There’s nothing valuable about being normal.
“Normal” is easy. Normal can be found everywhere. If you could find a diamond just by walking down the street, it wouldn’t be worth nearly as much. The same principle applies to people.
In life, if you want to live like others can’t, you have to do what others won’t. For me, one of those things was playing the Tuba.
If your first thought after reading that was that I’m a geek, a loser, or a fat kid with pimples, that’s OK. I’m writing this, you’re reading this, and I’m winning.
I played the tuba at the request of my teacher who needed someone to fill in for a year. I said “Yes” because I loved music. The only reason I would have said “No” is for fear of being made fun of. Yet, this tuba was responsible for this first generation college graduate.
College wasn’t even in my sights until November of my senior year of high school. One last minute trip to my first Ohio State football game and the next moment I’m painting lines in my backyard, driving 400 miles a week for practice, and trying out against hundreds of other people born and bred to be there. Four years later, I was “dotting the ‘i’” at the 2003 BCS National Championship game in Tempe, Arizona.
Odd things came of this: A full page article about me in Sports Illustrated Magazine. Requests for autographs from NASA Astronauts. Several media interviews, including USA Today and ESPN. A national championship ring with my name on it. A killer resume with this one thing that everyone always wants to talk about. And, the instant association for being able to work my way to the top in high-pressure, ultra-competitive environments. Today, I get paid to speak and travel around the world, work my dream job, and have no doubt about the future potential of my family.
We spend so much of our lives trying to “fit in.” We try to look like everyone else and be like everyone else. Need evidence? Look at all the selfies of people on Instagram trying to look like the reality television stars. In fact, the next time you do your hair in the morning, stop and ask yourself why do you think you look good that way? Then, think about your haircut during your freshman year of high school. You thought you looked good then too. Are you really in control or are you just following others?
Here are three ways you can take control and be sure to win in life:
1. Stop Fitting In
No one who fit in ever broke the mold and did anything worth mentioning. In life, there will be countless people who try to drag you down to their level. They will tease you, undermine you, or simply not accept you. Realize that these people are not going anywhere, make your own lunch table - no, a better lunch table - and move forward. Simply put, other people will try to hold you back in life, don’t be one of them.
2. Define Your Strengths
You’ve been doing this wrong. Strengths are not things you are good at. Strengths are one or two things you do amazingly well with very little effort, yet when most others put a great deal of effort into the same thing, they still don’t do as well as you. Sure, you can still be good at other things. But know your real strength and be able to define it. If you can’t describe what you’re doing, then you don’t know what you’re doing.
3. Be Seen as the Solution
Opportunities exist where chaos lives. This is the place no one else wants to go, the problems that no one else wants to tackle, or the situations everyone else wants to avoid.
Every job I have had was achieved as a result of my strengths leveraged into opportunities like these, namely instances when executives had ambiguous challenges no one else was willing to take on. As someone who can solve complicated problems and turn them into successful, measurable reality, and with a known history of rising above the rest, I learned how to become the go-to-guy. Once you know your real strength, step into the mess, leverage your strengths, be consistent, and find yourself rising above the rest.
Kevin Smith is the Director of the Institute for Leadership Advancement in the College of Business at The University of Akron and a keynote speaker to large corporations, MBA programs and universities across the United States. Kevin is a first-generation college graduate and holds degrees from The Ohio State University and Ohio University.