Can you answer this question: “What makes you uncommon?” It’s harder than you think. I’m still pondering the answer, two months after Sean Bacon -- former military police officer/special ops/sniper trainer (and no relation to Kevin) – asked it. Sean and I were co-presenting to a group of CEO’s at a weekend retreat on Pender Island, British Columbia. He challenged the highly accomplished group to think about what makes their businesses – and themselves – stand out from the acres of ordinary in the world. And when they stated their uncommon-ness, he basically told them they were full of sh*t, and to go back to the drawing board.
And that’s when it really got interesting.
This intelligent, accomplished, highly articulate group of people was suddenly without words. I, too, was having a hard time pinpointing what makes me uncommon. I’m probably the only woman in the world who doesn’t like shopping, or thinks spa days are a waste of time, and I’m probably one of only a handful of people who doesn’t even know what Game of Thrones is about. But does that make me uncommon, or just a troglodyte?
After the participants had a chance to think a little more deeply, the answers we brought forth were compelling. But without Sean pushing us past our tidy little narratives, we may not have discovered, valued or acknowledged our true uniqueness. Each participant’s statement became an encapsulation of that person’s journey and where they have landed philosophically. It made me want to get to know each of them better and ask a million questions.
But here’s the thing: how can we be the age we are, have accomplished so much, have contributed meaningfully to the world, and still not really know what makes us uncommon? It’s a question worth asking and answering. Sean says being uncommon is one of the keys to unlocking personal resilience and building mental toughness. Being able to call upon the knowledge of who you are and where you’ve been can help you stay strong when things get really hairy.
After the retreat I took the opportunity to ask people – especially young adults – what made them uncommon. Common answers were: “I can sleep through four alarms,” “I can game for 12 hours straight without getting up,” “I have 321,000 followers on Facebook.”
“What would you tell a potential employer if they asked you that question?” I then asked. Crickets.
So, ask yourself that question and take some time to really seek the answer. If you say you’re a good listener, or you work well under pressure, or you make a killer guac, then you’re simply one of millions with those fine skills. Push further: what really makes you stand out? And if you are stuck, think about what you would do in the remaining months of 2016 to leave your unique mark upon the world, if on December 31 you should cease to exist.
I finally realized that what makes me uncommon is that I purposely run toward my fears instead of running away from them, because I don’t want fear making life’s decisions for me. Knowing that, speaking it out loud in front of people had a curious and powerful effect. It is no longer something I sort of knew about myself. It’s now a declaration, a kind of superpower I can use the next time I run into a snag or feel like I’m out of my element, or just can’t find my damn car in the parking lot.
Try it. It’s good brain food. And when you figure it out, go ahead and tell me: what makes you uncommon?