Almost every day, at least once a day, I find myself asking my clients the same question: “What do you bring to the party?” This may sound like a silly a question but in this context it is full of meaning.
The world most of us live in is very object-oriented. This is an unfortunate way of saying that we tend to live life based on what is outside us. We have the expectation that what we acquire will bring us value without our having to do anything. A simple example is buying a hammer and expecting it to bang in a nail without someone swinging it. In fact, the reality is just the contrary. Even though a hammer is a simple tool a great deal of dexterity is required to use it properly.
A more complex example can be found in education. A person goes to school where they graduate with a degree of some kind and expect to be able to benefit from it immediately. Regretfully, before being proficient in an area some form of apprenticeship is usually a requirement. However, the situation doesn’t stop there. Some professions – most in fact – require the operator to continue learning over their lifetime.
Focusing only on the object is not enough to make you successful. Whether that object is a hammer, a law degree, a product or a technique, it makes no difference. You have to bring some of yourself to whatever you are doing in order for it to be of value. So: What do you bring to the party?
Some of my recent clients have come to me seeking guidance for a business or career that has stagnated. And each time my diagnosis has been the same: Stop focusing on the object and start focusing on the subject, you. Here are a few examples.
A wonderfully generous woman came to me with what she described as an energy bar business. She wanted to scale it up but didn’t have the resources or knowledge to do so. After a few sessions and trying her products, we agreed she did not have an energy bar business but a product development business. This woman has the gift of being able to make some of the most exciting flavor combinations many of us have ever tasted. Her ability to combine flavors in an unusual and unexpected way, and with an extraordinary combination of textures, makes eating her energy bars a true culinary experience. Interestingly, once we came upon this definition of her business she began to see a number of seemingly disjointed events in her life as a continuity that led her to where she is today. Over the course of her lifetime she had taken great joy from creating unusual desserts, for which many of her friends and family asked for the recipes. Similarly, she had recently been asked to develop products by three different companies. By realizing what she brought to the party, she was able to better define the value she brought to her customers and how best to serve them.
Another client came to me with a cheesecake business but, through the same exercise, understood the cheesecake was a vehicle for bringing people together, to create joyous moments of bonding or community. When he realized this was the true value he brought his customers, a whole bunch of projects he had worked on over the years began to make sense to him. He now had a way to help others to effectively communicate the joy and happiness of creating memories with those we love.
On the other hand, a client questioning his high-tech career of 15 years was unable to identify what he brought to the party and instead focused on the technology he had mastered. But when that technology was no longer in demand he could not change his focus, stumbled, and fell down the rabbit hole. This was a tough lesson he is now working his way through.
Another similar case is that of an artist who encountered a great deal of difficulty in defining her style. Until she was able to sufficiently differentiate herself from most everyone else in her profession, there was no compelling reason for potential customers to hire her.
It is challenging for most of us to see what makes us unique in a world where there is so much supply of talent. It is very difficult. Especially when we are not assisted by those around us. But, if we open our eyes and take the time to observe ourselves, we can gain the clarity necessary to define our special “X factor.” Here is the approach I use with my clients:
- What do you do every day that comes to you naturally, effortlessly?
- Have you been doing this for many years? Maybe even since you were a child?
- Have you been regularly asked by family and friends to do this for them?
- Have you done this for others but because it is so ridiculously easy for you, you would never think of asking anyone to pay you for it?
Once you can answer these four questions you will begin to see how this special ability you possess has been influencing your decisions your entire life. It has influenced your choice of educational orientation, friends, mate, how you educate your children, your work…everything. And this is normal, for nothing makes us happier – makes us feel more fulfilled – but to be in situations that allow us to express who we are. This authentic way of being is our individual “key component”, and we continuously seek out opportunities to be successful at being ourselves.
So, whether you are just being yourself with family and friends, starting a business, applying for a job, working, or in a moment of transition, answering this very challenging question will unlock a whole new way of looking at the world.
What do you bring to the party?