Book Chapter - Embracing the Best You (Issue #367)
Sharing another draft chapter with you
Why are you so amazing?
If you don’t yet believe that you are, you will by the time you finish the exercises in this chapter. You have come so far — and accomplished so much — that you’ve probably forgotten most of it. So, I want to help you refresh your memory.
The previous chapter focused on your weaknesses, what’s blocking success in your life, and what stands between you and your dreams. I know — heavy stuff.
Now, let’s have some fun in this chapter and talk about what makes you so great! This is just between you and the pages of this book. No need to feel shy. No need to be humble.
After decades of observing who gets promoted, careers that tend to skyrocket, and who will succeed in business, I think those who do not move up have often erred on the humble side of caution. People often misinterpret humility and believe they must never be proud of their work, speak of their accomplishments, or be confident about their talent.
But, my interpretation of humility means that:
You realize that you don’t know everything, but you are proud of your accomplishments.
You know that you aren’t immune to making mistakes and sometimes being wrong, but you also have valuable talents and skills.
You listen to others at all levels, and you’re open to learning experiences, but you have also accumulated an incredible depth of knowledge from your life, work, and education.
You remember where you came from, and you’re thankful for others who were a part of your success.
So, be a bit humble yet confident, and shine a light on your work to be highly visible and let people see how amazing you are. But, before you can do that, you have to fully understand who you are, where you’ve been, and what you are capable of becoming.
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The Story of You
Regardless of where you are in your life and career, you may feel frustrated by your perceived progress relative to where you wish the bookmark were currently placed in the book of your life. It’s easy to look ahead at the blank pages remaining and be disappointed that you haven’t achieved more.
I’ve felt that way at times. If you never have, you’re an amazingly self-aware, proud, and confident person. Buy me a coffee sometime so that I can meet you.
That wasn’t me being sarcastic, by the way. I love meeting people who have always known what they wanted to be when they grew up, made a plan, and are happy with their progress. I’ve met a few people like that, and it is truly a joy to behold.
Now, I have found the following to be a helpful exercise for the rest of us who sometimes have doubts. Sit down in a quiet place with your favorite mug of coffee or tea, and start capturing the “Story of You” from the beginning.
We’ve all been on a more amazing journey than we realize. We’ve had life experiences that we have mostly forgotten or taken for granted. We’ve accomplished things that we no longer feel are worth mentioning. It's time to revisit all of it, capture your life story, and reflect on things.
When I recommend that people write about their career and life experiences, they are humble to a fault. They say:
“Oh, my life isn’t that interesting.”
“I haven’t really accomplished that much.”
“No one would want to hear what I have to say.”
That’s absolutely false. We’re not the best judge of ourselves. We’re too close and take too much for granted.
We have forgotten so many experiences and accomplishments that only come up when someone asks deeper and more detailed questions. Then, you start to hear things like:
“Oh yes, I guess I did publish a book once.”
“I forgot about that summer when I backpacked around Europe.”
“Well, I do remember doubling revenue at that company when I was leading the team.”
I’m amazed by how easily people brush off their accomplishments. They don’t realize how valuable their stories would be to so many people just starting their own career paths. They aren’t aware of the people who would benefit from their words of wisdom.
There is always someone in need of the knowledge you’ve acquired.
That is reason enough to start capturing and sharing your story. However, I have another motive in mind. When you take the time to write down everything you’ve done in your life, you realize how far you’ve come.
You see patterns in your talent, skills, knowledge, and experience. Once that is all laid out in front of you, your confidence grows. You may still have a long way to go, but you now understand how far you’ve come.
"Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story."
— John Barth
Confidence is fuel. But only when it’s genuine confidence. I don’t like tricks or hacks to appear more confident. I’m talking about true self-confidence that you have earned and recognize based on rereading your story.
Real confidence is a fuel that powers achievement in your life. It improves your relationships, career, and wellbeing. It will enable you to take more significant risks and accomplish more audacious goals.
It will help carry you through the inevitable failures and setbacks. You’ll shrug them off more quickly, get back up, and carry on.
Yes, there are things you can do now to develop your confidence further (e.g., improving your health and fitness, acquiring new skills, improving your public speaking, educating yourself). However, writing the Story of You will immediately elevate your confidence because it’s the culmination of decades of accomplishments and work you’ve already put in.
As you look back over the years of your life and write your story, pay attention to the patterns in your talent, skills, knowledge, and experience. Capture everything that stands out and assemble this information to build the “Toolbox of You.”
The Toolbox of You
You own a metaphorical toolbox full of the tools you’ve accumulated over your lifetime. These are the tools you apply to accomplish things in your work and life.
Some of these items were given to you at birth. You’ve always had these talents. Others were developed when you received your education. Many were acquired during your years of work. But most of your tools have been built and tuned from thousands of days of making your way in this crazy world.
You have decades of knowledge, skills, and experience. You may think that can only be applied very narrowly to what you are and always have been. But that’s not true. What’s in the “Toolbox of You” is invaluable and can be leveraged with great success in so many different ways.
When you rise above the specific tasks you perform in a particular job, you see how everything in your toolbox can easily apply to almost any job. For example:
A talent for persuasion comes in handy for nearly anything you want to do.
Deep knowledge of human psychology can help you collaborate more successfully with more people.
Research skills can help you be successful in almost any job.
Experience with handling customers will make you invaluable.
So, let’s take a moment and capture all of your talents, knowledge, skills, and experience that make up your toolbox.
Your natural talents are the tools you were born with. They include innate personality traits, unique behavioral tendencies, and natural abilities. There’s no need to get into an entire nature vs. nurture debate here, but what’s wonderful about your natural talents is that you can invest in developing them and transforming them into a real competitive advantage.
Your best strengths probably evolved from some basis in talents you’ve had since childhood. You probably noticed that you improved at some activities much more quickly than others. For example, I discovered that I had a natural talent for music at a fairly young age and played numerous instruments for many years. On the other hand, my natural talent for basketball seemed to be sadly lacking.
“Talent—when I use the word, I mean it as the rate at which you get better with effort. The rate at which you get better at soccer is your soccer talent. The rate at which you get better at math is your math talent. You know, given that you are putting forth a certain amount of effort. And I absolutely believe—and not everyone does, but I think most people do—that there are differences in talent among us: that we are not all equally talented.”
— Angela Duckworth, Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
Some of your talents might be dusty. You never did much with them. But, you might be surprised by how quickly you could reactivate those talents if you decided that you wanted to do something with them.
I also would imagine that you have honed other talents into impressive tools because you leaned into them and built them into your greatest strengths. Perhaps you displayed a natural talent for leadership as a child, and now you’ve become a leader in your industry. Or, maybe you have always been naturally persuasive, and now you’re a world-class salesperson.
What talents were placed in your toolbox and have been there since the day you were born? You might be very aware of what some of these “talent tools” are. But, it is also a helpful exercise to talk with people who have known you for your entire life.
If you want to create a more complete list of your talents, talk with your parents, siblings, and close friends who have known you for a long time. If you have a significant other in your life, ask them what they’ve noticed comes naturally to you.
My wife is particularly insightful and has known me for over 30 years. When I was planning a new business venture, she was the one who helped me see some of my talents that I had not been fully leveraging in my previous jobs. Her insights helped me identify a new opportunity to pursue.
Your knowledge tools come from living life, your formal education in schools, and what you’ve learned from your work experiences. Hopefully, you have also made a habit of being a lifelong learner and accumulating more knowledge on topics that interest you or could be useful for your profession.
Thousands of people will claim that they have the same knowledge and experience that you do. If you want to stand out, set yourself apart with proof of your expertise (e.g., writing, public speaking, a portfolio of your work), validated experience (Linkedin helps here), and testimonials and recommendations(which are invaluable when they are from other reputable people).
"Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality."
— Dalai Lama XIV
What knowledge have you accumulated in your lifetime and tucked away in your toolbox? Take a moment to capture some notes about the valuable knowledge you know you have. What do you know that most people do not?
Your skills are the tools you’ve developed that help you do your work. You’ve developed some skills on your own. Many were developed on the job.
When people use the word “skills,” they often refer to hard skills, and you should undoubtedly document the ones you have. But don’t forget to capture your soft skills too. What’s funny is that — beyond a certain point — it’s the soft skills that will take you to the highest levels of your profession.
For example, the CTO of a company is not the most talented engineer with the best technical skills in the company. Instead, they have soft skills (e.g., leadership, communication, adaptability, persuasion, negotiation) that helped them rise to the top.
Most professions do require some unique skills — often hard skills — that set them apart from other professions. Software engineers and surgeons have very different skills. Designers have special skills compared to product managers. Real estate agents need very different skills than a chef at a restaurant.
However, some skills are valuable and transferable across multiple professions and jobs. I often tell the leaders I coach that great leaders are great leaders. As people climb the career ladder, the lower-level hard skills become less important. That’s why I was able to pivot my career from a VP of Design to a VP of Product Management.
What are all of the skills you have in your toolbox? One helpful exercise is transforming your current detailed job description into the services you would include in a business plan. How would a business describe its services if it offered clients what you do every day?
Finally, your experiences are the history of all of the times you combined your talent, skills, and knowledge to get things done. What have you accomplished for your past employers? If you’re an entrepreneur, what have you achieved in your business?
I would guess that almost all of you have created a resume for a job search and provided one to a potential employer during a job interview. Many of you have probably been through this process dozens or even hundreds of times.
However, the basic resume you use for job interviews doesn’t tell the complete picture of your life and work experiences, does it? I know that my old resume didn’t include all of my work experience, so that I could keep it to two pages.
One helpful exercise is creating a comprehensive “mega resume” that includes every work experience you’ve ever had. Go back to the beginning of your young working life. You never know when something you did in the past could trigger a valuable memory (e.g., “I totally forgot how much I loved doing that kind of work!”).
I’ve had kind of a crazy path to where I am today. For example, if I go back to my youth, my work experiences include:
Working on farms
Stocking shelves in a grocery store
Working at fast-food restaurants
Assembling trophies and engraving plaques
Working the stockroom at Kmart
Various construction jobs
Expert witness researcher
Director of Design
VP of Design
VP of Product Management
CEO of a startup
Leadership and Career coach
What work and life experiences do you have stored in your toolbox? Capture everything you can remember.
The authentic you
What is your “secret sauce”? What makes you stand out from the crowd?
Whatever it is, that’s a key to your individuality. Embrace it, don’t hide it. Lean into it to create an advantage in how you pursue your career at work and the interactions in your life.
There is no level playing field in life, despite the popularity of schools, companies, and various online services exclaiming, “Hey, we create a level playing field!”
Please. Who are they kidding?
You can’t go through life as if you are playing a board game by the rules, making sure that everyone is playing fair and no one has an unfair advantage.
Life doesn’t work that way.
There are so many variables that influence your success in life. Variables in who you are. Variables in your culture and environment. Variables in the workplace. Variables in your boss. Variables in the work you do. And an infinite combination of variables in the people around you and how you interact with each other.
It is impossible to create an absolutely level playing field for everyone. On top of it all, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t leverage every single advantage you have. The world is challenging enough without you restraining your talents and capabilities out of some naive sense of fair play.
Play as hard as you can
I remember a conversation with my children about natural talent, strengths, weaknesses, and being able to compete with others. During soccer season, this would sometimes come up, usually starting with, “It’s not fair. He’s bigger than I am.”
I would have to remind them that life isn’t fair. No one can promise that life will ever be fair. Yes, there will be kids on the field who are stronger than you, and they can’t hold back that strength or somehow have it limited in the interest of a level playing field.
So, I said, “He may be bigger than you, but you are faster.”
He replied, “What if someone is bigger and faster than you are?”
“Well, in life, there will always be people who are bigger or stronger than you, but you are faster. Someone might be faster than you, but you are stronger than they are. And, someone might be bigger, faster, and stronger, so you have to be smarter.”
Of course, my son said, “What if someone is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than you are?”
So I said, “Well, then I hope that you are better-looking.”
I was teasing him a little bit. But I’m not joking when I say that you need to stop holding back. You need to use your “unique sizzle” to create your unfair advantage. You don’t get to reset the game board at the end of your life and play harder next time.
This is your one shot.
You get one game.
Obviously, be a decent person. Don’t be cruel, ruthless, or do terrible things to get ahead. But, play as hard as you can with what you’ve been given and what you’ve earned. Leverage every ounce of your natural talent, strengths, hard-earned skills, knowledge, and experience to succeed.
What is your unfair advantage?
There is nothing wrong with using your supposedly unfair advantages to succeed in your career and life. Believe me; no one else will dedicate their lives to helping make you successful every step of the way. You’ll be on your own and have to earn it.
Use every tool in your Toolbox of You to succeed. Attract with sizzle, but retain with substance. I will call BS if you huff and puff and say that you don’t notice sizzle. We vote for tall presidential candidates. Pretty people make more money than others (12% more). We even find attractive people to be more persuasive.
Do people find you attractive? If so, don’t be shy about it and feel like this is something you need to suppress to level the playing field. Embrace it, be thankful, and recognize that people may treat you as more capable, whether you are or not.
Do you have a deep, warm voice? Would you believe that a decrease of 25% in voice pitch (i.e., a deeper voice) is associated with an increase of $187K in annual salary for CEOs? For men, there is often a positive correlation between having a deeper voice and greater success in business and politics.
Do you have a great smile? If so, know that people will find you more attractive when you smile vs. not. They can’t help but react to your smile, and often they will smile back, thus changing their own brain chemistry.
Are you funny? Are you a good storyteller? Do you make friends easily? Do you naturally put people at ease? Do you learn new things quickly? I could go on and on. But I think you get the point. You have something that probably comes naturally to you that gives you a competitive advantage.
Sizzle? What sizzle?
So, you may be saying, “This is all great, but I don’t have any special sizzle.”
If you truly weren’t born with any sizzle - which I highly doubt - then create it. The easiest sizzle that anyone can tap into is being genuinely friendly and using a natural smile to engage and pull people in.
Case in point: me. I spent most of my life with a neutral to negative resting face. People have told me to smile. Friends have asked why I look so grumpy. My regular resting face isn’t warm, friendly, and smiling.
But, over the past few years, I have been making a deliberate effort to genuinely smile more when I meet new people or need to engage with someone. For example, when I talk with someone in customer service in a retail establishment, I start with a genuine smile. Ok, that may sound funny to you, but it’s new for me.
I have my own techniques for feeling true warmth and friendliness so that my smile is genuine. One strategy is that I tell myself that I am meeting someone who is an old friend, and I haven’t seen them in years. I know. Sounds kind of stupid, huh?
But it works. For a couple of minutes, in the beginning, I light up like I’m greeting an old friend. Then, the other person tends to light up as well, and the friendly engagement will naturally continue from that point on without feeling forced. Call it a “warm and fuzzy” jumpstart.
So, you may not think you have natural sizzle, but every single one of us is capable of smiling and being friendly. If someone like me can start smiling more at this late stage of life, then anyone can. It is one of the easiest and most natural ways to connect more deeply with another human being. And that deeper connection is one of the secrets to tapping into an unfair advantage in your career and life.
It feels funny to call it an “unfair advantage” or a secret tip, yet it is because most people are in such a rush and are too focused on “me, Me, ME!” Slow down, take the time to really engage with other people, and don’t be shy about being warm and human. It’s surprisingly effective, and it’s also ridiculous how long it took me to learn that.
Be the best you that you can be
Don’t feel like you can’t be the “real you” and leverage some of the best advantages that you naturally have. Opportunity may not knock again, so make the most of who you are and what you have right now.
"Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it's too late."
— Rita Coolidge
Do you see it now? Do you see how amazing you are?
I hope that taking the time to write the Story of You helped you appreciate how far you’ve come in your life. I hope that capturing your talents, knowledge, skills, and experience made you realize how great you are and what you are capable of doing.
This chapter is one of the essential steps in building an “Invincible You.” The confidence you should be feeling right now will help you step up and claim the work and life you deserve.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Subscribe now to read the draft chapters as I complete them.
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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for ambitious professionals with weekly challenges, office hours, and confidential support. If you’re interested in starting your own business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching later this year).
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.