humiliate yourself through social media, this is an important thing to take hold of. Dr. Brett declared that, despite common conceptions, the things you post to your personal social media accounts are perennial, each post becoming an instant and irreparable part of your online identity. Now, this brand is very unique to the individual, with each person’s message being different and specific.

For example, if your plan is to walk the fine line between homeless drunk and published novelist, as mine once was, you may think it appropriate to post pictures of yourself drinking from a jug of wine while laying in a dumpster, because such pictures cultivate a certain image.

However, what happens when you change your mind, later deciding that healthcare and dental insurance are becoming important issues, pressuring you into the workforce like all the rest of us? Well, according to Dr. Brett, and most other professionals in the field, people like us are relatively shit out of luck. Your online history is now called a digital footprint, and your future employer will be able to see where you’ve been no matter how hard you try to cover your tracks.

I’ve long since deleted my dumpster selfies, and (slightly) tightened up my online presence, but I will undoubtedly have to answer for those decisions later on in life. Even if my adolescent debauchery doesn’t readily appear on my Facebook profile, traces of decision’s past are online in a permanent record, and a potential employers won’t have to look far in order to find the dumpster-diving-drunk hidden below the all-too-recent business professional’s suit and hair gel.

Ultimately, the best way to present yourself online is to act as if you are constantly being sought after by your dream-employer, developing a well-rounded and strategically constructed personal brand. This doesn’t mean, in any way, that you should treat your Facebook page like a monastery. It simply means that complete transparency is a bad call, and that your social media presence should not act as a portal the skeletons in your closet.

Dr. Brett’s lesson is vitally valuable, and if you are lucky enough to be reading this in time, use his words of wisdom as a compass that will lead you to a successful career. For those of you who were not reached in time, however, I will be holding weekly memorial services in a dumpster behind the Foxy Olive. Bring your own wine.

Dylan Smith studies marketing. He can be reached at dylansmith@asun.unr.edu and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.