You’re Not Special And That’s A Good Thing

woman in striped shirt with backpack holding sunglasses while walking on street
Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

The beauty of life is that one conversation can change our world. Two years ago, on a bench in rural France, I had one of those conversations.

I was talking with my brother-in-law, who had just finished a three-year Buddhist retreat, and I asked him how he was able to stay sane while living for such a long period of time in close confines with twenty other men, and his response changed my world.

“The first 90 days was a challenge. However, slowly I felt a shift and I stopped thinking about my personal traits that made me different from the others, and I started thinking about what qualities I had that best connected me to the others.”

I had heard a variation these words a million times before. However, something about the way my brother-in-law carefully crafted them, helped them to finally stick.

Realizing that my life was not best served by focusing on what made me special, but rather how I could make the lives of the people around me more special, was the first step. Actually getting good at it was the next.

I still have a long way to go regarding how to support others to the best of my ability. However, over the last two years I like to think I am getting better at it.

Below are the six most effective methods I have discovered since taking the steps to get out of my own head in order to get into the hearts of others.

1. Make a list each morning of how you can help the people in your life

There isn’t a productivity hack more effective than supporting others and having strong relationships. Yet we wake up each day and prioritize ourselves by writing down our own to-do list, which is good, but it can also be one-sided.

A very simple way to change this is before making your own list of what you have to do, you take three minutes and write down the ways in which you can support the people in your life.

We say our relationships are our number one priority. This little exercise can ensure you start acting like it because it will force you to ask yourself who can you help each and every day.

2. Put into your calendar important events of the people around you

My best friend in small town Catalunya is a guy named Joan. Joan is a cool guy. However, the world is full of cool people. What separates Joan is before I do something he knows is important to me, he sends a quick supportive message wishing me luck.

If you want to have the support of others, there is no better recipe than first being proactive with supporting others. Taking a minute each time someone says something important is happening their lives and putting it in your calendar to later offer a word of encouragement is a very effective way to ensure you always have people in your corner. This is for the simple reason that they know you are in theirs.

3. Write down three things you learned after each conversation

You want to know who wins? Listeners win. And carrying around a little notebook that houses not only your own thoughts and feelings but the thoughts and feelings of the people you meet is a great way to help both you and them win.

Take note of the name of the ailing grandparent of someone you just met and send a follow-up message asking how Dolores is doing.

Take note of the challenges people you meet with are facing and send over a book recommendation that helped you navigate similar circumstances.

Take note of the new project the person you just met with is thinking about starting and connect them with someone who may be of assistance.

There is no bigger compliment than truly listening to others.

4. Make it a point to look for the good in everyone you meet with

Every time I read or hear the words, “Toxic people,” I throw up a little. We are all toxic and we are all beautiful. It is your job to figure out the beautiful aspects of others and bring this out into the world. This becomes a lot easier if you approach each person looking for the good in them.

A very easy way to accomplish this is by simply starting positive. It can come in the form of a compliment, “Man, you are a talented writer.” It can come in the form of a question, “I am writing an article about career advice and would love to learn what piece of advice best helped you navigate your career?” Or it can come in the form of both a compliment and a question, “As someone who is obviously a very talented designer, do you have any advice for…..?”

Strong relationships are built by learning what is important to others and identifying where your worlds collide. This becomes much easier if you begin each conversation by talking about something you know is important to them and allowing their passion to shine.

5. Ask others for help (even when you don’t need it)

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Nor is it a burden. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and leaning on others helps to build new relationships and cement existing ones. This is for the simple fact that the people you want in your life will not only get great satisfaction from supporting you but so will you because few feelings compare with knowing that you are surrounded by people who have your back.

Open up to others and let them help. This also includes when you don’t even need it. If I have learned anything over the last two years it is that the difference between a good idea and a great one is other people.

6. Make a list of the people you want to be grateful for you and then get to work crossing off names

Every day we are told about the importance of taking the time to acknowledge, “what” and “who,” we are grateful for. For the most part, I agree, practicing gratitude is a sound habit.

However, there would be a lot more trees in the world if instead of only saying you are grateful for them, you went out and planted one.

Our lives are not measured by how many people we are grateful for. It is measured by how many people are grateful for us. So continue making your list of people who inspire you, but keep writing and also make a list of the names of the people you want to inspire and start planting trees.

When speaking with Tim Ferriss, strategist and author, Adam Robinson, said he has separated his life into two parts, “The pre-discovery of others and the post-discovery.”

I like that and I hope the tips above help you to better discover others. After all, thinking you are special may get you somewhere, but it won’t get you everywhere.

I teach storytelling to Fortune 500s, MBA students, and first graders

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