I’m not in show business, yet I spent years hoping for someone to “discover me”! I wanted someone to see my potential and shepherd me down the path to success.
Until one day, I realized I was the only person who could discover me.
I had grown up in a culture barraging me with messages telling me that my value comes from someone more powerful, “finding” me.
Hollywood regularly features the story of a low-level employee who gets the attention of a powerful executive. (Working Girl, Wall Street, Suits, The Secret of My Success, etc.)
HR identifies “high-potential” individuals.
Phrases like “hitch your wagon to their star” and “ride their coattails” indicate that I need someone more powerful than you to succeed.
“Mentorship” is heavily touted as a key to career advancement.
Then I found 2 reasons these messages are dead wrong.
When I let someone else define my worth, they didn’t value the things that I wanted them to value.
The person(s) I depended on was not always in a position to help me. People change jobs, fall from power and retire.
1. Don’t let someone else define your worth.
When someone finally discovered me, I realized it wasn’t for the things I valued in myself. An executive was impressed by my leadership abilities and asked me to take a position “running day-to-day operations.” I might be good at it, but I have no desire to do any operational job. That’s not how I want to be valued.
When you let someone else define your worth, you can get stuck in your “Zone of Excellence.” Gay Hendricks distinguishes between your “Zone of Excellence” - things you are good at; and your “Zone of Genius” - things you are genius at and love doing. Many people will value you for something you are good at, but only you can support your “Zone of Genius.” Avoid the trap of giving up the opportunity to live in your “Zone of Genius” by getting stuck in your “Zone of Excellence.”
2. Don’t depend on following someone else.
I’m not saying your mentor doesn’t care about you, but things happen. When a leader falls from grace, their followers fall too. But it doesn’t have to be that dramatic. It could be a simple job change or retirement.
The same goes for mentors and gurus. I’ve seen people build a career around a single guru. You lose your value when you build your career around a single guru, and that guru changes their viewpoint or business model.
Are you going to follow someone around or forge your own path?
Knowing your value makes you powerful. When you let others define you, you give your power away.
When you derive your self-worth from the opinion of others, you give them your power.
You are powerful when you know your own value.
Finding the value in your value
I did finally discover my value, my “superpower”; I could open new possibilities by framing problems through my unique (and slightly wacky) lens. I have an unmistakable style of communicating those insights that cut through the confusion.
Wow, that all sounds awesome! But are there jobs for that? Where would I put that superpower on my resume? Even as an independent consultant, can I get a client by selling my “wacky perspective?”
I lamented to my friends, “Great, this superpower and 50 cents might get me a cup of coffee.” (not at Starbucks, though) I felt even lower than I had before I knew my value. It seemed that my superpower was the path to poverty. Totally unmarketable.
Then slowly, I realized that if I can define my own value, I can also define the market for my worth. As my branding coach told me, “There are people who need you. They just can’t find you.” I don’t need a huge mass market. I just need to find the people who value my value.
I started by leaning into my superpower as part of my current work. Then I started blogging about my unique (and wacky) perspectives. Then I put them in a book. I’m finding more outlets for my superpower related to my work.
I started by leaning into my superpower while doing my current work. Writing about my unique (and wacky) perspectives was the first step to recognizing this worth and putting it out into the world. Then writing a book was my next step.
I'm now finding more outlets for my superpower, which allows me to define my worth and value even further. Learning how to recognize your own worth and value is a rewarding journey and an important factor in defining your own success. No outside discovery is needed.
Try this: Imagine your ideal mentor; mine is Steve Jobs. Now put on your [Steve Jobs] hat and give yourself some advice. Shhhh: the advice is really coming from you.