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Are You Average or Exceptional?

Today’s post is a transcript from my podcast entitled Are You Average or Exceptional?

We’re talking about how you see yourself. Are you average or exceptional?  How are you different from others, and how does that affect how you work and play?

Recently I was listening to an Accidental Creative podcast interview with Seth Godin, the author of the recent book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?  His book stresses the importance of being indispensable, and this means doing what he terms “emotional work” at a high level.  Doing something different.  Not simply going through the motions to get a monthly paycheck.

He gave a short exercise, which I’ll give here, so you can experience it.  Take a Post-It note and write either “Average” or “Exceptional” on it.  Which are you?  Take some time to figure it out, then write it down.  Stick it on your computer in front of you, so you can see it.

Then he said, “If you wrote ‘Average,’ then you’re doing all right.  Status quo.  Keep at it.  If you wrote ‘Exceptional,’ however, how dare you?  How dare you write ‘Exceptional’ when you’re doing the same old, same old?  Don’t you know that you have to live up to that title?  Work harder than you’ve ever worked before?  Do something extraordinary?”

His comments hit me hard, because of course I would have written “exceptional” on my Post-It.  And then I began thinking about what makes me different from other people and how I can highlight those differences to make a difference.

Linchpin is about becoming remarkable.  Linchpin is about not becoming another cog in the wheel.  Because what this world needs (i.e. employers need) is creative, thinking-outside-the-box, and problem-solving employees.

Let’s face it.  Average is safer.  You do what everyone else is doing, ad nauseam.  Average is easier.  All you have to do is follow the rules.  Average is comfy cozy.  You never have to try anything new.  Average happens faster.  Your way has been paved by others; therefore, it’s easier going.

If you wrote “exceptional” on your Post-It like I did, you have an uphill journey.  You push the envelope.  You ask questions you’re not supposed to ask.  You think outside the box.  When someone tells you it can’t be done, you do it yourself.  You spend lonely hours slaving away at a task, while others are at their beach houses or watching TV.  This is what you do.  You’re exceptional.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Being exceptional doesn’t have to be a drag.  You’ll have eureka moments.  You’ll reach your goals and reap the benefits.  You’ll feel a sense of pride for having created a new dream for others.  How many times have you heard about kids who are the first in their families to go to college?  How many times have you heard about what a great thing it is that President Obama has broken down that impossible wall for people of color?

I’ll give a more mundane example.  We have two beagle puppies that are unusually well-behaved.  They come when called.  They’ll stay on their bags and not wander around the house.  We’ve been told we’re lucky.  If that’s the case, we’ve been lucky with every dog we’ve owned.

You’ve probably guessed my point.  Luck has nothing to do with it.  We trained and trained and trained those dogs, so they’d know what to do and how to do it.  We taught them to obey.  We taught them to listen.  It took lots of patience and consistency.  It took getting up at night (for the first six months) to let them out so they could relieve themselves.  It took work, work, work.  And now we’re reaping the benefits.  You’ve probably heard the quote by Mark Twain: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

On March 15th, 2011, Seth Godin blogged the following:

One way to approach your work: “I come in on time, even a little early. I do what the boss asks, a bit faster than she expects. I stay on time and on budget, and I’m hardworking and loyal.”

The other way: “What aren’t they asking me to do that I can do, learn from, make an impact, and possibly fail (yet survive)? What’s not on my agenda that I can fight to put there? Who can I frighten, what can I learn, how can I go faster, what sort of legacy am I creating?”

You might very well be doing a good job. But that doesn’t mean you’re a linchpin, the one we’ll miss. For that, you have to stop thinking about the job and start thinking about your platform, your point of view and your mission.

It’s entirely possible you work somewhere that gives you no option but to merely do a job. If that’s actually true, I wonder why someone with your potential would stay…

In the post-industrial revolution, the very nature of a job is outmoded. Doing a good job is no guarantee of security, advancement or delight.

I’ll leave you with one more story to emphasize how important it is to know who you are.  This is from the Count of Monte Cristo.

“I have been told,” said the count, “that you do not always yourselves understand the signals you repeat.”

“That is true, sir, and that is what I like best,” said the man, smiling.

“Why do you like that best?”

“Because then I have no responsibility. I am a machine then, and nothing else, and so long as I work, nothing more is required of me.”

So.  I’ll ask it again.  Are you average or are you exceptional?  And how will you change your life to fit that description?

[Post image: Medal by Alenq on stock.xchng]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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