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How to Be Outstanding

Photo of Gala Darling. One of the most outstanding people who I admire.
If you do what you love to do, then you won't do it in an average way. ~Angela Bassett

Are you exceptional in your line of work? Do you love what you do? Perhaps that’s why you are or aren’t getting the results you want.

People who consistently achieve outstanding results all have this in common: they are passionate about what they do. It’s no longer work, but an active participation of joy and creativity.

This article takes a deeper look into outstanding performance, and gives guidance as to how you can manifest outstanding results in your life.

First, I’ll start with a slice from my own experience:

Five years of my life was spent in University getting a Math and Computer Science degree so that I could get a high-tech job with guaranteed security. School was tough and flew by quickly. After battling it out with other competitors chasing after the same jobs, I got what I wanted and landed in Seattle.

Very soon after, I realized that I wasn’t that great at programming software, nor was I very interested in it. I got my job done, but I felt that I had to work extra hard just to keep up with my peers. I longed to fit-in with other engineers and felt like a sore thumb sticking out in the crowd. “One day, they’re gonna find out…” I used to tell myself during the first six months on the job.

I knew better. I knew that I wasn’t average. I knew that my best was excellent. I pulled long hours, worked on weekends, was addicted to caffeine, and within a few month, I developed an immune system disorder called Psoriasis Rosea from stress. It was the drive to be outstanding, in a position that wasn’t fit for me or my interests which brought me to this low point.

My Story Continues …

Overtime, I recognized that I naturally gravitated towards designing graphical interfaces and that I naturally obsessed over the user’s experience while using software. I wanted to do that professionally, but lacked the education or experience. A roadblock had appeared before me. I had voiced my intentions to my manager and was told No; again, another roadblock.

I didn’t give up. I read books, took seminars, worked on personal design projects and brought my new found knowledge onto the job. I incorporated design and user experience considerations into everything I worked on as an engineer. I developed a small reputation among neighboring teams, and soon was unofficially offering my user-experience expertise to other teams within the company. Despite it not being my job, I did it anyway. I did so because it was what I loved doing, it came natural to me and I felt that I was exceptional at it.

Over the next couple of years, I faced resistance and adversity surrounding my professional transition, but I clung to my clearly desired target. Through persistence and never giving up hope for my dream job, two years later, I officially became a user-experience designer for amazon.com. Since then, I have never looked back with regret.

 

Lessons from Following My Passion

Here is a summary of lessons I’ve learned through this experience:

  • Anything is possible if you want it bad enough
  • When you follow your heart, not only will you contribute more to your organization, you will utilize less energy and you will feel happier.
  • We are all naturally gifted at certain disciplines. You’ll know when you find it, because you can quickly grasp new concepts, you find it enjoyable, and doing it comes easy to you; almost like breathing.
  • Doing something that is not natural to our abilities and interests is like swimming against the current. You’ll eventually get to the shore, but it will take you longer and will excerpt extra energy.
  • Doing things that come natural to us and align with our interests feels like swimming along with the current. You’ll get to the shore smoothly and with little effort.
  • When you are clear about wanting something, take action towards its attainment, and persist until you reach it, the universe will conspire to make it a reality. Your energy and determination will move people, and they will find ways to help you.
  • Insecurities and negative self-talk derived from fear achieves nothing, except to convince us that we are failures and losers. These are lies that only appear real in our imagination.
  • The roadblocks you encounter on the way to reaching your destination are actually gifts. Treat them as challenges that you were meant to experience and learn from. They are like small tests that the universe presents us with, as if asking: “How bad do you really want this? Have you given up yet?”
  • When you listen to your heart, follow your passion, and do what you love to do, it’s hard not to be outstanding. You’re almost guaranteed to succeed.

Finding Your Passion

At any given point, we have the option to choose one of many potential lives for ourselves. Ask yourself, which of the many lives will inspire me more? Which do I desire the most? What do I gravitate towards? What does my heart say?

outstanding2.jpg
Photo by Mike BG

Some of you may be wondering, what if I don’t have a passion? Then, go out and find one. The thing to note is that we’re not restricted to a single passion, we may have many. But at any particular moment there is only one that we want more than the rest. Make that your focus.

There are no right or wrong answers. Your interests, desires and passions are a reflection of the unique brand that is you. No one else can discover or express your passions for you.

Here are some questions and tips aimed at helping you discover your passion. I recommend grabbing a pen and notepad to answer some of them on paper. Write down the first few answers that come to mind without editing.

  • Interest – Explore activities you are interested in; whether they are professional or personal interests. Remember that personal interests can turn professional very quickly if you believe in yourself and keep persisting.
  • Try Something New – Is there a job or activity that you’ve always been curious about? Maybe it’s starting an online store, or the project manager role at your company, or running a marathon. Learn as much as you can about it. Explore your interests, try them out and see what sticks. Much of life is about making choices and filtering out options. What you’re doing here is filtering out potential activities that you can get passionate about.
  • Play By Strength – Look at your strengths and see which jobs or activities demand those skills. Try asking yourself the following questions:
    • What am I good at?
    • What tasks do I find easy to do?
    • What parts of my job do I enjoy doing? Why?
  • Ask People – Sometimes, other people can see our qualities clearer than we can, since their minds are not inhibited by our negative self-talk. Ask your friends, family and close co-workers what they think your best qualities are? Ask them what they think you are good at and what professions they think you would excel in?
  • The Questions – Answer any or all of the questions below. Consider the answers and how they can be applied towards understanding your passions.
    • “If I could have any job, what would it be?”
    • “If I could try any job in my current organization, what would that be?”
    • “If all of my expenses were suddenly paid for every month by an invisible source, what would I be doing with my time?”

Keep in mind that your passions can change, especially after they have been attained. Be flexible, open and sensitive to your feelings. Adjust your current situation as you see fit.

Creating the Way

 

Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and a need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth). Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.”
~ Abraham Maslow (comments by Derek Sivers)

A common theme I’ve seen in many people is to give up before they even try. “Well, I gotta pay the bills. I’d love to do my music/photography/online-business/<insert interest>, but I just can’t. This is the way it has to be and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

I have personally known far too many musicians, photographers, writers and entrepreneurs who have created successful business and promotional models for themselves, for me to buy into the above belief. Yes, some of these occupations and interests have a reputation for not paying enough money to survive on. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t create a bright future for yourself, if you make it your passion. Hope is within reach, it’s up to us to grab it.

Fear will paralyze us if we let it.

 

Creating the Way: Real-Life Case Studies

Both examples showcase musicians, but similar stories can be found for other creative professions.

Case 1:

In high school, Joshua Roman excelled at Math and Physics and later had the option to pursue it at a graduate level. It seemed to have been a more secure option with guaranteed income. Instead, Josh took the “high-risk” career path and made the passion-filled, regret-free decision to dedicate himself to classical music. He followed his heart and despite some initial setbacks upon graduation, his faith, persistence and hard work has paid off – big time.

On a flight back to Seattle, my 23 year old friend was asked by the woman sitting next to him, “What do you do for a living?” Josh quickly and proudly answered, “I’m a Cellist.” She looked puzzled, and asked “You can make a living doing that?” Little did she know, Josh was one of the highest paid musicians in the Seattle Symphony and had recently signed a record deal with Sony Japan.

Case 2:

Derek Sivers has been a fulltime musician since he was 18. In 1998, with a passion for music and a desire to help fellow musicians, he created CDBaby – an independent music distribution site. At the time of starting CDBaby, Derek knew only basic html, and had taught himself enough web programming and basic database concepts to get the site going. He continued learning as the site grew.

Most people might instantly shy away from technology, out of fear of the unknown or of feeling stupid. Not Derek. He stepped up and jumped head first into the fire. Pretty cool huh?

Over the past ten years, CDBaby has distributed around 4.6 million CDs and generated 85 million dollars that has been paid directly to independent bands. That’s what I call, “Making History, Baby!”

 

Common Pitfalls + Tips

There are several pitfalls and myths surrounding making a living while following your passions.

outstanding3.jpg
Photo: Simón Pais-Thomas

1. Myth: You need a formal education before you can …

For some professions such as medical physicians, yes, this is true. In most cases, education is optional. In cases where formal education is optional, this myth only acts as a mind trap to cause self-doubt and friction on the path to pursuing our passions.

In many professions, experience, a solid skill set and a drive to succeed are much more valuable and essential than a formal education.

2. Tip: Become your own teacher and your own best student.

Many exceptional people are in their respective fields as a result of self taught skills. Go out of your way to learn, read as much as you can on the subject, take classes that will expand your skills. Then practice as much as you can.

3. Question: “But what if I don’t have any experience? No one will hire me without experience. I’m doomed. Poor me.

Stop complaining. Go out and get some experience! Talking about it is a waste of time – it gains you nothing, except the conviction that you’re doomed.

Offer your time and skill for free. Create the opportunity for yourself by initiating your own projects. Offer yourself as an intern in your desired industry, continue cold calling companies until you get something. Never give up.

4. Tip: Believing In Yourself – Confidence Building

What often stops us from pursuing and succeeding in our chosen passion is ourselves. Out mind gets so cluttered with doubt and self-defeating thoughts that we end up believing them and giving up.

This fear and resistance to change is something we all experience and can relate to. There is no magic pill that’ll make these thoughts go away. Only this advice: practice taking action despite fear and doubt, as often as possible. We are creatures of habit, the more we repeat something, the better we get at it, the more automatic it becomes, and the more natural it feels.

Here are some tips that I have personally found helpful in confidence building:

  • Take Massive Action – And doing so often. As much as possible. The more you do this, the less scary it will seem, and the more confident you will feel.
  • Visualization – Our repeated thoughts (whether conscious or unconscious) create the tracks for the train of our mind to run on. The train ends up looping in a cycle unless we create new tracks for it. Visualization is an effective tool for creating new neural pathways in our brains, thereby introducing new experiences through our imagination. Our brains cannot distinguish between what is happening in reality and what is being vividly imagined. (Shakti Gawain has a great book on the topic if you’d like to learn more.)
  • Affirmations – Similar to visualization techniques, affirmations create or thicken neural pathways in our brains. It’s effective in replacing negative thought patterns with thoughts more conducive to our wellbeing. Affirmation is simply writing down a positive statement in present tense that includes where you want to be or states qualities of the more wholesome ‘you’ that you would like to embody. Repeat this statement as often and as much as you can. Posting this statement on walls where you’ll see it is also helpful. Examples, “I am an outstanding person. I live in the present moment. I embody love, compassion and kindness towards others.” Or “I am an achiever. I achieve my goals. I live life with passion! I am contributing in massive ways. I am outstanding!” Note: This is not lying to yourself, but rather feeding positive messages to your unconscious mind. We get enough self-defeating thoughts as it is from our ‘ego-ic’ minds. This is just a tool to help us undo some of that.

As you strengthen your beliefs about your skills and continue to perfect your craft, you’ll notice a shift in the way in which people respond to you. They will start to see you as the more wholesome you.

5. Tip: Talk often about what you want

In addition to taking action towards what you want, tell other people about it. Tell your close friends, your manager, and your family. Telling others does four things:

  • Helps you define your intentions. You’ll gain more clarity through talking about it.
  • Sends out your intentions to the Universe.
  • Let your inner-circle and support-system in on your desires, so they can help support you in your desires to attain something that means a lot to you.
  • Telling other about what your doing has a tendency to hold you accountable, and encourages you to continue taking action towards its attainment.

Continue to take action every day and every week towards your target. However small the action may seem, it will help you get one step closer to your goal.

My only caveat is to avoid telling people who generally lean towards the negative. Reserve it for people who want to help you, are supportive, and preferably have a positive outlook on life.

6. Tip: Find a Mentor

Having a mentor will not only accelerate your learning in a particular field and steer you away from common mistakes, but also gives you valuable insight and visibility to helping you determine whether this is something you really want.

If you’re working at a company as a computer programmer but are interested in working as a project manager, talk to a senior PM and see if you can be mentored by them. Make it clear that you won’t take too much of their time.

If you’re a photographer trying to get into commercial photography, find someone who is already doing that and offer your time as an assistant for free, in exchange to be in the studio to watch and learn.

If you don’t know anyone personally who is achieving the kind of results you desire, go out and find them. Go to cultural events where such people would frequent. Alternatively, a wealth of information is available online or in books at minimal cost.

Be thoughtful and considerate when approaching potential mentors. Don’t take “no” personally. Think about what you can offer them (that is actually valuable to them) in exchange for their time.

 

Parting Words

We all posses the seed for being Outstanding, it’s just that some of us haven’t fully bloomed yet. We all have the capabilities, imagination, and foundation to achieve extraordinary results. The secret lies in having a clear target, following our heart, taking continuous small steps, acting despite fear, adjusting as we proceed and keeping moving without giving up.

With these simple ingredients, every-day-people can and will achieve exceptional things. Guaranteed!

I have faith in you. Throw out your fears and listen to your heart. I look forward to seeing the Outstanding person that you are, come alive.

Until next week…What are you passionate about? Share your thoughts in the comments! See you there.

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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109 thoughts on How to Be Outstanding

  1. I’ve said before I feel very lucky to have discovered my passion. Its expression continues to evolve, but my passion is creativity, art and music, fusing the two, and bringing people together to celebrate their creative culture. I do it in a small, simple way, painting portraits of musicians on records, but when it connects, it connects and makes people very happy.

    I really enjoy your personal story, Tina. You’re very self-analytical and skilled at recounting what you discover.

    In this, I like the idea of massive action. I need to do so to further my passion. My current trick’ll be figuring out what to do!

    Peace.

  2. Matericia

    Check to be sure you are registered to vote so you will be outstanding in this most important election in our lifetime.

    Don’t be left out!

    http://www.votersunite.org/info/RegInfo.asp

  3. Todd

    This is a great post and the Lessons are almost verbatim to discussions that I have with others about this topic.

    It’s kind of under the whole insecurity / fear / negativity thing:
    – Be your own worst critic.

    It’s very easy to consistently overcome negativity if the only obstacle is you.

  4. Impressive article. I agree, if you want something bad enough you can get it, but you and only you are required to do the leg work. I learned Greek step by step, a process that took over a year; by the way, I’m still learning and reviewing. This process, felt like I was swimming against the current. I remember feeling like I was in a fog… I couldn’t see and at times my vision was cloudy but I took it in stride and before I knew it, my vision became clear. Never give up, keep pressing on and your hard work will pay off! :)

  5. Hi Tina,

    Excellent blog post and ties in exactly with some of the articles I’ve written in the past on my blog too.

    My addition 2 cents to throw in would be what you said about Mentors. Having a Mentor/Life Coach is a great thing but going by my own experience I would also say to people is that you can also carve your own way. Also be a pioneer and then share that with others. Teach others to be pioneers also. (In fact that has now given me my blog post idea for the day) ;-)

    Wonderful though, you are a great writer and have so much to share. Love the blog!

    Amit

  6. Tina. I’ve had similar experiences and I totally agree with you that you simply need to follow your true desire. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and never waiver in your belief that you can accomplish almost anything! (you know within the laws of physics that is)

  7. Thanks for reminding me to write down my aspirations. This has been a successful tool for me in the past. Also, the photo by Simon Pais-Thomas is amazing. My eyes could not leave that image for several minutes.

  8. Being completely passionate about a career was something I always longed for but resigned myself to thinking that only a few people actually experienced it. In order to make a living we must, 1.) use our talents to perform a job and 2.) find someone who is willing to pay us for the outcome we produce. I have been frustrated trying to put these two pieces together. I can use my talents in a job I’m not passionate about, yet I can support my family. I can also follow my passions and not make a single dime. What was liberating to me was when I started looking at my “day job” as a way to sustain my life and the life of my family and channel my passions like a side job. Sometimes I think of it as an actor working as a waiter in New York until he finally gets his break to do what drives him to get out of bed every morning. Perhaps pursuing my passions will never allow me to quite my day job, but I am hopeful. Our passions can be channeled through hobbies, recreation, service and leisure. I am no longer frustrated because I am pursuing my passions and I’m not waiting for the perfect job to be able to afford me that opportunity. I found your article liberating and encouraging. You have given me energy to keep following my desires despite the obstacles that may arise.

  9. KegBol

    Good post, and similar to my own experience. Following the Boxing Day tsunami that hit Asia, I left my job to go and help for a couple of months… which turned into two years and a new career. I’ve now even gone back to university to do an MBA to improve my skills, and a funny thing happened…

    From being a very ordinary undergraduate, I felt so driven to succeed that I told my friends that I wanted to come top of my year and get a distinction. Everything I learnt I was directly applying to disaster situations in my mind, which gave me the drive to learn it thoroughly and think about it when classes were over, rather than just abstractly apply it and think about the football at the end of the day. Guess what? Having come top of the year, I’m now in America finishing my degree, with a distinction looking likely. Result!

  10. anil

    an excellent post ….reminds me of things i am passionate about and neglecting them out of fear of failure ,i find this as an outstanding opportunity to revive things i am passionate about and start acting upon !!! ..thanks for making me come alive

  11. thank you.these points are innate really but burried under insecurities and fear. Your article is reaffirming and leads to an excavation of these facts from under the rubble of self doubt… and in my case pounds of fat. but, save that for another article.

  12. The quotes and photos your referenced are excellent! I think this is best article you have ever written well worth the front page of digg!!

  13. You really nailed it in this post. Keep up the good work.

  14. A great as well as comprehensive post. Whenever you want to be outstanding the most important aspect is wanting it badly. But want to get badly doesn’t get it for you; the want should be backed up with hard work and perseverance.

  15. Sarah,
    So why didn’t Hillary Clinton get the nomination? She wanted it desperately, and she’s been working her tail off for years to get it.

  16. Watch

    Great article. Inspiring.

  17. Another great article … your are a truly amazing writer.

    More many of us, fear is the biggest barrier between the current state and the dream life. I personally found book from Susan Jeffers called “Embracing Uncertainty” extremely useful during transition to follow my passion.

    Handled properly, fear is the biggest gift God has given us. Picking up the courage and doing things that scares you, helps us to grow and live extraordinary lives.

  18. FPM

    I used to be a homeless rodeo clown but now i am a world class magician ! Outstanding !

  19. dankclimes

    This is a pretty good article, but there is one big problem with this whole strategy. That is finding that thing that you really like to do and invest time into. It seems a lot people have trouble finding these things, while others constantly require several projects/activities to find satisfaction. Personally, I’ve never really felt like a “natural” at anything in particular, although almost everything I’ve ever tried has come easily to me (except whistling).

  20. Matericia

    The seeds of desire still exist in Hillary Clinton and if she can dig herself out of debt and be a workhorse in the senate, we’ll see…

    God answers all prayers, sometimes he says “No.” or “Not yet” or “I’m working on it.” or “do it yourself!” Sometimes when our intention matches the winds of time everything says “YES, WE CAN!

    We can do great things.

    Vote Barack Obama!

    http://capwiz.com/ala/il/bio/sponsortrack/?id=3181

  21. Hi,

    I really appreciate and resonate with your quest. I loved the elaboration you did in this post about how to be outstanding. I am an acupuncturist in Seattle and I will definitely pass on your blog to clients. I am interested in starting a health/food/urban farming blog so I was curious about what is the income stream you receive from posting ads on a monthly basis? And, any information you might have about setting up a blog. Your insights and advice is most welcome! Joyce

  22. I soend hours online each day growing, developing and improving my entrepreneurs blog because I am completely passionate about it and I want to be outstanding. This post was spot on. I love what I do so I want to do really well at it. Other things I don’t love so I don’t want to do well.

    I wish I could hide away with my computer for one straight month and JUST focus on building my blog and internet marketing stuff. Then come out of my cocoon and talk to people after I feel I have done a lot of good things.

    This is how passionate I am. There is not enough time in the day to do as much work as I want to do

  23. If you’re interested in how to be average, I’m your guy.

  24. Extending Victory Darwin’s comment, sometimes when we start thinking about a project that involves sharing our passions with the world we are confronted with so many others seemingly doing the same thing. But don’t fool yourself. What you will do won’t be the same thing as what others are doing. Don’t get hung up on finding your niche or being unique and original, just pursue what you love doing and the originality, voice, and niche will unfold and reveal itself to you.

    Thanks Tina, great article! Resonant and gives us that boost we need.

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