You are destined to be nothing special, so you might as well accept it. That was the message from a prominent career counselor writing in a major news magazine this week. As he blithely put it, “Failures may help you realize you are average; not everyone can be a star.” And then, just to smack you down a little further, he adds the following obtusely patronizing observation: “But plain folk are worthy too.” Thanks for the reassurance, pal.
This view that a special few of us are the chosen ones and everyone else is a dim wit is so 20th Century. It’s the career analogue to the hubristic self-indulgence that brought us the Great Recession. For years, the sycophants of business school capitalism crowed that the wizards of Wall Street and the CEOs of corporate America were so much smarter than the rest of us ordinary folk … only now, we know they weren’t (and aren’t). They were Masters of Stupidity, which is a talent, I suppose, but not one that makes you a star.
If there is a silver lining to this terrible economic time, it is the dawning realization that those who were supposedly our “betters” actually aren’t. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should be satisfied with mediocrity. Bringing down the so-called elite a peg or two doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t move ourselves up an equal distance or more. Despite what that career pundit would have you believe, you are not the prisoner of some drab average existence … unless you permit yourself to be.
You and every other person on this planet have an extraordinary being living inside you, waiting for a chance to perform. If you don’t believe that, think about Susan Boyle. She was a less than attractive Scottish spinster until she strode out on the stage of a British television show and wowed the world with her voice. That talent has always been there, but she had never had the courage or the opportunity to express it.
And sadly, that experience is the way many of us live our careers, only unlike Susan Boyle, we retire without giving our special talent a stage. We leave it unrecognized and unused because we lack either the self-confidence or the opportunity to expose it to the light of day.
• We don’t think our talent is worthy enough for others—especially our family and friends—to respect it as a career.
• Or, we don’t see our talent as valuable enough to be a career because it won’t enable us to keep up with the Madoffs.
• Or, worse, we buy into the nonsense of that condescending career counselor and accept the notion that we are simply beasts of burden with a vocabulary—average beings in heels and loafers.
So, what should you do?
I urge you to participate in a new workplace event. You’ve undoubtedly heard of Take Your Child to Work Day and its analog for those without children, Take Your Pet to Work Day. Well, I propose that you indulge yourself in a similarly special activity. I call it Take Your Talent to Work Day.
Take Your Talent to Work Day is an event open to you and everyone else. Here’s how it works.
First (and this is the hardest part), give yourself permission to take the time and make the effort to solve one of the great mysteries of life: what is it that you particularly enjoy doing AND do particularly well.
I call it your Natural, because it is a gift that comes naturally to you. We all have such a talent but many, maybe even most of us hide it away in a hobby or passion we pursue outside of work. Ironically, however, when we use our Natural, we unlock the handcuffs of drab work that makes us average. We unleash the world class performer—the Susan Boyle—who lives within every single one of us.
Second (and this is only a little less hard), give yourself permission to explore all of the possibilities so you can make one of the great discoveries of life: which occupation will enable you to put your special talent to work on-the-job.
The key to success in such a search is to put aside self-imposed constraints (e.g., I can’t make enough money doing it) and the biases, however well meaning, of friends and family (e.g., You have so much more to give than that.). You have an inalienable right to pursue happiness at work. That is the essence of the American Dream and, no less important, it’s a form of compensation that is every bit as valuable as the money you earn.
You spend one-third or more of your life at work, so shouldn’t that time be as rewarding an experience as every other facet of your life? Of course, it should. So, show yourself what you can do: Take Your Talent to Work today, tomorrow and for the rest of your career.
Thanks for reading,
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P.S. Please tell your friends and colleagues about the WorkStrong blog. They’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and so will I.