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You Don’t Have to Conform to Be Successful

You Don’t Have to Conform to Be Successful
Talnet

    Your best friend loves playing baseball. He’s good at it and looks likely to make it to near-professional level one day. You’re a total klutz at the game. You don’t enjoy it, but you keep trying because your friend is so keen. He does his best to help you, but however hard you try, you don’t get much better.

    What should you do?

    About 99.9% of people will tell you to give it up and play something else. That seems to make sense, doesn’t it? It isn’t your game. Maybe you should try basketball or soccer or golf instead? So why is it that people at work urge you to go on trying to get better at things that you have little interest in and no talent for either?

    I’m raising this because it seems to me that many, many people make themselves (and others) unhappy by slogging away at types of work that simply aren’t their game. The reason is that sneaky little word “ought.” Nobody believes you ought to be a good baseball player to be counted a worthy person in this world—or even in the organization where you work. It’s fine if you are, and just as fine if you aren’t. But they take a very different attitude to things like making presentations, writing reports, being able to sell, being a team leader, or making that next promotion.

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    It begins in school. You ought to be good at math—or English, or science, or whatever. If you aren’t, you’re a bad person. Pull yourself together. Make more effort. Get a grip! Later, it spills over into working life. You ought to be more decisive, or more creative, or more organized, or a better team player. You certainly ought to be more ambitious, a higher achiever, or more likely to be next in line for that promotion. If you aren’t, you’re certainly not “the right kind of person” we want around here. Never mind what other strengths or abilities you may possess. If you don’t match the stereotype of the “good employee” that’s laid down in the standards for performance appraisals, you must—by definition—be a bad one.

    And since this is often the time of year that those performance appraisals take place, you can expect to be criticized and humiliated during that process. You know that performance appraisals are meant to motivate people? Well, not in your case, buddy. Your job is to pull your socks up and get with the program—or else.

    Why is this nonsense?

    Here’s the reality. Some people are good at certain things, some people aren’t . . . but we’re all good at something. It’s simply something different from whatever the next person’s good at. And that’s a good thing. If everyone was good at the same things, imagine all the gaps and problems there would be.

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    Suppose that you had a whole department full of people who were great sales people. Sales would soar . . . until you discovered that no one was any good at making the product, no one was giving after-sales service, the accounts were a total mess, and there was no kind of planning for the future. If you had a mass of highly-organized, finance-oriented employees, the figures would be in apple-pie order, but you might well find that creativity was at an all-time low.

    And here’s another thing that should give you comfort if you sense that you don’t fit too well with conventional images of the “good” employee: most highly successful entrepreneurs never fitted either. That’s why they started their own businesses. Can you imagine a Steve Jobs being given a performance appraisal in a typical, conservative corporation?

    “Well, Steve. You’ve produced all kinds of wild ideas again, I see. That’s all very well, I suppose, but we work as a team here. You haven’t been following approved procedures in presenting these so-called ideas of yours to the right committees. And you really upset the guys in the technical section by going around them when they pointed out that your mad notion of some kind of pocket music player was not in line with the company’s established, long-term planning process. I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go. You simply don’t have the sort of talent that we need.”

    Or what about trying to appraise Richard Branson against the stereotypical image of a high-flier? Can you imagine trying to convince him to spend less time on marketing ideas and attend a few courses about the intricacies of double-entry bookkeeping?

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    Be yourself and say goodbye to guilt

    Nobody ever built a satisfying working life from natural weaknesses, or the kind of work that really doesn’t suit who they are. Nobody enjoys spending their days doing things they do poorly. So why do so many people do it? Because they feel guilty. Because they’ve been convinced that they ought to be able to do it better.

    We’re so good at allowing others to set the standards for our lives. We want people to like us and approve of us, so we bend and contort ourselves to fit in. Let’s get it clear. Having weaknesses and gaps in our talents is part of being human. We are all like that. It’s no big deal. What matters is seeing what to do with the talents we do have, not fretting about those that we don’t.

    Weaknesses come in two kinds:

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    • Those you can do something about.
    • Those you can’t (or only with massive and constant effort).

    That’s the way it is. There’s nothing to feel guilty about. Guilt is the most pointless and futile of all human emotions. If you want to change something about yourself (and that change is possible), do it. If you don’t want to change it (whatever others say), or change isn’t possible or likely to work, forget about it and concentrate on what does work for you. That’s it. Not an “ought” in sight.

    If you try some kind of work and it doesn’t feel right—if it’s really hard on you and every day seems like an overwhleming effort—that doesn’t mean whatever it is is wrong in itself. It may be a great job, or a truly worthwhile way of making a living. But it isn’t your great job. It isn’t a good way for you to spend your time at work. No one should be lead by others into something that isn’t right for them—at least, not if they want to feel happy and fulfilled.

    Success comes easiest when you stick to being who and what you are. And if you’re worried that people won’t like you if you don’t fit in, consider this. Once you start doing what fits you best, you’ll likely encounter a crowd with very similar interest and talents. They’ll love you, because you cannot help but fit in with them. If you feel an outsider where you are, reflect that you may not be the only one who’s out of step. They’re out of step with you as well—so go find some others who aren’t.

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    Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to create a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

      , is now available at all good bookstores.

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      Last Updated on September 18, 2019

      How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

      How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

      Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

      I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

      One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

      Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

      The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

      And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

      What to Write Down

      Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

      Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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      Dates of Events

      Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

      For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

      Names of People

      Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

      Theories or Frameworks

      Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

      Definitions

      Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

      Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

      Arguments and Debates

      Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

      This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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      Images

      Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

      Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

      Other Stuff

      Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

      I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

      Your Own Questions

      Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

      3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

      You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

      1. Outlining

      Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

      Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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      For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

      2. Mind-Mapping

      For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

      Here’s the idea:

      In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

      The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

      If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

      You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

      3. The Cornell System

      The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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      About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

      You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

      In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

      You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

      The Bottom Line

      I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

      I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

      More About Note-Taking

      Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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