In praise of weirdos: how to win by letting your freak flag fly
I just wrote a story about the number one reason people don’t get jobs being that they don’t set themselves apart from other candidates. Those poor hiring managers, left staring down a well of mediocrity. In the article I offer several tips for setting yourself apart from other candidates that include doing your research, showing enthusiasm, and following up – all of which seem obvious, but all of which most people don’t do.
It’s a good article. You should read it.
Then today, I came across another idea for setting yourself apart. While researching something else, I stumbled on a TED talk by Dr. David Rendall, whose advice is to turn your weaknesses into strengths, then highlight those strengths. His argument is that our weaknesses are what people notice first about us, and as such become that which define us. So, if we can turn them into strengths, they become the strengths that define us.
“What makes us weak makes us strong,” he says. “What makes us weird makes us wonderful.”
Case in point: Rendall’s bio reads, “He’s hyperactive, loud and rebellious. He’s also too idealistic and bad at managing details. All of these weaknesses have helped him succeed as a speaker, leadership professor, stand-up comedian and endurance athlete.”
In his talk, Rendall recalls being told he needs to learn to “be quiet, sit still, and do what you’re told.” After “years of trying and failing to do this,” he says, “I realized I was starting to be selected and get paid to do three things: talk, not be quiet; stand up, not sit down; and run my own business, not do what anybody else tells me to do.”
If you’re not a hyperactive chatterbox with a future as a motivational speaker, this idea can still work for you. Here’s another story: I am an extremely anxious individual, and a control freak. These things drive my husband crazy. All my life, I’ve felt that my tendency to constant worry and need to control everything have been barriers to success and happiness. If I could just relax, everything would be better. Then I got a performance review recently, and one sentence stuck out for me: “She has a mind that works in an invaluably unique way – tirelessly turning corners to find solutions before others would have realized there was a problem to begin with.” (Italics mine). Ha! Do you see what just happened there? My biggest weaknesses were described as great strengths! Sure, I see life as an endless series of potential disasters from which it’s my responsibility to save you, but I also spot and solve problems before they become problems, and that’s a useful skill. Not to say I wouldn’t still be happier if I calmed the heck down. But, hey, there’s an upside.
Giving more examples of his theory, Rendall says, “If someone tells you you’re too messy, maybe you should get messier. If someone tells you you’re too neat, maybe you should join the National Association of Professional Organizers and get even neater.”
Fifty percent of the UK’s millionaires have dyslexia, he says, as do 33 percent of American entrepreneurs. Among the most famous billionaires with dyslexia are Richard Branson and Steve Jobs. Sometimes if you have trouble making it in school, you have to find your own path.
You can watch Rendall’s talk below, but the takeaway here, I think, is to identify your quirks – often the things you do obsessively, that are beyond your control, what makes you weak or what makes you weird – and turn them into strengths.
I had trouble coming up with examples of how to do this on my own, but a search led me to this article by Dave Kerpen, based on Rendall’s work, which lists some. Voila:
1) Disorganized —> Creative
2) Inflexible —> Organized
3) Stubborn —> Dedicated
4) Inconsistent —> Flexible
5) Obnoxious —> Enthusiastic
6) Emotionless —> Calm
7) Shy —> Reflective
8) Irresponsible —> Adventurous
9) Boring —> Responsible
10) Unrealistic —> Positive
Once you find those strengths, play them up for all they’re worth – and they will become your defining qualities. Granted, some things can’t be spun into positives. If you’re mean or angry, then you’re just a jerk. But for the most part, you can stop fighting your nature and just be who you are. And that sounds pretty great.