What makes you unique?
This question goes on my list of things I can’t stand.
At its best, it leads to an answer that is a somewhat contrived version of the truth. At its worst, it’s some BS generic statement, possibly dressed up in some unique colorful language.
But if I had to answer the question – gun to my head – I could, because – really – it’s a pretty simplistic inquiry, with a simple three word answer…
What makes me unique?
I – AM – JOSETTE
And what makes you unique, repeat after me:
I – AM – (insert name here)
A more direct and honest version of this question is “why should I choose you”? Now you are thinking of all of your skills- and ponder what it is that makes you different. One might think, ‘I am less traditional, I am more provocative, I bring in a sense of humor, my past experiences’… the list goes on. These may be unique or better vis-a-vis some, but not all. A smaller subset of people can profess to be these things, but it’s still a sub “set”.
Wrack my brain as I might, I keep coming up with the same answer. I AM ME. It is ‘me’ that makes all those things unique. And when you work with me or hang out with me, you quickly will understand the depth of that answer. Yes, we possess our special list of skills and qualities, but the experience of us as people, preforming these tasks or demonstrating these qualities, is what makes them different.
In the end what make us unique is that we are who we are.
Still, why choose to engage with one person vs. another (or one firm vs. another) given that both demonstrate a similar set and quality of skills?
For me, it comes down to relationships. What makes anyone special is the relationship you have with them. So the real question is, with whom can you have the best relationship? Tricky, because how is one to know anything about the quality of a relationship before they experience it?
Go with your gut. Notice your visceral reaction, when you meet someone. Pay attention to the ‘chemistry’. But in case you don’t trust your gut, or you are trying to get a sense from a resume, or perhaps some online profile, one might need to put in words what the experience of a relationship with them is like…
For me it might go something like this. Why me? Because disappointing is not an option. I approach everything I engage in with integrity, a full heart and an open mind. Compromise is not a given. It only leads to some level of disappointment for everyone involved. I seek to be sure everyone is left feeling whole.
You can ask anyone from my boyfriend, to my children, to my friends, to my clients, to my self… I have the skills, but it’s my approach to life, that makes me unique.
How unique we are, is some combination of our skills and qualities, our beliefs and our approach to life. But that uniqueness is actualized through our relationships (including the one we have with ourselves).
I recently re-read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And for those of you who have not read it, here is a rough summary of the part of the story that really embodies this point. A little prince travels from his planet, where his role was to protect the tiny planet (where he was the sole human inhabitant) from a plant that was at risk of overgrowing and destroying it. In addition, on his planet he had a very special relationship with, what he believed, was a very special flower – the only flower on the planet. As he traveled through the universe he came upon earth. He was generally surprised by its barren nature (as he landed in the desert). He eventually finds a road, which leads him to a more life-filled environment.
He comes across an entire field of flowers just like his special one.
“Who are you?” he asked, astounded.
“We’re roses,” the roses said.
“Ah!” said the little prince.
And he felt very unhappy. His flower had told him she was the only one of her kind in the whole universe. And here were five thousand of them, all just alike, in just one garden!”
He began to doubt the specialness of the flower, as he realized it really wasn’t so unique after all. He felt incredibly sad:
“And then he said to himself, I thought I was rich because I had just one flower, and all I own is an ordinary rose.”… “And he lay down in the grass and wept.”
But then he met a fox, a fox that implored the prince to tame him.
“What does tamed mean?”
“It’s something that’s been too often neglected. It means, ‘to create ties’… “, “‘To create ties’?”
“That’s right,” the fox said. “For me you’re only a little boy just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either. For you I’m only a fox, like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you…”
“I’m beginning to understand,” the little prince said. “There’s a flower… I think she’s tamed me…”
The prince realized his flower was unique after all, not because it was a flower, though to be sure the flower was full of personality and beauty, but it was unique because it was HIS flower.
Skills and good qualities, even exceptional ones are important, and in some ways cost of entry, table stakes. If you don’t have them you shouldn’t even be in the consideration set. But the relationships you forge are what makes the difference.
So I come full circle:
So what make us unique… any of us? It’s the relationships we have. The magic is in the relationship, not in the particulars.
The relationships we build are with people, not their list of capabilities.
This plays out in personal relationships as well as professional ones. For me, as I further develop my business, I’ve been super focused on pinpointing my point of difference. And yes, there are things I do differently – I would even say better – and my skill set is strong. That said, there are many smart people out there and many companies that do what we do, albeit somewhat differently. And while we all have our own special “thing”, what truly makes the difference is not only how it is served up, but also, who is serving it.
So now I ask you… why me?