Sorry, I’m a Generation Xer, so the death of the musician/composer/singer/director/actor Prince cannot pass unnoticed. If this seems like an odd topic to bring into a technical writing blog, bear with me, I’ll get there.
There are individuals out there in the workforce who are good or excellent at a few things: awesome editors, witty copy writers, creative storytellers, wise and understanding managers of people, etc., but that doesn’t mean they’re good at all of those. Others might be in the same line of business, but these prodigies are just better, through sheer talent and a ton of effort and are able to show a career of high-quality, impressive work. I envy those people. When I was younger and more arrogant, I related more to Mozart than Salieri; as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I’m closer to F. Murray Abraham’s cranky “mediocrity.” It’s not that Salieri was a bad composer, he was just outshined by the raw talent and industry that Mozart brought to his work.
For most of the rest of us, the trick is not necessarily being better at our particular line of work, but being able to demonstrate how we’re different from other writers, editors, designers, etc. All things being equal–pay rate, difficulty of task, deadline–why should someone select you to do the work instead of your peer down the hall? Are you easy to work with? Organized? A quick learner? We can’t all be Prince, Mozart, or some other multitalented genius who is both talented and different. We need to find our edge.
I’ve become more aware of this need for being “different” since reading Sally Hogshead’s How the World Sees You (and now doing work for her). Maybe the jump into freelancing plus my slow grind toward the magic age of 50 are also focusing my attention on my professional “differences.” One of Sally’s mottos is that “Different is better than better.” This makes sense in a busy marketplace with lots of options: you might be good, but you’re not going to be good at everything, and odds are that if an employer researched enough, they could find someone better than you at one particular thing.
Identifying your “difference” could be easy for you or difficult, depending on how much time you spend thinking about what you do and how often you need to demonstrate that ability on a regular basis. As I’ve discussed on this blog before, the more opportunities you have to try different things, the better you will be able to identify your “sweet spots” for work:
- Are you good at it?
- Do you enjoy doing it?
- Is there a demand for it?
- Will people pay you to do it?
For example, lacking a dynamic writing style, my “edge” is more of a mindset: I learn quickly and I try to learn the philosophy behind what I’m writing, meaning I’m interested in extracting and highlighting the most important points of a document. I’m also reasonably good at digesting complex information and translating it into language that the non-expert adult can understand and use. I like human space exploration and other causes that I think will do some good for the world. And most of the time I’m easy to get along with in a work environment. No doubt there are smoother ways of selling all that, but note that I didn’t say I was a super-savvy copywriter.
The point is to identify your sweet spots so people understand what sort of professional you are and how you can add value to an organization. So what’s your difference–your specific advantage? Everyone has them. If you don’t know what yours might be, ask someone who knows your work. Then figure out how to sell your differences in a compelling, meaningful way. Obviously I’m still a work in progress and nowhere near as talented as some rock stars out there, living or deceased; but again, the trick isn’t to be better at everything, all the time. When we meet those types of geniuses, we can only marvel at what they do and mourn when they are gone.
Back in The Day, one of our guiding principles was defining, then embedding the “Disney Difference” in what we produced — whether Conferences, training programs, education excursions, special events, etc. That focus unified an entire team of designers, producers, writers/editors, publishers, facilitators around a set of quality standards that ensured our end product was differentiated and unique in the marketplace, while true to its brand identity, its appeal, and the brand’s touchpoints. Defining, managing and staying true to your personal brand is not so very different.