I have always hated slogans like Gatorade’s old one “Be Like Mike,” referring to Michael Jordan. Even if I was able to be like Mike, I would never be able to be better at being him than he is. Conversely, it is not possible for anyone to be better at being me than I am. Doesn’t it make more sense for me to try and maximize my life as me, rather than to expend all my effort doing my best imitation of Michael Jordan?
I was fortunate that when I was 10-years old, a future Olympic Gold medalist (named Fred) took me under his wing for a short period of time. Among the many perks this afforded me, one of the ones I thought was among the best at that time, was meeting the world record holder in my favorite event.
As soon as I was introduced to him, I said “I wish I was as fast as you.” I don’t even remember his response, but what I do remember was Fred’s reaction. He was clearly disappointed in me and said, “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard you say.” To which I responded with (what in my youthful ignorance I thought would put him in his place), “Who wouldn’t want to be as fast as him? He’s the world record holder.” Fred, still looking at me in disgust calmly replied, “If you are as fast as him you’ll never beat him. Now go back over there and tell him you wish you were faster than he is.” Which I did, and it’s a lesson that has served me well.
Most people desire to be singled out as being special or unique in some way, yet the majority spends their time either trying to fit-in or trying to be like someone they admire. Let me ask you this: Who is more likely to stand out, someone who is just like everyone else or someone who is different? Think about the people you admire and see if you ever catch yourself extolling their virtues with phrases such as, “She’s so amazing, she’s just like everyone else,” or “He’s my favorite player, he’s average in every way.”
The world would look very different today if everyone wanted to be like everyone else. Innovators would become similar-vators, creating things just like others had come up with already. Revolutionaries would become status-quo-naries, starting wars to keep things just like they are, and Discoverers would be people who only find things that have already been found before.
Steve Jobs and his creations are synonymous with cool today, but do you really think he was cool and/or fit-in growing up? Similarly when you ask people who they admire today you’ll hear names like Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. Again, I’d wager that few if any of those people were cool or just like everyone else growing up. However, since they focused on maximizing who they were and put their time and efforts into what interested them, people eventually came around to them.
People forget that what’s “cool” or “in” right now, won’t be a few years from now. So rather than chase a constantly moving standard, why not focus on what you want to do or become, and tune everything else out. Chances are with enough focus and effort you will gain much more satisfaction and success from that, than you’ll ever find in being an imitator. Remember, being an imitator only guarantees you will never be first in your chosen field.
You can follow Sam on Twitter: @SuperTaoInc