What Makes You So Special?
|July 20, 2012||Posted by Roshawn Watson under Personal Development|
We all like to believe that we are special. In fact, our own names are typically our favorite sounds. However, there are more reasons for being special than just the good feeling we get for being singled out. We live in a time where job security is not only an illusion, it is an oxymoron. No amount of skill or experience can guarantee that you won’t be tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage tomorrow. Often, the decision is not even made by your immediate supervisor but by people who look at you as simply a disposable unit of production and are hundreds (or thousands) of miles away. This is not cynical. It’s reality. Your competitive advantage in today’s job market lies in knowing what you do particularly well. Tell me friend, what makes you so special?
Being a “Jack of Many, Master of None” Can Diminish Your Ability to Capitalize on Your Best Talents
If you ask any class of 3rd graders “who can sing, dance, and draw?”, nearly every hand will go up. However, if you ask a random group 35 year olds, you will likely get just a handful making such a claim. At some point, we realize that doing everything is often not pragmatic. Generalists have their place and value, but don’t assume specialization is a bad word. There’s a reason why the typical neurosurgeon earns $490,040, which is more than $300,000 higher than what a family practice physician can expect. The increased specialization and training required to become a neurosurgeon catapults their compensations to levels few in the world are even familiar with. Your rewards in life are based on the problems you have chosen to solve, the speed and accuracy at which you solve them, and for whom you have decided to solve them for.
Related Article: Authenticity In The Workplace
Case Study 1: Millionaires Tend to Specialize
All too often though, we allow fleeting interests to dictate major life decisions; however millionaires take a different approach. They typically weren’t runaway successes at everything they did; they weren’t singled out by their professors as being stars. In Thomas Stanley’s cohort, the average millionaire GPA was 2.92 on a 4.0 scale. That didn’t stop them from pursuing their educations (Stanley found that 80% have graduated college) or finding their niches. In fact, narrowing in on what they did extremely well was how they became successful in the first place. If they had to compete against the lesions of superior academic achievers who were better at math, grammar, sports, and science, most would have been left behind. After all, Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr. accurately highlighted in his viral commencement speech that in the US alone, there are more than 37,000 high schools, meaning there are more than 37,000 valedictorians, 37,000 class presidents, 340,000 swaggering jocks, etc. Instead, Stanley argues that most millionaires stray away from areas traditionally overwrought with competition, favoring niches where they can be stand out stars in their own rights instead.
Sameness creates your comfort, but your difference creates your rewards
Remember, you don’t go to Wendy’s because it reminds you of McDonald’s. You don’t marry your husband because he reminds you of your first boyfriend. Your difference is your ultimate selling point, so don’t sell yourself short.
Related Article: The Price of Eliminating Failure
Case Study 2: The Danger of Versatility
Someone that I used to supervise found this concept particularly challenging. “I’m good at everything” she frequently proclaimed. The depths of her delusions and sense of grandeur nearly warranted admission to a psychiatric hospital. She thought she was Mariah Carey, Albert Einstein, Adrianna Lima, and Michael Jordan all wrapped up into one. She wasn’t crazy though, but somehow she had missed the memo on distinguishing between things that she was passable at and things that she was truly exceptional at. You see there are things you can do and things that you are made to do. For example, once we reach 25 to 30 years old, we typically have the ability to do 150 to 200 different things. Merely having the ability to do something is a poor reason to spend your life doing it.
After a while, I began to feel very sad for her plight. She missed multiple opportunities to capitalize on her immense talents because other things would strike her fancy, and since she was “good at everything,” she saw no risk at changing course midstream. Accordingly, she never benefited from the power of focusing on her true strengths and passions because she never really knew what they were. Instead of becoming a runaway success, as she desired and felt she deserved, she was filled with regret and despair over lost opportunities.
You Must Manage “You Inc”
He who knows others is learned. He who knows himself is wise. Lao-Tse
Essentially, the market didn’t appreciate her because she didn’t brand herself to be appreciated. Sometimes we think of “brand management” in terms of multi-billion dollar companies and celebrities. For example, we know Oprah Winfrey to be a gifted interviewer and to possess a strong ability for connecting with her audience and guests; personal finance guru Suze Orman has a knack for touching with her viewers on an emotional level regarding their money; and fitness expert Jillian Michaels’ hardline, no-nonsense approach is just enough to get people into gear to meet their health goals. However, we often forget that we individually have brands too. Brands matter regardless of whether we are traditional employees, business owners, or celebrities. We too must clearly define what we are all about. After all, it is your brand that people trust and patronize. It is this brand that your employer will expend her political capital on to get you promoted or to spare your job. It is your brand that makes you a top recruit for other organizations.
Brand expert Scott Bedbury (Nike and Starbucks) says “a great brand taps into emotions…” (that) drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with [a] powerful connecting experience.”
Failing to realize what your brand represents can be a fatal flaw. At a conference last year, Gerald Adolph, Senior Partner at consultancy firm Booz & Company, indicated that when companies cannot establish their unique value propositions in crowded fields, they will be easily cannibalized by other companies with similar offerings. Essentially, these companies have identity crises. We too can suffer from the same ailment.
To improve your brand:
- Know your distinctive differences, possess marketable skills, and network.
- Always have an elevator speech handy where you can clearly and succinctly describe your skills and abilities, personality tendencies, and values, dreams and passions.
- Apply the 3-foot rule: if someone is within 3 feet of you, talk to them about what you have to offer them.
In short, simply being good is simply not enough.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Eking out a competitive edge may be easier than you think. You don’t necessarily have to be 3 times better. Small distinctions matter IF they are significant. Endeavor to do things at least 10% better than your nearest competitor, and you can be noticed. Moreover, even differences, not necessarily improvements, can be all that are necessary to carve out a niche. For example, Gerald Adolph indicated that the inventories of Wal-mart and Target are actually about 85% similar, yet they have widely different marketing strategies, attract different customer bases, and have vastly different brands. Therefore, carefully inventory your uniqueness and position yourself accordingly, so that there is no doubt that you are more than a disposable unit of production.
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Image Credit: Celynek