‘Walk the Line’ to a Lasting Legacy: 5 Johnny Cash Characteristics to Boost Your Brand

Be a legend, build a legendary brand.

Johnny Cash is an American icon, despite never actually setting out to be one. What can you say, the man has presence; mere mention of his name conjures up images of a shadowy silhouette with a somber stare. Johnny Cash has always been unapologetically himself, and people respect that. In fact, they respect it so much that Cash managed almost accidentally to build a brand fit for an American music legend.

Johnny Cash’s incredible public appeal stems from the appreciation folks have for someone who resists compromise and maintains his own idea of integrity. It isn’t easy to be who you are in a world that’s constantly trying to change you, but he did it. The “man in black” remains relevant to this day, thanks in large part to that unwavering self-esteem. If you follow his example, you could establish a lasting legacy for your brand, too.

1. Surrender to Your Bad Side.

“Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one.
Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.” Johnny Cash

We all have a good and a bad side; you know, the proverbial “angel and devil” perched on the shoulders, two halves of one whole conscience. The reason figures like Cash are able to achieve lasting success is that they allow those two sides to balance each other out. The sooner you identify which elements of your personality are which, the better able you’ll be in striking balance and finding harmony.

For example, my “good side” — social, charismatic, all-around-great-guy Robert– is an impressive networker with lots of friends. That was great for business because I had strong relationships and good connections, but it wasn’t enough on it’s own to leverage the kind of success I was seeking. For that, I had to tap into my “bad side” — relentlessly ambitious Robert. My good side may have made me a connection, but it was my bad side that got me a formal meeting or propelled me to the front of the line. If it weren’t for my bad side’s willingness to edge out the competition and strive to be top dog in my market, my business wouldn’t be the success that it is.

This doesn’t mean you have to lose your integrity. Tapping into your bad side just means getting in tune with that natural instinct all of us have to take care of #1. You shouldn’t feel like you have to apologize or make concessions for handling your business and being a total boss. You stop acting like you owe anyone anything, plain and simple. Just like Johnny Cash, you don’t have to give up your values or treat people like dirt to translate that you’re an authority.


2. Embrace Failure.

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”Johnny Cash

This is one of the hardest lessons to learn in business: failure is one the best teachers. That sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true that failure is pretty integral to business success. Failure requires you to think on your feet, change and adapt, and even upgrade your vision. Even the toughest losses have taught me a lot about my business and myself. In the end, it’s the most resilient who makes it through. Learn from your mistakes. Absorb the lessons and then let it go. Don’t dwell and be happy you’re more enlightened for the bump on the head.

Learn to embrace your failures and you’ll find that you naturally spend less time and energy worrying about failing. When you begin to see failure as a stroke of good fortune for the lessons you’ll learn and the growth you’ll experience, it’s transformative. Becoming more introspective in your business will seriously benefit your brand.

“You’ve got to know your limitations. I don’t know what your limitations are. I found out what mine were when I was twelve.
I found out that there weren’t too many limitations, if I did it my way.”
Johnny Cash

3. Wear Black.

“I was wearing black clothes almost from the beginning. I feel comfortable in black. I felt like black looked good onstage, that it was attractive, so I started wearing it all the time.”
Johnny Cash

Cash knew what he liked and he stuck to it, which gave him extra confidence and helped him promote his persona. When I say wear black what I mean is that you should do whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident, because that is when you are your most authentic self. Authenticity and feeling secure in yourself will make you a better leader, navigator, businessman, and individual. Johnny Cash’s example proves that sometimes the smallest things – sticking with a wardrobe you know you can rock – may be the thing that elevates you to the next level and makes you that much more memorable.

When I started my career, I followed the rules of Business 101 and wore a suit and tie every day. I was so worried about how I was presenting myself that I stopped presenting myself. The brand I was building and the way I was presenting it didn’t match at all. I wasn’t showing off a brand I believed in, so why would investors, clients, or anyone else believe in it? Now I wear t-shirts, sweats, and jeans — the complete opposite of what you would expect a businessman to wear — but it makes me feel authentic and gives me the confidence I need to promote my unique brand. In fact, not being a suit has become an essential part of my brand. My business is down to earth and built by good old fashioned hard work. I believe in making your own rules and building your empire the way you see fit.

Don’t pretend to be anything you’re not. Maybe you’re not “the man in black” — maybe you’re the woman in white, or the businessman in plaid, or whatever rocks your socks.

“Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world…
except money.”

Johnny Cash

4. Feel the Burning Ring of Fire.

“When I record somebody else’s song, I have to make it my own or it doesn’t feel right.
I’ll say to myself, I wrote this and he doesn’t know it!”

Johnny Cash

If what you’re doing doesn’t light a fire in you, you’re probably not going to get very far. You have to be passionate about your work to become truly successful, let alone the kind of legend Johnny Cash has become.

I wasted a good part of my young career chasing the money, investing in products that were popular with customers but that sparked no passion in me. It ended the same way every time; I wasn’t able to lead effectively and sustain the drive and enthusiasm required to prosper. Customers can hear a hollow pitch. You need to believe in what you are selling or the services that you are providing in your business. That’s what ignites the fire that you nurture into a blaze.

Find what you’re passionate about and start there –- even if it means completely changing your business strategies or overhauling your products and services. Strive to always invigorate your business and maintain enthusiasm.

“All your life, you will be faced with a choice. You can choose love or hate.
I choose love.”
Johnny Cash

5. Exhausted? Keep Going Anyway.

“The extent of my dream was to sing on the radio station in Memphis.
Even when I got out of the Air Force in 1954, I came right back to Memphis and started knocking on doors at the radio station.”

Johnny Cash

Cash had every reason to be discouraged early in his career – he was struggling financially, hard-pressed for work and scraping by with odd jobs to support his young family. He didn’t have much reason to think he would ever make it as a country singer, but he continued.

Johnny Cash is an inspiration to me because through all his ups and downs, he never stopped doing what he loved. When I started this business, I knew it wasn’t all about profit; I knew I had found my calling. It didn’t matter how many people told me no, because I believed in my passion and knew that there were others out there who would believe it, too. Over time, I’ve been able to show investors that I am confident in the services I provide because my passion and determination shine through. It’s clear that this business isn’t just a money-making scheme; it’s my baby!

Don’t be discouraged by the amount of no’s you hear in a day, week, or a year, and if you seem to be achieving your goals easily, you should challenge yourself until you start hearing no a little more often! Every time you think you’ve had enough, you should pick yourself back up and ask for some more.


Final Thoughts:
  • Give in to the bad side. Let your inner bad boy come out to play once in awhile. Let it take the wheel and fuel your ambition. Push past the competition and establish your personal brand.
  • Failure is a stepping stone. Failure is there to help you grow, so don’t dwell on the flops. Make sure you sort out where you went wrong and make adjustments, but have a short memory and move on quickly.
  • Stay true to you. You don’t have to conform to succeed as an entrepreneur. Legends make their own rules. If it makes you feel confident and comfortable, do it. Staying true to your style and yourself will help you establish a confident and consistent brand.
  • Make it personal. If your work is not something you love or feel passionate about, you will never succeed in doing it — at least not long-term. Find something that feeds your ambition.

Endlessly pursue your dreams. If your business is something you are passionate about, there are others that will believe in it, too. Don’t be easily discouraged or let a few no’s damper your spirit.

Do it your way.

Johnny Cash didn’t exactly have a grand master plan for achieving the kind of fame, success, and status he did. Dude just wanted to get a song on the radio, but his commitment to his dream and the truest version of himself held wide appeal. Fans appreciated his non-conformist attitude and the fact that even big failures didn’t phase him. He accepted the good and the bad of who he was and established himself as a brand that is loved and respected even today. Take a piece of that hard-earned wisdom and create your own brand built on your terms.