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What Makes You Unique?


I remember learning in gradeschool that each thumbprint is unique and being both dumbfounded and intrigued.  Could it be that no one on the planet had a thumbprint just like mine?  The lines in my friends’ thumbs seemed similar, if not identical.  What made each of our thumbprints special, different, and distinct?  During my childhood – an era when I prized conformity and sameness above uniqueness and novelty – these questions were hastily considered and just as quickly dismissed.

As an adult, it is easier to embrace my unique qualities simply because they help to distinguish me from the billions of other people in this world.  And although it is easier, it is not easy.  Fully embracing myself – as is – seems to be a constant work in progress for me, but as time wears on the process is becoming less painful.  The first step to accepting my unique qualities was to recognize them.  Honest feedback, from trusted and objective parties, has been critical for me because understanding what makes me distinct can be like trying to look at a scrape on the tip of my nose, impossible to see myself but easily recognized by others.

As a college instructor, I receive candid comments from each student at the end of every semester.  I’ve taught the same course three times a year for 10 years and received over a thousand evaluations from my students – who may not necessarily be objective – but are frequently brutally honest.  Without a doubt, the most prevelant theme in these written comments from students is their recognition of my enthusiasm for teaching organizational behavior (OB) topics.  It took years of receiving variations of the same feedback (“freakishly enthusiastic”) to recognize that my natural excitement for and desire to discuss leadership, motivation, job satisfaction, and a host of other OB topics was a unique quality.

There is a freedom and a focus that comes from fully acknowledging our uniqueness.  For me, it has helped to uncovered a clear pathway when considering choice points as divergent as my next career steps to how to make best use of my personal time.

Do you know your unique gifts and talents?  Can you articulate them in a way that resonates with friends, employers, and the world?  If you struggle to answer this question, below are a few queries that may lead to next steps on your journey to gaining a greater appreciation of your unique gifts.

1.  Do you have copies of past performance evaluations that you can re-read and review?  What is the theme that emerges when reviewing your professional accomplishments?

2.  What has been your biggest achievement in the last 12 months?

3.  Have you taken the StrengthsFinder assessment?  More than 8 million people have used this tool to gain insight into their unique gifts.  Gallup, the corporation that owns the tool, predicts that 1 billion people will come to know their strengths in the coming years.  Go to www.gallupstrengthscenter.com to take the assessment and learn your top five signature themes.

Recognizing what makes you unique and special is the first stop on the journey to become the best you you can be.

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