Alex Butler is fed up of being mediocre.
You know the feeling. It’s coming at you from all sides. Emails, client proposals, and books you should be reading, blogs to write, newsletters to send. Blah. Blah. And we haven’t even discussed the family and friends that you owe a catch up call to, a favour to do for.
Oh well. I’ll just update Facebook.
At the beginning of every day of every week, the to-do list is overwhelming, and it can be very tempting to want to tick some boxes in order to make yourself feel more in control of your tasks. I have a little thought dance in my head in which I persuade myself that once all that is out of the way, I can settle down to
– write the best selling book
– develop the emerging ‘plan’ to change the world
– get the clients that I want to work with, not the ones I have to work with
The problem is that it never works out that way and suddenly I find myself mid afternoon with 5 empty inboxes, several empty coffee cups and nothing remarkable to talk about.
‘That’s fine’, I say to myself. ‘Because I can start tomorrow with a blank canvas. You know the rest of the story!
It’s a never-ending hamster wheel.
I once had a boss who described the large corporate that we both worked for as a ‘monument to mediocrity’. He was right. Most people found it much easier to take the path of least resistance and look busy with emails, incessant meetings about nothing and conference calls. I sometimes wonder whether those of us who make the leap into freelance life from that world carry those bad habits with us.
Except that I reached a crunch point. I realised that I just couldn’t drift along any more. I wanted to be remarkable. It’s not like I didn’t know what I needed to do. I needed to create stuff that exceeded people’s expectations of me. I realised that I wasn’t going to get any plaudits for emptying my inbox. Every day. Forever.
Seth Godin, in his book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable says that the key to success is to find a way to stand out – to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins. He says:
“Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable.”
Of course I didn’t want to be boring! Just the act of deciding not to be Miss Average was enough to give me the momentum to start changing things. Don’t forget, at this stage I hadn’t actually changed anything other than my mental state. Looking back, I wondered what it was that had made the difference. Here is what I learned:
1. Stop talking. Start doing.
Honestly. I’m sorry that I bored my friends and advocates for so long by saying how great it was all going to be and then not following through with the action. Lots of people have great ideas. Very few actually do anything about them. Be one of those.
2. This is your life. Not someone else’s
It is so easy to feel that you can’t be remarkable because it looks like there are so many talented, successful people who seem to be doing very well. But this is not about them, this is about you. This is your chance to shine. Haven’t you spent too long living by other peoples’ standards?
3. It doesn’t have to be like that
Luckily, I’ve always been annoyingly questioning of the rules, but it helps to be someone who looks for ways around conventions. I thoroughly recommend this as a way of getting to action, when you realise that following the conventional path is so dull.
4. Life’s too short to do stuff you hate
Find something that you love doing and you’ll find that your passion and enthusiasm for it will carry you along. You will shine with evangelic love for it and people will be naturally drawn in to help you be amazing.
So, what’s the downside?
There are risks. Of course there are. I wasn’t prepared for how lonely I was going to feel sometimes. It is hard to be different and because you are enthusiastic about making change happen you can come across as obsessed to those who aren’t as on board.
But I found that I was naturally drawn to people who aspired to be different too, and I found that we all seemed to seek each other out. Paulo Coelho, the writer, got this. He said, in The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
The other observation that I would have is that the niggly feeling that you need to be remarkable doesn’t go away once you’ve got over the original hurdle. After all, that wouldn’t be remarkable, would it? But of all the things you need to do to change the world, the decision to be different, to be a tall poppy is the most important.
It won’t happen overnight, but it will feel urgent once that cog has moved in your brain. Make sure it feels more urgent than the email that your client wants immediately. Yes, that’s right. Put your aspirations and dreams first. I’m not saying be unprofessional. What I’m saying is try and remember what your real work is.