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Archive for July, 2013

Be DISTINCT Or Go Extinct


“Be the one to stand out in the crowd.” – Joel Osteen

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that talk about success. I had the opportunity to ask the registered attendees for SQLSaturday Philippines to vote for a particular topic that they like best. Since I usually talk about professional development for IT Professionals at the PASS Summit, I provided a list of topics from presentation skills to landing your dream job. This was the one that got the most number of votes: What Your College Education Didn’t Teach You About Success. 

I know that I’ll be criticized for what I’m about to say here but here goes. One of the things that schools subconsciously teach students is the idea of conformity and compliance. I’m OK with instilling discipline and developing character but conformity and compliance are certainly not what we need to become successful in today’s modern economy.

4_Success

This was the fourth slide in my presentation about what our education doesn’t teach us about success: BE DISTINCT OR GO EXTINCT. In my freshman year in the university, I’ve learned a word from my Social Science professor that eventually shaped the way I define who I am. The word DEVIANT is described as a behavior that is out of the ordinary. When I learned about that word, it got me started into a habit of constant personal evaluation, trying to understand why I do what I do. For instance, in a previous blog post, I talked about how I was tagged as a nuisance by people around me. What I didn’t realize is that those who thought I was a nuisance wanted me to conform to their definition of who I need to be. After all, it’s easier to follow rules than to analyze why those rules exist in the first place (that’s what I’ve been taught in the army reserve anyway.) Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating breaking the rules or anything. There are moral and spiritual rules that are absolutes and there are rules that are relatives. The moral and spiritual rules are not to be disputed. Only those that are man-made that sometimes need to be constantly evaluated because we humans do change as well as the circumstances that surround us. For instance, schools – even at the university level – still implement standard means of testing retained information using multiple-choice questions instead of allowing students to explain why they came up with an answer. I still remember when one of my engineering professors forced everyone of his students to use PowerPoint to report on a particular topic. But how can we stand out from the crowd if everyone is doing the same thing? If you are looking to get ahead in school in your career, what is everyone else doing and is it helping them get ahead? Here are a few things you can consider.

  1. Work according to your strengths. We are all unique individuals. Even twins are not exactly the same. If you want to stand out from the crowd, it is important to know what your strengths are and work according to them. What I find unfortunate is that schools force us to do things that are way outside our strengths zone. If you haven’t heard about the parable of the animal school, I strongly  recommend that you have a look at it. If you are working according your strengths, it is much easier to stand out from the crowd because you are expressing your uniqueness.
  2.  Step out of your comfort zone. This seems scary especially when you’ve already gotten used to doing the same thing over and over again. It’s not natural to take risks because we are wired to to protect ourselves and survive. And when we are trying something out for the first time, we feel the fear of the unknown because we don’t know what the outcome will be. But since almost all of us don’t want to step out of our comfort zones and take risks, doing so immediately makes us stand out from the crowd.
  3. Constantly re-evaluate the current norms. What might be abnormal today would end up being totally normal in the future. Remember the times when phone landlines were the standard way of communication? Mobile phone users were ridiculed back then. Now, even kids have smart phones. What about the time when travelling by means of flight was totally unheard of? Now, it is estimated that 61 million passengers have travelled via US commercial airlines last year just in the US alone. Norms will constantly change so it is important to constantly re-evaluate them and adjust accordingly.
  4. Dare to be different. We’re all afraid to be different. It’s the reason why I blogged about facing our fears. But being different makes us stand out from the crowd. It has its own set of risks, though. You’ll be an easy target because everyone will notice that you’re different. People will criticize you just because you’re different. They’ll even criticize you because you are making them feel uncomfortable. But instead of focusing on the negatives, focus on the positives. Being different does have benefits.

Here’s an example I could think of that applied all of these concepts in my career. As a consultant, I get involved in dealing with different customers on a regular basis. To stand out from the crowd, I took stack of my key strength: I’m a teacher-at-heart. I use that as a key differentiating factor whenever I’m called in to do a consulting project. I don’t just provide a solution, I teach my customers whenever possible how I came up with a solution and why it is the most effective one. But doing so means stepping outside of my comfort zone because I’m not engaged in consulting projects to teach, I’m there to solve problems. I sometimes even go as far as preparing a presentation specifically for them to understand the basics of why I did what I did. It’s not easy. But that helps me stand out and my customers remember what I did for them.

Question: Do you think being different will help you become successful? What would you start doing today to stand out from the rest? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

4 Ways To Face Your Fears


DragonMountain

A couple of weeks ago, our family went to Niagara Falls for a long weekend getaway. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Marineland, a themed amusement and animal exhibition park. As my kids were looking at the list of things to see inside the park, one thing caught their attention – the Dragon Mountain. This was a steel roller coaster located at the north east side of the park. What we didn’t know was this used to be the world’s tallest roller coaster. But my kids insisted that we try it out and so we did. Those who know me well enough know that I don’t really like theme park rides. It’s a subtle way of saying that I’m afraid of riding roller coasters and tall ferris wheels. Now, don’t get me wrong. I dig rock climbing and scaling tall buildings. I was the first in my batch to do the lizard rappel as part of my army reservist training back in college. I still would jump at the opportunity to skydive. I just don’t like theme park rides. But I didn’t tell my kids. So, when I was making every excuse I could think of to not get on the roller coaster, my wife took the hint.  But since both of my kids needed adult supervision, I have no choice but to ride with my youngest. As the over-the-shoulder harness was being locked in, I could feel tension in my legs and the pressure pressing against my shoulders. There was no turning back.

We all have fears. There’s no sense denying it. However, when fear causes us to avoid challenges that will help us fulfill our dreams, we need to take action. Bill Cosby once said that, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”  So, if you need to face your fears, keep these 4 things in mind:

  1. Admit your fears. There’s no sense in denying you’re afraid. Admit what your afraid of, accept the fact and move on. Didn’t I mention that I was afraid of riding roller coasters? I didn’t pretend that I wasn’t as the train started its ascent towards the first loop. I could feel my heart pounding as I hear the wheels of the train rolling across the tracks. But I’m already in the train and there’s no turning back so I just have to take it all in.
  2. Set expectations and get your facts straight. Before we hopped on to the roller coaster, I watched how the train went around the tracks. There were two vertical loops and two tunnels to pass through. In my mind, I already knew how the ride would feel like even before the train started moving. Now, I don’t know how fast the train would go so I guessed based on my observations. These information helped me set my expectations right. I realized that there really was nothing to be afraid of.
  3. Envision success. Our success depends a lot on what we see – and what we don’t. If we see a lot of failures, we become afraid to accept and take challenges. That’s why the Holy Book encourages us to think about (or envision) good things. I knew there would be tunnels in the track and that tunnels would be really dark. What I did was to close my eyes as we approached the tunnels and thought about how it feels like as we approach another loop. No scary thoughts. By this time, we’re almost at the end of the ride. And, just when I was enjoying the ride…
  4. Share your experiences. We like to tell our success stories. But not our failures. When you’ve been thru an experience where you needed to face your fears, tell your story. We want to hear from someone who knows what it felt like to be afraid but persisted anyway. As we headed towards the park’s exit, I told my kids that I initially was afraid of the roller coaster. I didn’t pretend like I was ready for the adventure. I was honest about my fear and told them as it was. They were surprised with what I told them because it was nothing like what they saw. Didn’t I mention that I enjoyed the ride as it was about to end? That’s what they saw in me, not my fear. And, they realized that it was OK to be afraid.

I recently had to put this into practice. I realized that most fears are simply frightening stories that we tell ourselves that we keep rehearsing until we believe them to be true. Try changing the stories you tell yourself and start seeing your fears slowly diminish.

How do you face your fears? You can share your experience by clicking here. Remember, it’s OK to share your experiences 🙂