Competency Is Table Stakes.
Many people complain about the various forces keeping them from success. But it’s becoming more and more clear that the things that hold us back from success are not external factors but our own fears, insecurities, and concerns.
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As Pogo the Possum said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
If you spend a lot of time reading the new gurus of prosperity and productivity you’ll be confronted with a lot of advice that tells you success will come when you decide to “Be The Best,” “Be Sensational” or “Be Unique.”
I’m here to tell you you’ve been lied to. You don’t have to be the best to achieve success. Fact is, the best of the best rarely make it to the top. They’re too concerned about being great to be good.
Success requires a lot more than just an unwavering commitment to your craft. It requires perseverance, marketing, attention to detail, and not just a little bit of luck. But if you’re too busy sitting home and working on your guitar arpeggios or perfecting your sales pitch, you’ll never get the chance to 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 showing your prospects how you will make their lives better.
So what are you waiting for? Get up, get out, and show the world what you can do. And here’s the bonus: While you’re building your path to success, you’re also improving the skills you need to be successful.
As detrimental to success as trying to be the best is, it’s not the only obstacle in your path. The other myth that holds you back is the myth of uniqueness. That is, the never-ending search for a distinctive and wholly individual identity.
Being Unique. Just Like Everyone Else.
Everywhere you turn, people say that success requires you to be unique. “No two snowflakes are alike. No two fingerprints are similar. Be unique.” They say it with the back of the hand attitude that makes it sound simple and easy. But do you know what an exacting term uniqueness is? The dictionary defines the word as “being the only one.” So unless you place a modifier such as fairly in front of unique, the word is absolute with no room for variety or compromise. You can’t be a little unique any more than you can be a little excellent, a little perfect or a little pregnant. Unique is unconditional. You either are or you ain’t.
Think about how few successful people actually pass the strict dictionary definition of unique. We all balance on the shoulders of giants and even the most successful among us built their success on what came before.
Let me be as clear as I can — success does not require uniqueness, certainly not in the fingerprint or snowflake category. Instead, it requires that your audience can see and understand your authentic difference.
Lest you think I’m giving you an easy way out from the nearly impossible task of defining uniqueness, know this: success doesn’t usually come to the unique because their potential audiences aren’t sophisticated enough to know what they’re being offered.
History is riddled with stories of unique characters who were ignored, shunned, and denied until some act of fate finally broke their ideas into the mainstream. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. A penniless Van Gogh committed suicide. Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose. Even Steve Jobs, the businessman of the century, was fired by Apple before he made his stunning comeback. The evidence is clear that forging a unique and individual path is not the way to success or happiness.
The need to be unique is a presumptuous, egotistical myth. But it is not a key to success. Instead, create an authentic identity that tells the world NOT why you’re different but who you are. Position yourself through the eyes of your potential audience and watch how they relate to you. If your tribe feels that who you are makes them better, thinner, smarter, richer, happier or whatever, they’ll pay – and pay big – to be around you. Who’s accomplished that? Lots of people you know, including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. You feel good watching them because they help you feel good about yourself.
In the end success comes down to Oscar Wilde’s great quote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”