Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian immigrant with a thick accent who went on to become one of the biggest movie stars of all time. But did you know there was a time where he got rid of his accent completely and then chose to go back? When he first moved to America in the late 1960s he ran a bricklaying business and started taking lessons to try and get rid of his accent so he could fit in and sound like everyone else. But the better his American accent became, the less business he got. So he made the conscious choice to go back and keep his distinctive and now world-famous accent. In an interview on The Tim Ferriss show, he claims he wouldn’t be half as successful if he sounded like everyone else.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donal Trump, Boris Johnson, all have something very distinctive about them that set them apart from their peers and make them instantly recognisable. And those traits are counterintuitive, you’d think that Donald Trump’s unique look should be a disadvantage. But it isn’t, it’s an advantage.
And it’s not just politicians. If you look at successful YouTube vloggers, they are normally either insanely good-looking or a bit odd looking. And guess what, it is much easier to look a bit weird than it is to become beautiful.
This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently and not just with regards to looks. I am a sucker for peer-pressure and am not going to wear a hairpiece and start dressing crazy just to be different. So how can I stand out while staying true to myself?
Find What Connects You To A Small Group Of People
Old boys clubs like fraternities or sports teams get a huge amount of criticism because they’re elitist and favour their own members above everyone else. But the advantage of being in a fraternity is not that you’re in the majority and that you have access to everyone. It is the complete opposite. You don’t have access to anyone who went to any old fraternity, but to the people who graduated from your fraternity or your sports team. That is a small group of people, but it is an age irrelevant group that may include some pretty powerful people.
That works for old boys groups, and it works for a lot of other things too. What is it that sets you apart from your competition by links you to some influential powerful people?
Look at the above diagram. Let’s say you have joined a new graduate scheme at a large company. You are the only yellow person on your intake, everyone else is grey. They immediately connect as they have a lot in common and hang out together.
But although they connect with other grey people on their level, that doesn’t really flow upwards, because people like them are just too common. The head honcho grey person isn’t going to remember any of the grey people at the bottom just because they are also grey like him. Because, by definition, everyone else is also like him. But the highest ranked yellow person is likely to remember even the lowest ranked yellow person because there are so few of them.
Replace yellow with anything that is part of your identity and links you to a small number of people. Sport, religion, heritage, hobbies. Through those things you can get access to people you never would otherwise. At a women’s convention, a jiu-jitsu club, a Christian union, a mosque, a university reunion, immigrants in business meetup, whatever.
Here’s a mundane example from my life. I was invited along to a Christian union at a major bank that had over 3,000 employees in that one building. It was a weekly meeting that was open to anyone of any level in the bank. There were just 11 people there, one of which was in the c-suite and three more who were very high ranking. And the rest were just entry-level people who probably never had any other opportunity to speak to such august persons. Christians may be the majority religion in the UK, but practising Christians who go along to church and Christian unions regularly is a pretty small group.
So how am I applying this to my life? Well, you’ve got the Christian union story above. But a recent example is our gin launch. We have been featured in a lot of local press, and not because we are the most amazing gin in the world. But because we are from Tunbridge Wells, just like the papers.
Your Struggle Is Your Advantage
Let me talk about superheroes. A middle-class white boy who suddenly got awesome powers while sipping coffee and then went around helping people would be completely lame. We need struggle, we need an origin story. Superman is an orphan whose species was wiped out, Tony Stark was a billionaire playboy until he was taken captive by insurgents, Batman was a rich boy whose parents were brutally killed by a thief, Spiderman let his first thief go only for them to then go and murder his uncle.
I don’t wish a hard life on anyone. But if you have overcome some hardship then that is now yours and you can own it and use it.
I have listened to hundreds of interviews with entrepreneurs, but the one that immediately jumps to mind is a podcast interview with John Morrow. He has done well for himself. He has built a few profitable blogs, moved to Mexico and lives a comfortable life supporting his family. But he is not on the same level of business or monetary achievement as a lot of the other entrepreneurs I’ve listened to. So why does he jump to mind when I think of successful entrepreneurs? Well because John is completely paralyzed from the neck down and can use only his voice. Knowing that has turned him from ‘just another blogger’ into one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever heard of.
If you think about it it should be obvious. Achieving something the hard way makes that achievement all the more impressive.
Let’s say I’m looking at CVs choosing people to interview for a job. I’ve got Bob, James, Fred. All went to similar schools and university. All did Duke of Edinburgh and some sport. Meh. Then I have Alessandro, a refugee who spent six month travelling across the world by foot to escape persecution and has written something compelling about how his experiences make him perfect for the role. Who do you think I’m going to interview?
A good origin story shows both your fortitude and also helps you stand out.
So how am I applying this to my life? I am a middle-class white male born in England to a good family. I went to a good school and a good university. My biggest struggle is finding a good flat white when not in London. That is great for me. But does make my achievements less impressive. I don’t have an awesome origin story. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had any failures in my life.
Counterintuitively I think that I should start talking more about my failures and mistakes. I do have a couple of posts (here and here) about them already but most of my articles are on stuff that worked out. And I often find myself skipping over the really hard parts, “noone wants to hear about this”. When writing about our experiences we always want to portray ourselves in the best light possible. But that’s not the best approach. The harder the journey the more impressive it is that we reached the destination. Plus it makes you more relatable.
Your Weirdness Makes You Interesting
You can probably tell by the rambling tone of this post that this is something I am still working out and thinking through, but I think the biggest takeaway I have is this paragraph. That I should take pride in my weirdness.
I’ve always wanted to fit in and often downplay what makes me different. Unfortunately, that means I also downplay what makes me interesting or relatable and stops me connecting with people. So instead of fitting in, it means I make myself un-memorable and boring.
If I don’t mention my businesses, or this blog, or my Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu or my video gaming, or my Christianity, or my sense of humour, then how will I ever meet anyone with the same interests? And what reason would anyone have to remember me? And if I don’t tell people about my failures and hardships then I am downplaying my successes.