In a world so completely filled to the brim with people, ideas, products, methodologies, motives and distractions, it seems counter-intuitive to not try to stand out. The idea of complete anonymity, truth be told, is probably one of my greater fears. A dominant narrative of our culture is precisely this: that it is necessary, commendable, and a source of pride and power to stop at nothing to stand out in your field, in your community, even in your own relationships. Everything becomes competitive, and somewhere along the way, we confuse a full and bustling life/career with the rat race.
Especially in work and business culture, we undervalue the reflective, more fundamentally risky, generous, slow-growth types (even though their productivity and long-term business health is often amazing). We overemphasize what we perceive to be the new, the young, the "trending." Ironically enough, in an attempt to "keep up with Joneses," many companies end up just conforming. They grow stale, lack innovation, and cease to thrive because they tried to stand out without taking the risk of finding out who they really are. In other words, they did not stand in their own power. (This has happened to me as recently as yesterday).
"If your organization requires success before commitment, it will never have either. Part of leadership (a big part of it, actually) is the ability to stick with the dream for a long time. Long enough that the critics realize that you're going to get there one way or another...so they follow." -Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
My grandfather once wrote me a letter, one I have come to cherish. He said that because I am taking up some space and breathing some air and eating some food that I do owe the world a little something in return. He went on to say that my greatest pleasure in life would be "to find out what that is and do it, according to your own style."
I tear up to think of that sage advice, because it is not what we often hear. We are, as a (western) culture, very entitled at times- to what we consume, what we get to experience. So there is wisdom here in the power and pleasure of giving back, of truly being generous in business. But really what stands out (ha!) in my grandfather's letter is the part about "find out what it is" and "according to your own style."
Our passions are our compass. And from those passions develop things, services, and ideas that fulfill needs that the world has. Some are more glamorous than others, some humble, some very impactful. But it's not really what you do (though I do advocate humane, eco-friendly, and honest business practice), so much as how passionately and uniquely you do it, and whether you are able to match your offering with the right people at the right time.
This is where the "standing in" part of things comes into play: We strive to love what we do or create, to make it better, fuller, and more alive. We spend the very worthwhile time thinking about who desires what we've got to give. We venture out into the world to find our people, our clients and customers, and then we commit to meeting them where they are and seeking out their trust. That is standing in. It has a very different feeling, a very different quality than bobbing your head above the crowd, hoping to be noticed. It's open-minded leadership, opposed to following in hopes of being followed.
What my grandfather touched on was the singular truth that we each have something valuable to contribute. Something small, something big- whatever. The point is, you've got to be on to something, and you've got to apply your own genius to it.
A saturated market becomes a moot point, as does a struggling economy or even lack of experience. The point is, there is a way in that is your door alone. Your passion is your golden key. You can and must open it and offer your creations "according to your own style," valuing deeply both yourself and your customers. I'm so inspired by this that I've made it my business to help others pursue the path of standing in- not as an alternative to "standing out," but as a way there. From a marketing and growth perspective, it's a lot less hectic, it tends to really work, and above all, it just feels better. That's always my greatest indicator I'm onto something big.
This post was lovingly inspired by a dear friend and true leader in business, authentic living, and the pursuit of happiness. Thanks Jovial King!