The good thing about being human is you are part of a tribe. Always (Unless you decide to free yourself from the clutches of worldly living by retiring to a secluded forest) The not-so-good thing is that being so tribal exerts a centripetal force on your being.
What does that mean?
We live in a world of bell curves and percentiles where every aspect of our existence is unendingly compared to the average. Your career, station in life, values, your positions on major issues – all of it is examined in relation to a central point. Well-meaning folks will remind you to never stray from this “average” so that you can fit in and continue to draw from the community well. The moment you start moving towards the peripheries, eyebrows will be raised.
All progress – material and spiritual – stems from the eccentric.
It is only when the few brave decided to wander along the perimeters of self (and tribe)- imposed boundaries that remarkable things happened. Despite this knowledge, the ongoing diktat is to keep moving forever towards the center of the tribe – that ‘most-average’ of all locations. It is extremely comforting, even if it speeds up decay.
Like you, I experience an inner call to resist this centripetal force – to not ever get enamored by unexceptional, comforting mediocrity. It is so great a battle that effort must be made on a daily basis to keep reminding oneself of what it means to be exceptional –
– To stay at the fringes of the tribe, to keep questioning norms, to defy rules and never lose the rebel inside.
In an attempt to stay focused on this pursuit, I once prescribed the following for myself. As with everything else, there will be crests and troughs in adhering to this prescription – but the key lies in taking it up, not as an all-or-none phenomenon, rather as a continuous refinement process. You will fail. Often.
But that should never be a reason to give this up, or to let others question your intentions.
Practice it like a sacred ritual.
- Treating Work as a meditative practice:
Invest the best energies and time every day in immersive work – whether it be in ideating, creating and executing on plans.
Intentionally and purposefully get into flow while working and stay there for a few blocks of time. Be disciplined about making this a non-negotiable without letting emotions and the lesser self come in the way of good work.
Be strict about planning work in advance, thinking deeply and thoroughly about what work to do, how to do it and what the end-result must look like. Plan ahead, schedule it, and then attack it without compromise. Don’t jeopardize plans for short-term pleasures.
- Creating Value:
In every endeavor undertaken, always be asking – how can I add incredible, exceptional value?
How can I imprint my signature on the work – What value must I add that only I am capable of adding?
What can I do that will make this piece of work truly remarkable and memorable?
- Becoming a networker- connector-influencer:
Be cognizant about building great relationships with people you meet. Be conscious about making a memorable impression on people you meet.
Plan ahead about your path, and then chart out who you need to reach out to, how you need to engage with them, and how to make it worth their while to get to know you.
Add value to people by connecting them to each other.
Engage in some “down-the-board” possibility-thinking about the “mutual-valuability” between yourself and the people in your network. For now and for the future.
Become the ‘go-to’ guy for people in 2-3 specific areas.
Never shy away from tapping into your existing network to see how far up the degree of separation they go to “influencers”.
- Staying in the game:
Avoid falling out of practice. Stay in the zone …in the loop always so that your thoughts, ideas, content and contribution always stays relevant, useful and updated. Deliberate practice with continuous feedback that creates noticeable improvement is imperative for progress.
- Accelerating learning:
Be constantly asking how to learn double the stuff in half the time. How can you acquire more and more skills in less and less time?
How can you become more and achieve more in an accelerated manner?
More importantly, what do you need to unlearn that is impeding your jump to the next level? What must you be willing to give up?
Be questioning assumptions and avoid falling into the pattern of average that everybody follows. Explore ways to do, be and achieve in ways that only an exceptionalist would. The same amount of time and energies can be invested to produce vastly different magnitudes of outcome. It all depends on where it is invested.
- Engaging with discomfort and fear:
You will achieve and grow to the extent you experience discomfort and fear. Intentionally seek out ways to do both. Plan experiments and experiences to stretch your comfort zone, and face fear.
Here again, be constantly questioning your assumptions on how you have defined reality for yourself. Continuously expand your circle of existence…..that boundary you have created for myself thru the “can’ts, won’ts, shouldn’ts, and don’ts”.
- Setting, clarifying and re-clarifying terms and conditions:
Engage with life on your terms, not of others’. To do that, you must constantly get clear on what you are willing to tolerate/ not tolerate; what you are willing to endure/ not endure; what pain I am ready to suffer/ nor suffer.
- Avoiding the ho-hum trap:
Never resign to the mentality that life is meant to just get by. Without curiosity, without enthusiasm and without classiness.
Re-commit to never-ending commitment to the magic, the joy, the curiosity, the learning and exploration of life, which you may only scratch the surface of, during this limited lifetime.
Avoid falling into that space of restful nonsense where nothing meaningful happens, participating in life with bare minimum.
- Committing to a goal of 10X:
For every activity, ask – how can I be 10x better, add 10x value, achieve 10x results.
Think Six Sigma in life – how to be 1 in a million?
That’s the essence of exceptionalism.
What exceptionalism is not
It is entirely possible that this idea of exceptionalism be misinterpreted as elitism – a delusion of superiority.
It is not.
It is an inner journey- of moving away from the centerpoint of the tribe. And toward the center of your true being. All progress hinges on exploration. And it forever begins with you.