I’ve had this question posed to me in one way or the other for most of my life: How do you differentiate yourself? AKA, how do you become unique, not average, not boring? I had a child living in my house who actually told me he was ok getting C’s in college because C’s were average and that was all he really wanted, to be like everyone else. It stopped me in my tracks because I have always struggled with making sure I wasn’t like everyone else. Although in all honesty, I have no idea why I insist on going against the norm. My mindset brings a lot of drama and despair, especially recently, as I’ve had some failed exploits.
But I recently came across an article where someone was asking how one gets to be unique and not average. This sparked something inside me that normally doesn’t get all worked up, so here we are. This is how I go about not being an average person. But in all honesty, I don’t think I’m anything special. My Midwestern upbringing forces me to be humble, and that doesn’t mix all that well with trying to not be average. Although, this day and age, being humble is definitely not an average quality.
Read, Read and Read some more
My first recommendation is to read, read and read some more. Just the fact that you are out of high school and reading, puts you in a minority, which makes you “not average”. According to the Pew Research Center, 23% of Americans didn’t read a single book last year. So right there you get to be in the upper 76%. Although, I guess an argument could be made that not reading a book was more unique this day and age, let’s not go down that path since we already have issues with intelligence in this country.
So what should you read? It really doesn’t matter. I have an affinity for the classics, especially French and Russian 18th-century novels, but that’s just my preference. I would suggest starting with literature and keeping away from bestsellers as much as possible. Again, a best seller implies that a lot of people have read it, which by definition again, is average. I’m currently reading a great book by Gary Hoover called The Lifetime Learner’s Guide to Reading and Learning. Mr. Hoover has a book collection of some 57,000 books. That he’s read. Not average.
My next reading recommendation is reading about history. Pick an era you like, and read some deep-dive books about that time, or biographies about people at the time. Again, eschew the popular topics of the current day, and you will avoid being an average person.
My next recommendation on how to not be average is to pick up an unusual hobby. I juggle and play harmonica, although not at the same time. Both are basically useless, but I enjoy them, and those who know me closely know I do these things, and they make up “who I am”. Not being average is all about being different. Now, these will take some time to master. I took several good years of childhood adolescence to teach myself juggling, and all of my early 20s learning harmonica. I’m much better at harmonica than juggling, but I can basically get by, and it’s a fun party trick. Or attention-grabber in the produce aisle at the supermarket.
These next three recommendations are linked together. Think of someone you know who is really, really interesting. I mean a person you could listen to for hours. What do they do to keep your attention? They do three things: They know how to tell a story, they are great conversationalists, and they probably know some really great jokes. Storytelling is an art form, but like all art, it’s something you can learn to be better at than you are today. Learn how to tell a good story, and practice with a few of your favorites. Great stories are personal in nature (even if not true) and can be a lot of fun to tell. It’s a performance when you really get into the groove of telling a story.
As for being a conversationalist, after all the reading and storytelling, you will be a better conversationalist. But it goes beyond these basics. To be a great conversationalist, you need to know current events and have an opinion. A well thought-out, logical opinion. This is more like a friendly debate than an argument. I’ve been known to take on a side of a discussion that I personally don’t agree with just to see where the conversation goes. It’s also a great exercise in really challenging your beliefs. You really don’t know where you stand until you’ve had to defend your beliefs to someone smarter than you. One warning, this day and age, people you disagree with are unlikely to want to have a conversation with you. The idea of debate seems to be dead, and we are in the “Hatfield and McCoys” era of discussion. Be warned.
Develop a mantra
There’s a lot of evidence that suggests repeating phrases will actually help you towards achieving said phrase. The opposite is also always at work – if you constantly berate yourself, your brain believes you, and starts working against you. So, develop something that you can say every day, out loud that will help you achieve your goals. It could be a simple goal, or it could be a worldview reduced to a simple phrase like Google’s “Do no evil” motto.
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — you’re right” – Henry Ford
I wish I would have learned earlier in life about the power, especially the restorative power of meditation. The Chinese say, “still water runs deep”. The idea is that as you quiet your mind, you gain control of yourself and your mind, your thoughts. This process will develop a strong mental stability, which will definitely not make you average. Combine this with your Mantra, and you’re going to have an out-of-body experience most likely.
Learn any musical instrument
One sure way to make yourself less average is to learn a musical instrument. It doesn’t really matter which, but if you lean towards a more lesser known one, that would definitely make you less than average. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can pick up basic competency with an instrument. It takes only 20-30 minutes a day of focused practice and you’ll see improvements quickly. Stop when you get bored, but not until you can play something without needing to have to stop or look at the music.
Learn a trade
We have a focus in the U.S. at least right now for everyone to be a college educated person. I think that’s a great idea, actually. Education never hurts. But what we’ve done is focus on college as a BETTER option than a trade. With that comes the inference that people who have college degrees are somehow better than those without. Bullshit. More educated doesn’t make you anything but more educated. But, educated AND know a trade? Now you’re in an elite class – not average by any means. You may be seeing a pattern here – all of the recommendations take dedication and time for you to become better at something. This improvement is what makes you a better human with the by-product of being a lot less average. So learn a trade, learn how to work with your hands. It doesn’t matter what, whether it’s welding (one of my personal favorites), working on cars, woodworking, electronics, plumbing, etc. Find something that you enjoy doing. As I get older, I wish I had spent more time working with my hands. My intellectual self seems to need physical work for happiness. Let me say that again – I am happier when I’m working with my hands. But again, I’m not normal, which translates to not average, either.
Develop a love of learning
I’m not sure when this happened to me. I went through some career counseling after failing out of college and was told by a very smart, licensed psychologist that I wasn’t the type of person to benefit from “formal learning”. I find that laughable now because I love to learn at this point in my life. Normally, I don’t even care what it is, as long as it’s something I don’t already know. I’m not sure where this came from between my mediocre high school days, failing out of college in my first year, and becoming a literature major. By the time I chose the more difficult literature path, I was in love with learning. I finished my masters three years ago, and I would go back and get another one in a heartbeat, or even a doctorate, if it didn’t occupy so much of my time and take me away from my family responsibilities. But what has rubbed off and stuck is that I read every single day, and I reach out online and follow my interests down rabbit holes to see where they lead. I keep notes, and I refer back to where I found things so I can find them again. I want to learn. Primarily because I’ve found that I’m least bored when I’m learning something new. Couple that with the research that speaks to the aging process of your brain and learning, and you convinced me to keep learning. I’ve read a lot of recent articles quoting business gurus stating that we’re in an era of “lifelong learning” if you want to keep your edge. So whether you do it to be not average, or because you want to stay employed, the results should be the same.
We live in a world where we are not engaged with the world we live in. We are fully committed to our smartphones. Put the phone down, get off the social media sites, look up and around, and engage life. Talk to people, experience things in real time, in real life. Write down your thoughts.
Obviously, these are things that one person believes will make you not average, but in my mind, just the question of “how do I make sure I’m not average” already puts one in that “non-average” category. So be yourself, get educated, and start up conversations. You’ll be amazed at what comes next.