“Be the one to stand out in the crowd.” – Joel Osteen
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that talk about success. I had the opportunity to ask the registered attendees for SQLSaturday Philippines to vote for a particular topic that they like best. Since I usually talk about professional development for IT Professionals at the PASS Summit, I provided a list of topics from presentation skills to landing your dream job. This was the one that got the most number of votes: What Your College Education Didn’t Teach You About Success.
I know that I’ll be criticized for what I’m about to say here but here goes. One of the things that schools subconsciously teach students is the idea of conformity and compliance. I’m OK with instilling discipline and developing character but conformity and compliance are certainly not what we need to become successful in today’s modern economy.
This was the fourth slide in my presentation about what our education doesn’t teach us about success: BE DISTINCT OR GO EXTINCT. In my freshman year in the university, I’ve learned a word from my Social Science professor that eventually shaped the way I define who I am. The word DEVIANT is described as a behavior that is out of the ordinary. When I learned about that word, it got me started into a habit of constant personal evaluation, trying to understand why I do what I do. For instance, in a previous blog post, I talked about how I was tagged as a nuisance by people around me. What I didn’t realize is that those who thought I was a nuisance wanted me to conform to their definition of who I need to be. After all, it’s easier to follow rules than to analyze why those rules exist in the first place (that’s what I’ve been taught in the army reserve anyway.) Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating breaking the rules or anything. There are moral and spiritual rules that are absolutes and there are rules that are relatives. The moral and spiritual rules are not to be disputed. Only those that are man-made that sometimes need to be constantly evaluated because we humans do change as well as the circumstances that surround us. For instance, schools – even at the university level – still implement standard means of testing retained information using multiple-choice questions instead of allowing students to explain why they came up with an answer. I still remember when one of my engineering professors forced everyone of his students to use PowerPoint to report on a particular topic. But how can we stand out from the crowd if everyone is doing the same thing? If you are looking to get ahead in school in your career, what is everyone else doing and is it helping them get ahead? Here are a few things you can consider.
- Work according to your strengths. We are all unique individuals. Even twins are not exactly the same. If you want to stand out from the crowd, it is important to know what your strengths are and work according to them. What I find unfortunate is that schools force us to do things that are way outside our strengths zone. If you haven’t heard about the parable of the animal school, I strongly recommend that you have a look at it. If you are working according your strengths, it is much easier to stand out from the crowd because you are expressing your uniqueness.
- Step out of your comfort zone. This seems scary especially when you’ve already gotten used to doing the same thing over and over again. It’s not natural to take risks because we are wired to to protect ourselves and survive. And when we are trying something out for the first time, we feel the fear of the unknown because we don’t know what the outcome will be. But since almost all of us don’t want to step out of our comfort zones and take risks, doing so immediately makes us stand out from the crowd.
- Constantly re-evaluate the current norms. What might be abnormal today would end up being totally normal in the future. Remember the times when phone landlines were the standard way of communication? Mobile phone users were ridiculed back then. Now, even kids have smart phones. What about the time when travelling by means of flight was totally unheard of? Now, it is estimated that 61 million passengers have travelled via US commercial airlines last year just in the US alone. Norms will constantly change so it is important to constantly re-evaluate them and adjust accordingly.
- Dare to be different. We’re all afraid to be different. It’s the reason why I blogged about facing our fears. But being different makes us stand out from the crowd. It has its own set of risks, though. You’ll be an easy target because everyone will notice that you’re different. People will criticize you just because you’re different. They’ll even criticize you because you are making them feel uncomfortable. But instead of focusing on the negatives, focus on the positives. Being different does have benefits.
Here’s an example I could think of that applied all of these concepts in my career. As a consultant, I get involved in dealing with different customers on a regular basis. To stand out from the crowd, I took stack of my key strength: I’m a teacher-at-heart. I use that as a key differentiating factor whenever I’m called in to do a consulting project. I don’t just provide a solution, I teach my customers whenever possible how I came up with a solution and why it is the most effective one. But doing so means stepping outside of my comfort zone because I’m not engaged in consulting projects to teach, I’m there to solve problems. I sometimes even go as far as preparing a presentation specifically for them to understand the basics of why I did what I did. It’s not easy. But that helps me stand out and my customers remember what I did for them.
Question: Do you think being different will help you become successful? What would you start doing today to stand out from the rest? You can leave a comment below.