Leadership Thought #464 – Embrace What Makes You Special

February 25, 2014

Free Concentrated male joiner using bandsaw machine while creating patterns on wooden board in dark workshop with special instruments and glowing lamp Stock Photo

It’s important to acknowledge and utilize what makes you special.

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to be what you are not.  There are a lot of books out there that tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but this simply is not true.  No matter how hard I try, there are certain things I just can’t do or won’t be able to do well.  It has saddened me to watch so many people regularly set themselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations about what is possible for them and others.  Instead of trying to force yourself into a role/career/opportunity that isn’t right for you, why not embrace who you are and what makes you special and tap into that?

I believe that each one of us is born with gifts and unique talents we can share with others and excel at. Unfortunately, at an early age, we are thrust into an educational/social system that pushes us to conform and defines what success within this system should look like.  And like most ingrained systems, the model is outdated and serves the purpose of prior generations. Early on in life, we are taught that there are winners and losers and that winning requires certain characteristics and attributes that only a select few possess.  Moreover, the path towards achievement is narrowly defined and often materialistic in nature.  This partially explains our dysfunctional societal obsession with celebrity and wealth.  Don’t buy into it!

One of the things I marvel at in life is how different we all are from one another.  Sure, there are obvious physical similarities, but on any given day I meet people who blow me away with their individuality:

  • I’ve witnessed creative minds that operate on a level I can’t even fathom.
  • Some of us are introverts while others are extroverts.
  • Some people can fix anything mechanical with little guidance while others get quickly frustrated when things break.
  • I’ve observed many talented people who like to work with their hands and others who don’t want to get dirty.
  • I know individuals who can solve complex mathematical problems in their heads and others who need to work through things more methodically.
  • I’ve witnessed people who are quick on their feet and handle any social situation and others who are more reserved and careful in their public interactions.
  • Some people thrive under stress while others fall apart.
  • Science is fun for certain people and boring for others.
  • Some people like to read, others prefer to listen, and some even only like watching.
  • There are people so physically gifted they make any athletic activity look smooth and easy while others stumble attempting the most basic physical task.
  • There are individuals who look for the spotlight and others who run from it.
  • Some people like to lead while many more want nothing to do with it.

The list goes on and on.  Our differences are vast and wonderful. None of the above is good or bad; it just makes you who you are.  And, the more we try and put ourselves in situations where we are pre-programmed to thrive, the happier we will be.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively about a state of being called “flow” where you feel perfectly aligned with what you are doing.  Time seems to stand still; you feel an innate sense of joy and your efforts feel almost effortless.  At this moment you are one with nature and your own being.  We’ve all experienced these moments, but sadly they are usually exceedingly rare.  Reality quickly returns and we are back on the treadmill of life, trying to survive our own existence by doing what we feel we should be doing.  I’ve never liked the word “should.”  Of course, there are family and civic responsibilities we must attend to; however, this is only part of who we are, not all of it.  I’ve been privileged to experience several people who have followed what Joseph Campbell termed their “bliss” and lived wonderful lives doing unique things that an objective outside person couldn’t imagine would lead to any level of success, but it did. Never forget that true success is an individual definition.   Happy people make better spouses, parents, siblings, friends, and bosses.

Shakespeare stated it perfectly centuries ago, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  To be of maximum service and value to others we must first be true to ourselves.  Please don’t spend a lifetime trying to be someone you are not.  Instead, celebrate and tap into what is great about you already.  Pay attention to the positive signals the world is giving you.  Look for and be open to the “flow” of life and it will find you…

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