How To Stand Out From Your Peers

…Positively. I know, I know - a sarcastic post would be amazing. But it also would have been too easy because, honestly, it’s not that hard to stand out in the workforce. All it takes is donning a Hawaiian shirt for a board meeting instead of a suit, adding “waffle whisperer” to a resume, or playing the Chariots of Fire soundtrack as you enter for your interview. It’s not that hard to stand out. Obviously though, we’re talking about standing out in a good way. It sounds simple. If you check out blogs and articles from Forbes, LinkedIn, etc., you’ll find dozens of lists and bullet points outlining what it takes to “rise above the rest”. The skills discussed are typically a combination of “hard” and “soft”, and there’s not usually anything to disagree with. But there is a trend: the pursuit of excellence. If you listen to the language, is usually about you. “Um…duh,” you might think. Let’s hit the pause button though. It’s about you separating yourself from others. Sure, distinguishing, sounds better, but it’s a synonym. Now this is a blog post, not a book, and you sat down to read something for five minutes, not a week, so here’s a summarized thought: while there is a space and a place for acquiring skills that help you stand out all on your own, is there a way to flip that on its head and pursue the skills that help you stand out by connecting, serving, and integrating yourself with other people? In short, are you excellent first for yourself, and then others' benefit? Or are you excellent, first for others, and then your benefit? It’s subtle but completely different. It’s not that hard to find recommendations for the first, but here’s five ideas to get you started on the second, which can be a little trickier to figure out.


How is this about others? If you care about an organization, or a project and you see problems, are you helping by letting them slide or by pointing them out? Imagine you’re a doctor and a patient walks in and you prove through a series of tests they have cancer. Telling them won’t make them happy but letting them head out the door without the truth isn’t loving either. That being said, there is an art to delivering feedback. As the doctor, you could laugh and jeer at them for having cancer (not the optimal approach) and technically it would still be true. But if you explained in a humane, gentle way, you’ve still chosen the love, but in a healing way.


If you ever need a pump-up session on this topic, just look up Simon Sinek on YouTube. (That’s a quick fix - one that could even motivate your goldfish.) On a deeper level, people are the only eternal creatures you’re going to bump into on earth. You may love them. They may annoy you, especially when they cut you off in traffic. But, weird as it may sound, there’s a chance you guys could be around each other for a while…like…a while. Excel and Adobe will not.


This is becoming a more widely known concept, but in case it sounds mafia related, it’s not. It’s simply a term psychologists have come up with to explain the phenomenon that many people––even celebrities––feel that they’re “faking it”. If this is true, regardless of the amount of time and skill someone puts into something, chances are it’s not just you who’s feeling weird at work. I could be your boss too. This presents two contrasting opportunities: One, you could focus on figuring out how to overcome or manage your own syndrome, while taking advantage of its grip on others. Or two, you could focus on helping others (possibly through increased support and encouragement) to overcome theirs and address your own by proxy.


Again, another psychology term. Normalcy bias is a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It can cause them to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare.

Sound problematic? It is.

What can you do about it? Know it exists and help people (potentially through giving candid feedback) and recognize when it’s happening. By doing so you can help protect the organizations and companies you could be working for. Or if you’re into freelancing, you can help protect yourself. *Fun Fact: this bias has also been given the nickname the “Ostrich Effect”.


(This one I stole from Jonathan Brush, but I had to include it because it’s so important). Of all the ideas on this list, this is probably the most technical. If you want to be part of innovation or start it yourself, communication is key. (If you need a visual example of how a one-man-show can go wrong, just watch Pixar’s Cars). By putting ideas on paper, you can alleviate the stress of your boss having to remember what you said, others can comment and pass the idea around more easily, and it proves you care enough to put the work in to communicate it effectively. In short, you’ve made their lives easier. To wrap this up, here’s an adapted quote by Simon Sinek: “If you want to [stand out], do something for yourself. If you want to feel fulfilled, do something for something else.” Written by Sarah Shaw

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