Be Extraordinary

“How can I stand out?”

woman-601568_1280It’s a question I’m often asked by my students (and graduates). In a world where many people are coming to the table with relatively equal qualifications how can anyone set themselves apart from the crowd? When I was growing up the way to stand out was to get a college degree. Many parents of my generation (including mine) made great sacrifices to make sure that we had a college degree so we would be able to set ourselves apart and give us higher earning potential. But today, most everyone has a college degree in the professional world. So, some people will immediately go on to get a master’s degree or some industry certification to distinguish themselves.

Putting more “arrows in our quiver,” so to speak (meaning education, certifications, qualifications, etc) is one way to stand out but it can also be an expensive and time consuming process. There is another way:

If you want to stand out – just be extraordinary.

In Mark Sanborn’s original book, The Fred Factor, he talked about his mailman who every day would add value and go the extra mile for the people on his route. Fred 2.0: New Ideas on How to Keep Delivering Extraordinary Results is the follow up to Sanborn’s successful first book and is filled with even more insights on how YOU can become a Fred. Here are some ways you can be extraordinary:

Have passion in what you do (Sanborn 43). Passion involves suffering, submission and sacrifice (sounds awesome right?). But true passion demands something from us – if we’re really passionate about something we’re happy to invest our time, money and energy into it (Sanborn 45).

But what if you don’t really enjoy what you do for a living – you took the job just to pay the bills? Well, you’re not alone, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate about it. I recall shortly after college working in the graphics industry, doing silkscreening and building plaques. Not exactly what I went to school to do, but I needed the money. Even though I disliked the work itself, I threw my effort into trying to be excellent and take pride in my work. That helped build muscles I would need later in life when I was engaged in activities I was truly passionate about (I’d call them ‘passion-muscles,’ but that sounds really bad). What I was learning was the work-ethic.

If you’re not sure what you’re passionate about, pay attention to your life – your life has been giving you clues pretty much, well, all your life. I taught myself how to type and then took more typing classes (when I could have been playing dodgeball in the gym as an elective) so that I could write faster and more stuff. That should have been a clue early on that I’m passionate about writing. To find your passion think about:

  • What would you do for free (Sanborn 45). If you won the lottery and didn’t have to worry about money, or you’d won the psychology lottery too and you no longer worry about pleasing your parents, friends, high school sweethearts who dumped you, and total strangers, what would you do? (Gee, can we tell who has some unresolved high school issues here?)
  • What riles you? (Sanborn 45). Annoyance is a great motivator. Is there something that irritates you? Maybe you can find passion in fixing those things (Sanborn 45).
  • What interests you? (Sanborn 46). I love this one by the way — when you’re at the bookstore or in the magazine section, what section do you gravitate too? If you always find yourself in the entrepreneurial section, or the women’s interest section, that may be your subconscious trying to tell you something — something like: hey, we like this stuff, go find a job where we can see and do more of this.
  • Who interests you? (Sanborn 46). What groups of people do you tend to notice? Who do you hang out with or like to hang out with?
  • What will minimize your regrets? (Sanborn 46). At the end of you life, what will you regret that you never did? Maybe you haven’t done it yet, but you’re on the path there — good deal! But if you’re not on that path, what action could you take, TODAY, to move in that direction? Just like we teach our pilots, a minor course correction is hardly noticeable, even to the pilot, but just a 1/2 degree difference in heading can give you an entirely new destination.

Keep in mind that your passions can also change over time. Heck, if I took this questionnaire twenty five years ago, I probably would have (knowing what I know now) decided to get a degree in golf course management and been a golf pro, or gotten an English degree (so I would actually know how grammar works) and focused more on being a writer. But, I also remember that time in my life  and I remember that there were other passions I had at that time. It’s okay to change courses once you find you’re no longer passionate about your current or chosen profession.

It is very important to be passionate particularly if you want to succeed. Think about how much schooling a lawyer or doctor, or a pilot (it’s about the same length of time and money once the pilots have reached a major airline) it takes to even become one of these professionals (Sanborn 48).

The other reason to be passionate, and this is the first point in my Tedx speech, is that there are going to be obstacles in front of you as you pursue your passion and in order to push through them, climb over them, knock them down or go around them, you’ll need that same passion to act as your leverage, your fuel and your energy. Like the old equation we learned in Aerodynamics: F=Ma, Force=Mass times Acceleration. Passion is your force, so . . . use the force, Luke!

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love,” — Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (Sanborn 49-50).

Another way to be extraordinary is to improve YOUR part in the overall process (Sanborn 51). We are often not in a position to change an entire company’s strategy or corporate culture, but we are often able to change or improve our part in the process. Look for the little ways to add value. Be creative (yes, you are, don’t believe people who say you’re not, you just need to give yourself permission to be creative). And if you don’t believe me, believe the Harvard study that said that people who exercise their creativity in their daily lives are happier, healthier and more productive (Sanborn 52).

 So your mission for today is to figure out a way to be extraordinary. 

My local Starbucks is full of extraordinary people. People like Katherine, Kenny, Lexi, Jocelyn, Azeb and until recently, Theri have all been there for years and are just amazing people (and again, I know as soon as I hit Publish I’ll remember someone else whose name I forgot to mention). While I’m familiar with Starbucks’ training materials and the culture they hire for and instill in their employees, the only way that culture is reinforced is if it’s leader-led. From Howard Schulz on down to Jill, the manager of my local Starbucks, the culture is sustained, emphasized and rewarded. Jill hires amazing people and you truly feel welcome every time you walk in the store.

While everyone there is spectacular, I’m going to highlight Kenny. As the old coach John Madden would say, “here’s a guy who pours coffee, but he does it with such personality and friendliness, you actually feel better emotionally when you leave than when you came in.” Kenny is always asking about my day, and he has an amazing ability to remember more than my drink and my name. In fact, I think he knows more about what I do for a living than I do! I know from Starbucks training materials and from some other books in this series where their corporate culture has been analyzed, that they encourage their employees to personally engage with their customers, but Kenny takes it to a whole new level. He’s extraordinary not by giving away coffee or food or trying to one-up his coworkers, or violating company policies, he just adds a little extra engagement with each person, and he’s extraordinary just through improving his part in the process — a small effort, at zero cost financially to himself, to be extraordinary. 

Kenny stands out by being extraordinary; Kenny stands out by being a Fred!

Sanborn, Mark. Fred 2.0: New Ideas on How to Keep Delivering Extraordinary Results. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013. Print.


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