How To Be Everything Other People Aren’t

Dare To Be YouHave you ever thought about what makes you truly different? I have, and I’m betting you have too. Of course, the bigger question is the extent to which you can translate those insights into more success in your career and business life. One way, of course, is to develop your personal brand. Yet, in pursuing a recipe for branding yourself, you risk being just like everyone else.  [Tweet This]

So, what to do?

I have some ideas. Before I get to them, however, I want to give you a little context. It comes from the work of Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon. In her book, Different, she tells the stories of brands that have broken the mold, in some way, to stand out and attract loyal followings.

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of upsetting the status quo! Frankly, it can be risky, but it seems those who do, reap some very nice rewards. [Tweet This]

Take Cirque du Soleil, for example.

It is one example of what Professor Moon calls “Idea Brands.” That is, brands that challenge limits and assumptions. They are brands that break away by disrupting our consumption classification patterns with new frames of reference. It’s what Cirque du Soleil accomplished in its careful positioning as “being everything a CIRCUS is not.”

As she points out, idea brands are “…not perfect brands. … They are polarizing brands. They are lopsided brands. …[yet]…they make perfect sense…” Actually, I think the unique imperfection of idea brands, offers some clues for how to be more attractive to the people we want to serve.

Okay, now for some ideas:

Offer something that’s hard to come by. 

It may seem simplistic, but no one is “youer” than you. You have no substitute.   So, whatever your profession, by conveying your unique style and perspectives, you deliver value in a way no one else can – even people with similar skill sets. So, make an effort to figure that out, and then bring it.

Embrace your weirdness. 

Of course, truly being you means being more transparent about some elements of your personality that may make you feel…uh…weird…!! Yet, as Seth Godin points out in his wonderful book, We Are All Weird, real choice and richness come, not from following the norms of a mass culture, but from connecting with those who love what we love and share common experiences and perspectives. So, you enhance your chances of success by joining or creating tribes or brand communities where people who pursue common goals and interests “get it” — and therefore “get you.”

Reflect your commitment to a big idea. 

In and of itself, being weird can make you novel and attractive in the short term, but is insufficient for long-term connection to your community.  For that you need to convey your vision for the world, and your sense of life purpose in serving others. People will not necessarily expect you to achieve global change. Yet, in living your vision and purpose, you will show how your daily actions make a difference in things you can control.

Have sensitivity to the concerns of real people. 

Success in business is typically achieved by making a difference to the people you serve. And yet, to be in the position to serve them, you need to make an emotional connection. Why? Because people most often choose to interact and do business with people they know, like, and trust. For you to achieve this, you need to maintain a level of engagement that allows meaningful responsiveness to the people you serve.

Invite connection through your stories.

No one else has your set of life experiences. So nothing sets you apart as much as your story. Or, perhaps I should say stories. In actuality, your life experiences tie together to reveal the themes that have guided your journey. Yet, many of your experiences can stand alone in conveying the vision, purpose, values, passions, and beliefs that you bring to what you do. In sharing about your life, make sure to also share stories of your failures and key life turning points that have shaped who you are. Not only will this make you more human, but it also lets people in, and fosters emotional connection.

Forget about being a brand. 

Perhaps one of the most valid and well-argued criticisms of personal branding makes the point that people are not brands. In pursuit of a personal brand, most often, it’s the contrived cleverness gets people into trouble – because it’s perceived as fake. So, just be yourself. Most of your little quirks make you likeable, and the ones that don’t can be managed.


What are you doing to be what other people aren’t?  Leave a comment and let me know. And if you’re interested in digging into what sets you apart, consider my Insights for Success coaching.

Credit: Original photo of an art work by Jose Fuster, Havana.


  1. says

    Hey Mitch!! Thanks for your great comment!!

    Being yourself is best; and for as long as I can remember, that’s been the advice of well-meaning people who cared about and guided us. Somehow, though, there can be lots of uncertainty in our quest for identity!

    Personal branding, unfortunately, can play to insecurity / low self-esteem – which we can all experience, at times. So, in the process, people can be tempted to adopt a persona. As I see it, being oneself is actually a Brave thing to do. It’s a risk. Yet, I think people appreciate when we’re genuine. So, being ourselves is worth the effort!!

    I’m glad you’re you, and honored to know you!!

  2. says

    It’s great to see Mitch Jackson here with you Walter. What a funny joinable world we live in. Often wondered whether you two might know each other.

    “being oneself is actually a Brave thing to do” – lovely epigram.

    But it consumes less energy than the effort to maintain a front, pose, image, projection… For example, it’s simpler not to tell lies. You don’t have to try hard to remember what you said to this person or that.

    Being oneself is simple. You know yourself – all you have to do is stop putting energy into being someone else.

    Before I create the impression that I’m clueless about how hard it can be to change a habit of a lifetime – I have the teeshirt. For years I split my world into bits – and put energy into keeping the bits from colliding.

    I tried to make sure person A didn’t meet person B in circumstances where they might chat about me. I strived to control the impression I gave others. To one person, I was this – to another, I was that. Ne’er the twain shall meet – that was my wish.

    Fortunately I didn’t have the ability to sustain that approach: my worlds fell in on top of each other.

    The only way through the wall was through the wall (as some poem by Rilke says). I had no alternative. That was the end of all that energy flow.

    Gradually I found my energy becoming mine.

    Not that I’ve ever forgotten those days completely.

    Nowadays – it’s become awfully easy to be me.

    • says

      Thanks for your brilliant comment, Paul!

      I met Mitch during Chris Brogan’s 2013 Brave New Year!! He’s a great guy, and I’m glad we are all mutual friends!!

      Yes, being yourself is a brave thing to do because it means setting aside the image you’d like to have, or think you should have. Yet, in the long run it does take way less energy. Nothing is so tiresome, I believe, than maintaining a false persona.

      Clearly you know this and have expressed it wonderfully!! I love your phrase, “my worlds fell in on top of each other” – what a powerful representation for the effort it takes to sustain a false image!! And yes, there is the fear of being found out.

      I do think being oneself does take effort. Unfortunately, we tend to create our identities in an eclectic away that intertwines bits of ourselves with bits of our social identities. Sorting that out takes work. Yet, ultimately, it’s work that frees us!!

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