Do you remember how unique you once were?

Career Opportunities podcast logoTake a moment to look around you while you read this column or listen to the podcast. Take in all your surroundings. Notice the clothes you wear, the furniture in your office, the books on your bookshelves. Look at the art on your walls, the DVDs near your player. Now, consider what all this says about you. Do all these things represent a unique individual or could this be the home or office of the mythical “Everyman”? Do these items present you as someone special or yet another cog in the world’s machinery?


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The fact is, the nature of the modern advertising world and the nature of our corporate work within that world is to make us all like those around us. Where we once started out with all sorts of unique points and edges and curves, the world slowly grinds these off, often leaving us as round and smooth as everyone around us. There was a time, though, when we truly saw ourselves as unique individuals in the world. Long before kindergarten, peer pressure, high school, job interviews, and years of work, we once reveled in our individuality, our uniqueness. There was no other Doug, Rosanne, Jenny, Tracy or Jennifer quite like us.

Holding onto your uniqueness is one of the biggest challenges of life. Everything we do, everywhere we go, everyone we meet threatens to mold us into something else — something more average, more the same. As Pablo Picasso was quoted, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” If you are not careful, without even noticing it, you can become the same as everyone around you. You begin to eat at the same restaurants, go to the same clubs, watch the same shows and listen to the same music. While some common interests help to knit society together, when taken to the extreme it can remove something special from your life.

So, how do you maintain, or regain, some uniqueness in your life. Let’s start at the beginning. Think back to your childhood. What activities did you absolutely love? Did you ride your bike for miles every day? Did you listen to all sorts of music? Did you love to just lie in the grass and watch the clouds drift by? After you create a list of these activities, make a note of how many you still take the time to enjoy. Has part of your identity slipped away over the years of becoming an adult? What joy might it bring to you to re-visit some of these activities and include them in your life once more?

Now, look at your current activities and give some deep thought to why you engage in them. Do you really enjoy that hip sushi bar down the street, or is this just where all your friends hang out? Do your clothes reflect your own personal choices or are they overly influenced by your friends and acquaintances or do they serve as walking advertisements for the latest hip designer? It is ok if you really love something that is very popular, as long as you are loving it for your own reasons and not simply because it is what the in-crowd has made popular. My goal is not to convince you to reject anything that is popular — only that you consciously evaluate your decisions based on your own, personal, unique preference and not just “go with the flow.”

Why is is important to revisit your uniqueness? In the workplace, if you are just another nameless, faceless cog in the machine, you will be treated as such. Even worse, you might actually begin to believe that you aren’t important in any special way. Cogs are destined to remain cogs and to management, cogs are easily replaceable with little more thought than might be required for changing an air filter. You do not want to be a cog in any way, shape or form. Even in your day-to-day interactions you must find some way of exploring and celebrating your existence as a unique human being with unique thoughts and unique ideas. This is how you protect your position and also how you grow in your professional life.

Being a team player is fine and appreciated up to a point, but being unique leads to people thinking of you in different ways. You aren’t just “Doug in IT”, you are “Doug, that guy who plays guitar and likes to go hiking on the weekend who happens to work in IT.” Go out and craft your own unique story, bit by bit and day by day. Both your life and your career are sure to benefit.

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