Career Q & A: 5 Ways to Figure Out What Makes You Unique (And Why That Matters for Your Creative Career!)
Sometimes it feels like there’s so many people out there, all doing something similar to me. How do I even begin to differentiate myself?
— Sarah N.
The biggest thing I learned when I pounded the pavement as an actor was, well, me – my uniquity, my spark, what makes me different & where I thrive.
From those handful of post-college years, I learned that I loved (& got cast!) singing loud & funny; creating new, SNL-like characters; portraying multiple roles at once; & being quirky / enthusiastic / spunky / offbeat. Once I put those pieces together & the lightbulb went off over my head (I may or may not have shouted, “Eureka!”), I made sure to absolutely, positively bring my quirky, spunky, offbeat enthusiasm into the room the first time I entered, whether it was visually, with a polka-dot dress with matching headband & a headshot with a bright blue background – or audibly, with a song to show that I was both funny & loud with a killer mix/belt!
Allowing me to be me lets me be secure with bringing myself into the room & puts me at ease almost instantly. I’ve been able to bring that feeling into my coaching & pair it with what I know makes me spark (writing, speaking, coaching, collaborating, relationship building). I’m able to see what is in line with my authenticity, because I know what makes me, um, me.
I’ve had countless clients go through the same experience. These are vivacious, fun, enthusiastic, funny, talented, inspiring women who don’t quite believe that what they have to offer — their particular services as well as their engaging personalities — would equal something that someone would pay for. These women button themselves up, not allowing their real selves to shine through, & think they have to be a certain way/thing/person in order to get the job. Thankfully, when they work with me, they discover where they shine & what gives them their uniquity, so the world won’t miss out on what they have to offer!
No matter what kind of creative work you’re wanting to do, being authentic is what will set you apart. Some may call it Branding, but how boring is that? (What a way to bring on a case of the Shoulds!) Your uniquity is what makes you interesting. Your uniquity is what others will relate to. Your uniquity is what will get you the sales, the clients, and/or the job. Your uniquity is why people will want to work with you. Your uniquity is you.
But how do you find your uniquity?
1. Do something scary & ask your friends & family why they like hanging out with you.
Better yet, get it in writing or set up a free survey so you can see your overall “winning” traits. Is it your sense of humor, your well-thought-out opinions of the Obama presidency, or your way of putting together the cutest outfit ever? If that is way too super scary, write down the names of your Top 10 Friends (don’t worry – unless this is Mean Girls nobody’ll see it) & the reason you hang out with them. Then put yourself in their shoes & ask yourself what you bring to their table. Be honest & egotistical – you can always buy new hats to fit your swelled head. Now brainstorm how you can bring those attributes into your resume, your shop, your website, your blog, your Twitter stream, your Mom’s house . . . . (See, I brought in a Your Mom joke – one of my favorite things!)
2. Look back over any job review &/or thank you note/email/phone call, & make a note of the attributes that were pointed out to you.
Did a friend thank you for doing the best job ever at organizing the school bake sale? Seems like you’re a natural planner. Did your boss make note of how your colleagues perform better than usual when they’re on a project with you? Sounds like you’re a great leader/inspirer/motivator. Are you always the go-to when your friends need some fun craft projects for the kids? Seems like you’re a killer curator. Write down these traits & keep them in your front pocket.
3. Do a stream-of-consciousness writing exercises for 15 minutes (set the timer!) of things you love to do.
It could be as simple as, “Play Legos with Ella” or as complicated as “Throw a theme-based sleepover birthday party.” What have you done in your life that has made you feel happy, or useful, or un-self-conscious, or free, or in touch? Those situations define you, as well as giving you clues to the authentic you. Pay attention to them, & do what you can to bring more of them into your life.
4. Carry a notebook with you & write down whenever you feel authentic & why, as well as when someone thanks you & why.
Put a week or two’s worth of notes together & you can really see all the pieces of the puzzle. (“Felt authentic when I thanked the barista & she smiled at me = Like being friendly, or feel like I put some Nice into the world”).
5. Think of what Your Perfect Day would hold if you had to work during it.
Where would you be? Who would be with you? What would you be doing? If nothing’s coming, close your eyes & take the pressure off yourself. Just wait for it. Once you have that image (or that movie) in your mind, write it down, or draw it, or paint it, or make it into a cartoon. Just make sure that you slay the Vampires that come out during it, especially the Yeah-Like-That’ll-Happen Vampire & the I’m-Not-Qualified Vampire & the I-Can’t-Really-Make-Money-From-That Vampire. They’re not welcome here.
Finding your authentic attributes & the things that make you spark is the way to really figure out who you are & what you have to offer. Only then can you go out into the world & create a life that supports your uniquity. And who wouldn’t want a life that’s supported by your true self?*
*(This is hypothetical, obvs. You would!).
Have a creative career related question? You send us a question, we find someone to answer it!
Michelle Ward (CPC, PCC) has 1 question for you: What do you want to be when you grow up? She’s answered that question for herself, and today she helps women transition out of soul-sucking jobs and into work that feels like play. You may have seen or heard her on The Huffington Post, Etsy, AOL Jobs, Newsweek, SXSW, Freelancers Union, Psychology Today, the Forbes Top 100 Websites for your Career list or 100+ other media outlets. She’s the co-author of The Declaration of You!, which was published by North Light Books, and the teacher of the 2nd highest-viewed course on CreativeLive’s Craft & Makers channel, Create Your Dream Career. Or sign up for her free webinar, How to Discover Your Meaningful Biz (in 5 Easy Steps).