What do a Hairdresser and a Programmer Have in Common? Six Ways to stand out in your field.

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The normal person who cuts my hair was out today, but I put my name on the list anyway.  While waiting, another hairdresser was in the front area consulting with a woman who was getting highlights.  It was evident that she either had a lot of knowledge, or that she was clueless.  My knowledge of coloring and “W’s” and “V’s” etc. is sufficiently lacking to where I couldn’t tell the difference.  When she later called my name, I decided to risk my image to her with a certain unestablished trust.

Immediately following a short discussion on what I typically did, she gave me her opinion of what she’d like to do with my hair.  There was a ring to her voice and a confidence despite her fresh-out-of-high school appearance that I felt no need to protect against.  I went along with her suggestion because there was a feeling in me that good things could happen if she were given free artistic reign.  Besides, I’m past the age of knowing what good style is anymore anyway.

In the conversation, she explained that she loved her job.  She said it was depressing to her that so many people spend so much time at their jobs when they don’t like what they do.  She talked about how when she’s not at work, she’s constantly observing people and how they put themselves together (some of which would benefit from a step into her chair.)

Her energy remind me of a conversation I had long ago at an art showing in San Francisco.  While my girlfriend at the time supported her cousin with her exhibit, I was getting water in the lobby.  An indian with thick glasses, who was so tall he stooped, happened to be standing alone in the lobby.  Rather than maintain the two pockets of individual awkwardness there, I nodded and said hi to him.  His eyes awkwardly darted to other parts of the room, but I pressed him anyway. 

I found out that he was a programmer.  When I asked him how he got his start, he underwent a transition in front of me as his awkwardness morphed into enthusiasm.  He was the guy who gave personality to those weird little Microsoft characters like the paperclip that tapped on your screen, or the dog that sniffed when you did a search.  His eyes widened and the muscles in his shoulders and face relaxed as he told me of people he imagined who were working on their computers all day.  He said that it makes him happy knowing that he’d had the opportunity to make someone he would never meet smile from their interaction with one of his creations.  I spent the rest of my time talking with him about his work.

I’m always fascinated when I talk with someone who really loves what they do.  I’m so interested that I’ve spent time studying it.  The coolest thing I’ve learned is that it is a skill.  Skills can be learned.  Love for what you do is teachable.  It turns out, that you don’t have to “find your passion” as so many assume and as so many motivational speakers profess.  You just have to bring your passion with you and build as you go.  Some people create that “love” for what they do deliberately, but most stumble upon it accidentally.  Regardless, it is a skill, and it can be developed.  People who love what they do have several commonalities.  as follows are major components:

They See Themselves as Self-Employed. 

This concept is a favorite of sales and business philosopher Brian Tracy.  He has made popular the idea that top performers in every field see themselves as self-employed.  Even though they get a paycheck, they are really self employed and see it as their duty to create a positive experience for their customer.  They want to build that relationship by bringing exceptional value to their customer.  In some cases, they see their employer as their customer because, in effect, they are selling a service to that employer.  They also see that the more value they provide, not only does their value to the employer go up, but their happiness does as well.  They know that they are providing value, which directly affects their self esteem.  A person who is showing up at work, and not giving their best is subconsciously destroying their self esteem because they’re not delivering their potential.  They know they can do better, but they don’t, therefore their ability begins to shrink with their self esteem.  Just like muscle will weaken through lack of use, a person’s skills atrophy if not used.  The opposite is true.  The more a person contributes, the greater their potential to contribute in the future becomes. 

They Aren’t Deterred by the Talk or Perceived Thoughts of others.

Unfortunately, there’s a trait in people that seeks equilibrium.  There tends to be a social pressure to not stand out in many organizations, families, or other social networks.  It’s a shame that many would-be greats are cut down and pulled back by their peers so early in their process of of growth and in developing their skills.   These friends and family are typically well meaning, but just can’t envision the potential for success.

despite ridicule (or the potential for it) people who love their work keep on with their bad selves and avoid dwelling on the well meaning cautions thrown out to them by peers and family so haphazardly.  They don’t much worry what people will think if they try something new.  They realize that although they aren’t good now, it doesn’t matter.  They love what they do.  They get better the longer they work.  What they pursue is an exciting experiment.  They let the talkers talk and don’t worry too much about it.  They’re not afraid to stand out.  They know that eventually, their ideas and work will find a place and an audience.  Jeff Olson, marketing expert and author of The Slight Edge often talks about the concept that new ideas tend to go through three stages.  First they’re ridiculed, then they’re violently opposed, before finally they become self evident.  People with a love for their work are not afraid to go through the stages.

They Want to Make a Difference in the Lives of Their Customers.

People who are fulfilled by their work don’t often stand out at first glance, but when they get going, they actually begin to draw a crowd.  They are eager to help others along their own path and tend to not worry too much about guarding secrets.  They believe that there is plenty of room at the top and don’t mind sharing what they know with people who care.

They don’t just have a job, they instead see themselves as providing a service to others.  They love what they do so much, they want to make a difference in the lives of other people around them and they are eager to share their talent and everything they’ve learned in the process.

They Speak Positively About their Work.

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” is a phrase that goes back thousands of years.  It’s been the subject of many talks and books since.  People who love their work, love it because they think positively about it…not the other way around.  They don’t dwell on the negative.  Some do this consciously, others not, but everyone who loves their work, focuses on the positives and successes.  They don’t dwell too long on the negative.  Our thoughts tend to dictate our attitudes and actions.  Our actions dictate our results and the way we feel.  This in turn influences our thoughts again.  There is a feedback loop.  Negative thoughts have the same, yet opposite effect.  The place to start is your dominating thoughts surrounding what you do.

They “Work” Longer Than Their Shift

People who are in the right line of work (or who have put themselves in the right frame of mind surrounding their work) work longer than their peers who are first to hit the parking lot after fulfilling their contracted hours.  Not only do they tend to work longer and do more than they are paid to do, they work while they are at work.  They don’t waist too much time in idle conversation with coworkers or waisting time with minutia.  They often bounce ideas off of other like minded individuals, but spend most of their time in action.

With their self-employed attitude, these people see the connection between the work they put in and the results they benefit from even it there are no obvious signs.  They understand that their results are a numbers game and that over time, the more they put in, the more they get back within reason.  It’s a balance to not loose sight of other values in the process.

They Follow the Trends in their Field

They’re so excited about their field, they are on the cutting edge and confidence flows from them as they talk about it.  They pay attention to the development of their industry and in some cases actually drive it.  They love what they do so much that it’s difficult to not talk about it.  They tend to work their passion into every conversation.

In addition, They think about their work outside of work.  They look for opportunities to be better at what they do.  Whether it’s reading trade publications or taking classes, they are constantly improving themselves.  To them, it’s a passion, they don’t see it as work. 

In short, People who love their work think positively about it, bring all of their energy and passion with them and spend time learning how they can better serve their customers.  They realize that the connections they make, are what make their effort meaningful.  The most beautiful piece is that coming to your work with your passion burning is a skill and it can be learned through patient practice.