The biggest thing I learned when I pounded the pavement as an actor was, well, me: my uniqueness, my spark, what makes me different, and where I thrive. From that handful of post-college years, I learned that I loved (and got cast!) singing loudly and being funny, creating new, SNL-like characters, portraying multiple roles at once, and being quirky, enthusiastic, spunky, and offbeat.
Once I put those pieces together and the lightbulb went off over my head (I may or may not have shouted, “Eureka!”), I made sure to absolutely positively bring my quirky, spunky, offbeat enthusiasm into the room the first time I entered, whether it was visually with the polka-dot dress I wore (with matching headband!) and the headshot with a bright blue background or audibly with the song I sang to show that I was both funny and loud (with a killer mix/belt)! Allowing me to be me, to let me be secure with bringing myself into the room, put me at ease almost instantly.
I’ve been able to bring that in to my coaching and pair it with what I know makes me spark (writing, speaking, coaching, collaborating, relationship building). I’m able to look and see what is in line with my authenticity, because I know what makes me, um, me.
I have two clients I’m currently working with that are going through just that. These are vivacious, fun, enthusiastic, funny, talented, and inspiring women who don’t quite believe that what they have to offer—their particular services as well as their engaging personalities—would equate to anything that anyone would pay for.
These two women in particular are looking to work for themselves, but even if they were applying for jobs where someone else wrote the paycheck, they would come across the same dilemma: Buttoning themselves up, not allowing their real selves to shine through, and thinking they had to be a certain way/thing/person in order to get the job. They probably wouldn’t take the time or effort to discover where they shine and what gives them their uniqueness, and having the world miss out on that makes me sad.
Whether you’re an artist launching a new Etsy shop or a writer looking for a full-time gig or an assistant looking to enter PR, being authentic is what will set you apart. Some will call it Branding, but how boring is that (and hello, what a way to bring on a case of the Shoulds!) Your uniqueness is what makes you interesting. Your uniqueness is what others will relate to. Your uniqueness is what will get you the sales, the clients, and/or the job. Your uniqueness is why people will want to work with you. Your uniqueness is you.
But how do you find your uniqueness?
- Do something scary and ask your friends and family why they like hanging out with you. Better yet, get it in writing or set-up a free survey so you can see the overall “winning” traits. Is your sense of humor, the well-thought-out opinions of the Obama presidency, or the way you can put together the cutest outfit ever? If that is way too super scary, write down the names of your Top Ten Friends (don’t worry—unless this is Mean Girls, nobody will see it) and the reason you hang out with them. Then put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what you bring to their table. Be honest and egotistical—you can always buy new hats to fit your swelled head. Now brainstorm how you can bring those attributes into your resume, your shop, your website, your blog, your Twitter stream, your Mom’s house … (see, I brought in a Your Mom joke—one of my favorite things!)
- Look back over any job review and/or thank you note/email/phone call, and make a note of the attributes that were pointed out to you. Did a friend thank you for setting them up on that blind date with your high school pal? Seems like you’re a good connector. Did your boss make note of how your colleagues perform better than usual when they’re on a project with you? Sounds like you’re a great leader/inspirer/motivator. Write down these traits and keep them in your front pocket.
- Do a stream-of-consciousness writing exercises for fifteen minutes (set the timer!) of things you love to do. It could be as simple as, “Go shopping with Sally” or as complicated as “Throw my Mom a surprise party for one hundred people.” What have you done in your life that you’ve felt happy, or useful, or un-self-conscious, or free, or in touch? Those situations define you, as well as giving you clues to the authentic you. Pay attention to them, and do what you can to bring more of them into your life.
- Carry a notebook with you and write down whenever you feel authentic and why, as well as when someone thanks you and why. Put a week or two’s worth of notes together and you can really get all the pieces of the puzzle (“Felt authentic when I thanked the barista and she smiled at me. Like being friendly, or feel like I put some Nice into the world”).
- Think of what your perfect day would hold if you had to work during it. Where would you be? Who would be with you? What would you be doing? If nothing’s coming, close your eyes and take the pressure off yourself. Just wait for it. Once you have that image, or that movie in your mind, write it down or draw it or paint it or make it into a cartoon. Just make sure that you slay the Vampires that come out during it, especially the Yeah-Like-That’ll-Happen Vampire and the I’m-Not-Qualified Vampire and the I-Can’t-Really-Make-Money-From-That Vampire. They’re not welcome here.
Finding your authentic attributes and the things that make you spark is the way to really figure out who you are and what you have to offer. Only then can you go out into the world and create a life that supports it. And who wouldn’t want a life that’s supported by your true self?
Dummies. That’s who.