U is for Unique. Why you need to embrace your uniqueness to achieve a meaningful and successful life. This post is part of our blog series, The A to Z of Being Babyproof, a celebration of the attitudes and behaviours it takes to balance career and family – because “babyproof” is not a destination, it’s a blueprint for having it all and making it work.
“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different” – Coco Chanel
Do you lack confidence in yourself and believe that others are better than you or have more to offer?
Do you often feel like you are ‘different’ and don’t fit in?
Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome and feel that you don’t deserve or have ‘fluked’ your success?
Do you shy away from big opportunities and play small because you doubt your own abilities?
If you find yourself identifying with any of these questions, then welcome to my world! I have talked a lot in the past about my Imposter Syndrome – about growing up being acutely aware of how different I was from everyone else and how I always felt that I didn’t fit in. When you’re the only black kid in an all-white school and one of only a handful at university, it’s a reality that stares at you in the mirror every day.
I struggled with this feeling of otherness my whole life, using up huge amounts of intellectual energy trying to process and deal with it, and as a result, having to achieve my goals with only half the mental resources I should have had at my disposal.
It wasn’t until the grand old age of 40 (!) that I started to question the wisdom of continuing to think this way. Why was I so afraid/ashamed of my difference that it was repeatedly causing me mental anguish? After a good deal of soul-searching and reflection on my past, I came to the conclusion that, rather than holding me back, it was in fact the very things that made me different that had been instrumental in my success. I started to re-evaluate my past and my achievements and could finally understand that my difference (and the Imposter Syndrome it had triggered) hadn’t been a weakness, but a strength. My difference had made me memorable, interesting, hard working and determined. It had made me unique. (Have a look at my short video on this subject here).
Once I had the epiphany that it was my ‘uniqueness’ that had shaped the good things in my life, I felt liberated. Now I could spend my energy ‘being’ me, rather than anguishing over being me! And I believe this freedom is open to everyone. Society tells us that following norms, doing the same things as everyone else and fitting in with the crowd is the path to happiness. However, this encourages us to look to others for our fulfilment. If we look inside, embrace our own uniqueness and focus on ‘being’ rather than ‘being like’ we can find authenticity and confidence. Your uniqueness is very much a strength, not a weakness, and by taking steps to identify what makes you ‘you’, you can not only build your own personal brand, but find meaning in life, and success in your career.
5 reasons why uniqueness is awesome:
- Unique is the ultimate in rarity – and rare is always valuable.
- Unique is memorable. In his book Purple Cow: transform your business by being remarkable, Seth Godin notes how some brands like Apple and Dyson have achieved spectacular success by being noticeable, exciting and completely different from the competition. The same principle applies to people!
- When you’re being your unique self, (i.e. being authentic and not trying to be someone else) you operate at your best level. It takes time and energy to suppress your true values, which means there is less energy available for achieving your goals.
- Trying to be something you’re not or doing things that don’t align with your own inner values will make you less content, and therefore less productive.
- Identifying what makes you unique means recognising the value you bring to the table – this is a huge asset when you want to progress your career (I talk about this in my online course – register your interest here).
So it’s clear that uniqueness is a huge strength, but how do you go about identifying your unique value? Well, what makes you unique is the fact that you are a particular combination of experiences, genetics, skills and education. There’s no one else like you. No one who has grown up in the exact same circumstances, had the exact same cultural and social influences, the exact same education, the exact same experiences …and processed these in the exact same way that you have. So to recognise what makes you unique, you need to draw up a full picture of who you are.
What qualifications do you have? These might be mainstream qualifications like A Levels, a degree or a masters, but what else is there? Did you ever do a course on photography? Do you speak any languages? Have you had any training?
What experience do you have? Think work/career such as projects you’ve worked on, but also think beyond work – your travels, or hobbies. Mine include travelling around the world for 6 months when my eldest children were 1 and 3; living and working in Australia in my year off before university; living and working in Rome, Italy, and then years later Milan. I have also done a parachute jump, and skied the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix.
3. Your ‘Free Square’
In a wonderful book called Lit From Within, Victoria Moran talks about playing ‘your free square’. Everyone has a gift, something that comes easily that others struggle with. I’ve also heard this referred to as a super power. Think about your life and what you do, the things that come easily to you, and identify your free square or squares. My free squares are connecting with people, working hard, and being positive – these are all things that come naturally to me!
4. Your Story
Spend time reflecting on your journey to where you are now. We often bury a lot of stuff from the past. We forget how far we’ve come and the challenges we’ve dealt with, so try and reflect with a positive attitude on your journey. A great way of doing this is to think of your life as a river with the surrounding landscape reflecting your different experiences and events. This idea comes from Emma Stroud, founder of the Pitch Perfect Club. Imagine journeying down that river from the source, and picture all the things that happened along the way. If you can do this visually on a piece of paper, so much the better.
5. Your Skills
What’s your skill set? Look at all the information you’ve jotted down for 1 to 4 above and for each point ask yourself, what skills did I acquire or demonstrate in that scenario? For example, my parachute jump demonstrates my courage, my sense of giving (I raised money for the mental health charity, Mind) and my sense of adventure. My education demonstrates my diligence, resilience and ambition. There’s a skill or talent behind everything you’ve done: your job is to find it. Don’t sensor yourself by playing down your achievements or suggesting it was easy. Write down everything.
6. Your Bio
Take all of the information from above and write about yourself from a 3rd party perspective. As a keynote speaker, I’m often asked to send my biography over to a potential client so they can get to know me and assess whether they think I’m right for the job. Assume that you have to do the same. Create your own bio which showcases your unique combination of skills, education, experience and personality.
7. Your Personality
How do others (who you trust) describe you? When people compliment you, what do they say? What do they think about your attitude, your style? What would they say were your strengths? Send out an email to 10 of your closest friends and colleagues and ask them to find 10 words to describe you. If you are worrying about asking colleagues, think about having a currency to offer in exchange for sponsorship. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett says in her excellent book Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor ”I had to figure out what I brought to the table. What was my currency? What did I have in my back pocket that was useful to the powerful people from whom I was asking favors? What was the quid pro quo?“
So you’ve followed the steps above and identified what makes you special – now what?
1. Believe it
Don’t just write it down, review it and live it! When talking about yourself, remember to use words and language that reflect your uniqueness and try to live your inner values every day (see my blog post on the subject here). You have discovered who you are so now be who you are!
2. Review and update your bio regularly
Your uniqueness does not remain static, fixed in time. As you age and you have more experiences, so your unique value changes. Remember to review and reflect on your bio accordingly.
3. Seek opportunities that showcase your unique value.
Good at connecting with people? Get out there and network or offer to lead some training. Good at writing and expressing yourself? Write a blog or an article for an industry publication… you get the idea!
4. Build your personal brand.
Just like a successful business, a successful person often has a ‘brand’ that is instantly recognisable and that makes them stand out from the competition. Identifying your uniqueness is the first step towards creating your own personal brand. Download this week’s freebie for more tips on how to do this.
I hope this blog has been helpful in prompting you to start embracing your unique qualities. Why not try reading your bio aloud to yourself every day for a WEEK? How does it feel to read about yourself? Give it a go and see if you feel any differently by the end of the week! Share your findings in our closed FB group. Remember:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com