Human Development theories are based on the idea that each person has a unique bundle of talents, desires and drive which align with purpose and with nurturing, can grow into fruition (a.k.a. self-actualization).
In business, this bundle of unique qualities equates to an innovation…an innovation that can be leveraged to your advantage. In a team, your uniqueness is your contribution to the team. It is something noone else can bring to the table, only you. Personally, your ability and receptivity to allowing your uniqueness to inform and source your purpose, and therefore your lifestyle, is rewarding and happy-making.
Despite the benefits, it can be a struggle for people to see what their unique talent might be, thereby preventing them from feeling purpose-full, and joy-full. We cannot easily see our own gifts because we camouflage the unique part of us from ourselves. It may be helpful to know why…Here are three reasons.
We learn from an early age, to try to ‘fit in’ and ‘act normal’, as explained in this brilliant video by JP Sears. This does not help us figure out and appreciate how we are unique, it only teaches us to ignore, disguise or suppress our specialness in order to fit in. This ‘disease of being normal’ as Sears calls it, may even cause us to feel ashamed about our unique qualities. Naturally, we hide ourselves so we don’t stand out.
Secondly, our unique and quirky talent may not be as exciting or glamourous as we would hope. Take me, for example. I have a talent for bringing organization and intention to projects and interactions. I also have a great ability to be very serious, orderly and focused. Sounds sexy, right? Not!
Needless to say, no one has ever accused me of being a party animal. In fact, I’m usually the one at the party trying to organize people, improve the food service systems, or warn the hostess of safety hazards.
Luckily, there are people in my life (like you) who bring out the playful, less meaning-laden, side of my nature; and who also appreciate the thoughtful, complex and serious part of me. It’s taken a long time, but I’m able now to see these quirks as strengths, and to see myself as different in a good way, because of how I look at and think about things.
We may make such judgments about the value of our abilities based on societal views. In this skit ‘Teaching Center’, comedians Key and Peale are sportscasters talking about teachers as if they are sports superstars. The gag is funny and ironic because it’s so different from what our society as a whole actually does notice and value…superstar athletes. Sports and athleticism are fantastic, but what if we could reward, notice and appreciate everyday people who contribute to others – like teachers do – just as much?
A third and final reason we don’t recognize and appreciate ourselves is that the special and unique thing about us is not special and unique to us. For us, it is normal, because we experience ourselves doing it every day. You may even think that everyone has this ability. Only when someone who recognizes distinctions and patterns gives you feedback will you believe it is. But even then, you may try to deny it and stay hidden.
For example, during a recent interview, a client was acknowledged for her ability to inspire people to spontaneously burst into song. This happened wherever she went. She explained (and this was most likely her rational mind talking) it was because she had studied and trained for song-leading. It was hard for her to see that there is something magical and melodic about how she carries herself, moves, her expressions and tone of voice that creates a visceral effect…resulting in a high likelihood that people around her burst into song at the slightest urging. I’m sure many people have studied the art of song-leading, but this woman has a truly natural gift, which she tried to explain away as something not-so-special!
Now you have some explanations for why we keep our talents hidden – we are conditioned to do so by society, we are secretly afraid that what is special about us is not special enough, and, we can’t see what is special about us because we know ourselves too well.
Now the question is, what can we do to turn this around? What if you really look at what is unique about you, and celebrate it (even if it’s not glorious and profound, but rather frivolous or …shall we say… ‘under the radar’)? What if instead of punishing children for ‘acting out’, we sometimes appreciate how unique and unpredictable they are? We can reward innovation, we can reward our human-ness, and we can reward each other by sharing what is strange about us. We can even keep the spirit of Thanksgiving alive by giving thanks for our strange-ness and gifting others by sharing it with them.