Working with professional women (often very frustrated professional women actually) who want to raise their visibility and influence at work, this is one of the first places we start. It’s actually one of my first questions.
“What is it about you or what has happened in your life that you’ve struggled with or that’s really, really stretched you?”
In these times when it’s assumed you’re qualified or experienced if you’ve got the title or the job, the trick is – what makes you different? What do you bring which adds to the value of your role?
The reason I ask this question is that it’s often the things we’ve struggled with, exactly these sorts of things, that make us who and how we are and – if we recognise them – they become an “unfair” advantage to us. Our Secret Sauce if you will.
No one else has your story. It’s yours.
Being 6ft tall since I was 14. Growing up I was often teased and asked “what’s the weather like up there Lurch?” and “is there enough oxygen up there for you?” oh, and one of the best ones can still be “Ooooh, aren’t you tall?” – I’d often (and still do) say “oh, thank you for telling me, I hadn’t noticed!” In my teens, I used to get to parties and immediately take my shoes off saying my feet hurt. In reality, I wanted to be smaller, to blend in more.
Now I recognise being tall means I’m noticed, I’m remembered and often when growing up, was assumed to be either older or wiser (or both!) than I was. My height gives me a natural presence, which, in business just as in life, helps. I had no choice; I was – and still am – 6ft and the choice was always how I deal with it – what I make it mean to me.
It could have been easy to have slouched, to have tried to hide it by wearing flat shoes all the time but actually, I really like being tall and wear high heels as and when I want to – oh, and I’m married to someone a fair bit shorter than me. So what? It’s all about your perception and how you perceive your “unfair” advantage.
I’ve asked a few other people recently, just off the cuff, what they’ve struggled with and now could be their “unfair” advantage. They’ve all been able to tell me what theirs is.
- One client – “Being Scottish – I’m remembered, I’m different and people like my accent”.
- Another – “My dyslexia’s made me be so much more creative and now I’m open and honest about it, it helps people connect with me”.
- My husband, Snowy – “My dad dying when I was so young helped me know how to look after myself and appreciate how hard my Mum worked”.
Think about your “unfair” advantage. What is it that’s shaped you and how do you allow it to positively influence your life? If it doesn’t, how could it? What could you make it mean?
A great way to find out if you don’t instinctively know is to ask 3 different people who know you well. Literally ask them “What do you think is my unfair advantage” and just stop and listen to what they say.
Often they’ll all come up with the same thing, my friends all did. Others often see – and appreciate – things in us, or about us, that we don’t.
When you become clearer about this, recognise if and how you allow it to be your “secret sauce” is a BIG part of communicating who – and how – you are. Everywhere you are.
At a time when so many people could be described as ‘Vanilla’ – you know, the same as everyone else, it’s the people who allow themselves to stand out, to be different, to be themselves who get remembered.
And that’s where more opportunity and income are to be found, being remembered and on other people’s radar.