Who among us hasn’t experienced this dichotomy: we want to be viewed as exceptional at what we do, yet feared being viewed as different?
During the past few years I’ve become increasingly intrigued by two shows: The Voice (opens in a new link) and America’s Got Talent (opens in a new link). It’s striking how often performers relate stories of having been bullied, been viewed as being “different” in a way that makes them feel strange or foreign, or viewed themselves as being so different as to be undeserving.
Often their talent is so amazing that they receive standing ovations from thousands present in the audiences and, I’m sure, millions more who are viewing from home. Yes, they are different because they are exceptional in their ability…ability born of some natural talent but, more importantly, honed through countless hours of effort spawned by a higher than usual passion for what they do.
What lessons can we take from these people’s experiences?
Exceptional Is Different: Lesson 1
You cannot become exceptional without being different. You must either possess ability others don’t possess, insights that no one else is seeing, or in some way bring something dramatically different than what we typically see or hear.
Exceptional Is Different: Lesson 2
The reason that you are exceptional is that you possess a greater passion for what you do than the vast majority of us. This passion drives you to learn more and expend more effort honing your skills and abilities than the vast majority of people. It’s a passion many wished they had. In reality, most have forgone their passion for what they perceive as a higher level of security.
Exceptional Is Different: Lesson 3
Bullies and naysayers are in the minority. While they are often more vocal and aggressive than their counterparts, they are not your audience. Your audience, as seen time and again on both The Voice and America’s Got Talent, is much, much more appreciative of your unique talent and much larger than those who may have bullied or denigrated you and your ability.
How can these lessons helps us rid ourselves of the dichotomy of wanting to be exceptional yet fearing being different?
Two things to remember when the fear of being “different” surfaces:
- You cannot be exceptional without being different.
- Exceptional people are exceptional because they followed their passion…something that many people wish they’d done.
The first reminds you that you have to make a choice. You can allow your fear to destine you to a life of mediocrity, of forgone passion and lost joy. Or you can choose to follow your passion and with all of the joy that following one’s passion affords: sense of accomplishment, feelings of being valued and valuable, and the sheer joy of learning that comes as you hone your skills and bring even greater joy to others. The choice is yours and yours alone.
The second element reminds us that bullies and naysayers will always exist. While that may be an unpleasant thought, it’s a reality. Here’s a simple way to deal with them: Ask yourself “Is what they’re saying to or about me going to help me achieve my goal?”
If the answer is yes, embrace the advice and act upon it quickly. If what you’re hearing isn’t going to help you achieve your goal, ignore it…as well as those who are trying to dissuade you from your passion.
Keep this in mind. People who expend time and energy trying to divert you from your passion, from what’s important to you, are envious for they have no real sense of purpose in their lives. As you become increasingly confident, you may try to help them by sharing with them a talent you see in them that they could turn into an incredible advantage for themselves. Often, all that any of us needs is someone to believe in us. You could be that person for someone in their time of need…a need often expressed in bad behavior on their part.
We are all exceptional in some regard, use your exceptional ability to enrich the lives of others and you’ll never again feel “different,” you’ll feel special.
For our kids
Help kids understand that following their passion will make them exceptional in the area of their passion. Also let them know that because their passion is greater than many others’ passion, they will automatically be considered different.
Help them understand that even though their interests are different than other kids’ interests in some respects, they may be similar in other respects. Teach them to look toward other kids’ interests to find that commonality. Then have them switch the discussion to these common interests. Once a bond is created between individuals, differences are more easily tolerated and, in some instances, appreciated.
Teach them that there are two options when hearing others’ advice: if it helps them achieve their goal, follow it; if it doesn’t, ignore it. It’s a simple as that.
Finally, help them understand that those who follow their passion lead lives of joy and a strong desire to help others. Those who don’t follow their passion lead lives of mediocrity, feeling neither valued, nor valuable. Their lives become a series of disappointments in themselves, resentment of the success of others and a sense of becoming a victim…all because they chose fear over passion, ordinary over exceptional. It’ll go along way to helping them choose wisely.
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I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your experiences in a comment.
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