The Myths of Uniqueness and Being the Best
Competency is Just Table Stakes
Many people complain about the external forces that keep them from their goals. But it’s becoming clear that the very things holding us back are often our own fears, insecurities and concerns.
When someone is confronting a wall of resistance, it’s easy to quote Nike and say “Just Do It,” but it often requires a more pragmatic approach.
Read a lot of the new gurus of prosperity and productivity and you’ll be confronted with advice telling you to “Be The Best” and “Be Unique.” But ironically, that good advice becomes the insurmountable obstacle standing in your way. You don’t have to be the best because the best rarely make it to the top. They’re too concerned about being great to be good.
Success requires more than just commitment to your craft. It calls for perseverance, marketing, attention to detail and luck. But if you’re too busy sitting at home perfecting your pitch, you’ll never make something happen.
As Sting sang, “To search for perfection is all very well, but to look for heaven is to live here in hell.” Truth is, you don’t have to be the best at what you do, you have to be the best at promoting what you do.
Whatever you do, you’re probably better at it than you were yesterday, and not as good as you’ll be tomorrow. But as far as your market is concerned, you’re already good enough.
So what are you waiting for? Get out and show the world what you can do. And while you’re ensuring your success, you’ll also improve the skills you need for success.
Be Unique. Just Like Everyone Else.
The need to be the best is not the only thing holding you back. The other is the myth of uniqueness — the never-ending search for a distinctive individual identity.
Everywhere you turn people tell you to be unique: “No two snowflakes are alike.” “No two fingerprints are similar.” They say it with an attitude that makes being unique sound simple and easy. But do you know what “unique” means? The dictionary definition is “being the only one.” Unless you use a modifier such as “fairly,” the word is absolute – it leaves no room for compromise. You can’t be a little unique anymore than you can be a little excellent, a little perfect or a little pregnant. You’re unique or you’re not.
Think about how few successful people actually pass the strict definition of “unique.” We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and even the most successful built our success on what came before.
Being noticed does not require uniqueness in the fingerprint or snowflake category. It requires you to be fairly differentiated so your audiences can respect your differences.
Before you think I’m giving you a pass from the nearly impossible task of defining your uniqueness, know this: success doesn’t usually come to the truly unique because their audiences don’t understand what they’re offering.
Joan of Arc? Burned at the stake. Van Gogh? Committed suicide. Hendrix? He died of an overdose. Forging a truly unique path is not the way to success or happiness. And that’s without even counting how many unfortunate characters never got a break and labored into obscurity.
History is riddled with stories of the truly unique who were ignored and denied until an act of fate mainstreamed them. Even the businessman of the century, Steve Jobs, was fired by Apple before he made his stunning comeback.
The need to be unique is a presumptuous, egotistical myth. Instead, create an identity that tells the world NOT who you are but what you mean to them. Position yourself through the eyes of your potential audience, and watch how they relate to you. If your tribe feels that you make them better, thinner, richer, happier or whatever, they’ll pay to listen to you. Who’s done that? Lots of people including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. You feel good watching them because they help you feel good about yourself. Closer to home, our mutual friend Randy Gage is a perfect example of this strategy.
It comes down to Oscar Wilde’s great quote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”