Social media is full of articles advising you on how to become the best entrepreneur, amazing leader, or achieve success beyond your wildest dreams. Perhaps you’re reading a Top Ten list that tells you how to be one of the world’s elite income earners. Maybe it’s a TedTalk advising you how to find your perfect career. Whatever the case, articles and talks like these promote an idea that we all have the potential to be special is we just figure out that elusive thing that makes us amazing. Then, we too, can be the next Elon Musk.
We can’t possibly all be special snowflakes
Many people have been taught that they can be the remarkable one; that they differ from what is usual. We’ve been coached to believe we can all be leaders if we just try hard enough. That we are all ‘stars’. Along with this, some of us have developed a bit of an inflated ego about how unique we are, all we have to do is wait until the right person recognises it. In actuality, not all of us are going to be dizzyingly successful. We may just be average – like everyone else – and that’s okay.
Now this is NOT saying that you are not valuable. In fact it is just the opposite. We all have something unique that shapes our personality, our ability to contribute, and our knowledge that is implicitly particular to us. It is saying that it is impossible for everybody to be billionaire media/business icons.
Accepting your imperfections
There’s a lot of messaging out there telling us how to magically manage to be both special and perfect. In a day and age where you can cultivate a virtually perfect image on multiple media platforms, it’s often difficult to feel comfortable with being your authentic self. But it’s time to come to grips with our imperfections. Constantly striving for perfection in both your professional and personal life is exhausting and unsustainable.
If you are living a full life, you have to expect that you simply will not be perfect at everything. There will always be the day we wake up late, yet manage to grab breakfast, usher the kids to school, and make it to work with and a cup of coffee in our hand.
Instead of striving for perfection, let’s aim for excellence. Recognize what you do excel at; work at those things that you are getting better at. We are all multi-faceted and our skills should reflect that.
Following the Leader
We read a lot about how to tap into our leadership potential, and how we are all leaders in a collaborative system. We are afraid to be labelled as ‘sheeple’. There is a new emphasis on how we all should be “disruptors” and “rebels”. However, what you don’t seem to hear very much about is how important the people following the leader are. Being the support system to your leadership team is nearly more important as being the leader.
Being a ‘follower’ doesn’t preclude thinking critically about your actions, it means getting fully on-board with a new idea or initiative. It means fully supporting leadership in whatever project or promotion they’re working on. Without any followers, there could never be any progress at a company of more than 1 employee.
Being the first follower is an act of bravery all of its own. Derek Sivers calls the role of the first follower as crucial in his TedTalk. He explains it further by saying that followers “transform a lone nut into a leader” and that each successive person that follows the leader leads to more and more people joining a movement.
The truth is that not all of us want to lead, or train, or teach. And that’s ok as long as you are still working hard and sharing best practices. Balance is essential; there’s a reason why we often hear the adage, “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Every member of a team or workplace is invaluable, especially if you find that you are not at the head.
Many of us have set ourselves up for unhappiness and stress by setting unrealistic career expectations. You may have seen a colleague in the same position as you progress to management in mere months. Perhaps you’ve started on a new career path, expecting people to know amazing you’re going to be. Maybe you keep believing that ‘one day’ someone will pluck you from obscurity and realize how special you are. In all of these situations there is an unrealistic perception how the world should work, or an inflated sense of self.
It is time to let these harmful delusions of grandeur go. There are many ways to navigate your career path, and most of them come from extended periods of hard work. Try not to focus on how others have progressed, and how successful they seem to be; instead, focus on what you can do today to create value at your workplace.
Start being seen as someone who moves the business forward. You might even find that you attain advancement faster than you expect, because you are focusing on collaboration instead of the specialness of being ‘The One’.
Working at your passion
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have goals. Many of us strive to have a career that we are passionate about – which generally doesn’t come from just ‘winging it’. In fact most of the people you consider a success didn’t set out in the career they ended up in. It was through hard work and goal setting that they found true passion in their role.
It’s okay to work at a job that you aren’t passionate about; it doesn’t mean you are unsuccessful. This just means that you are still walking the path up that mountain. And you are in good company. Most of us are on the same journey.
Whatever job you find yourself in, get good at it. Perhaps it is this position that helps you learn critical skills that you can use when you do land your dream job. Or you find side projects that inspire you, and actually contribute to your current position. And maybe achieving work life balance means that your passion is all those amazing things that you do in your personal life. You might just surprise yourself and find that passion develops. All of these options (and any others you come up with) are great.
Don’t let work define you
Don’t let yourself get caught up in the idea that where you work defines who you are. It doesn’t – it is just one facet of your life. At the end of the day, no matter what level you are at, most of us aren’t saving lives and reinventing the wheel. We are all doing a job that we have found we can be quite good at.
Take a moment to assess how you are viewed in your role. You will find that there is generally one person in your organisation whose job actually relies on you doing yours well. That is where you particular brand of special comes in to play. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done. Don’t deny yourself that feeling.
So maybe you’re not “special”. You’re still amazing and valuable and perfectly imperfect. And this doesn’t mean that you can’t keep working towards a spectacular life. It just means that you don’t have to set up expectations that may not apply to you. You can just “be”. Stop comparing yourself to others. Live your life the way you want to – especially if it means embracing your imperfections, and living an authentic life.