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You Do You

Jack Black confidently strode onstage at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors wearing a black tuxedo and grinning from ear to ear as he stepped up to the microphone and pronounced Led Zeppelin the greatest band of all time. That took guts, but he owned it. I think we can all agree that Jack Black is talented and successful, he’s also not what you would call a classic Hollywood star. He’s not tall, thin, or handsome (in the classic sense), and yet… there’s something special there. What is it? It’s that he owns who he is. He basically says, here I am, take it or leave it, but I’m cool with me. This article is about embracing who we are and trying to be the best version of ourselves. We do this by not competing with or comparing ourselves to others, and not complaining about what we have or don’t have—or blaming anyone for any shortcomings. Instead, we own who we are and accept the things we can’t change. If we were all true to who we are we could live a lot happier lives. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to better ourselves, but I am saying we should embrace our best selves and the things we must live with.

In my series of books for Random House, written to help creative people master the business side of the arts, most of the fan mail I received was about how the books validated their right-brain tendencies and by embracing them they were happier and better off. For an example, I made the case in the books that piling papers with a purpose and projects in progress should be left out, and confirmed it didn’t make them any less organized than someone who puts everything away—things get lost in drawers and filing cabinets all the time. I was saying, “You do you” and work with your natural tendencies.

My advice is to pay attention to what feels natural to you and when you’re at your best. Just because “experts” tout that there is magic in the morning, but you do your best work in the afternoon (or at midnight) doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. The same goes if you like to start the day with some wins by taking on an easy task or two. You just need to warm up and there’s nothing wrong with that. If, when you walk in the door you drop everything in a certain place, put a bin or basket there so it seems more organized.

Also, if we take responsibility for what’s not gone the way we wanted it to and own it, we gain some sense of control and can make better choices and do something different and better down the road. It turns us from victims to people with the power to create better outcomes for ourselves.

After I left SkillPath seminars and went out on my own I began working with an agent who helps speakers like myself get bookings. We had a great run together, but she signed several new speakers and work from her all but stopped. I blamed her for what happened, but I should have moved on much sooner than I did. I also should have stepped up my own marketing and promotion efforts right when I realized what was happening because once I did, everything turned around.

It would be nice if we were able to wait until everything was just right to start on something we want to do. It’s far better to act and react and do the best we can with what we have now. Perfection lead to procrastination and procrastination leads to frustration. If, like Indiana Jones did in The Last Crusade, we just take a leap of faith and know that what we need will be there when we need it—or we’ll find a way—we can get a head start on others and make things happen faster.

I’m sure you’ve had this happen. You have an idea for a better way to do something or a new product or service, but you don’t do anything with it and then see the same thing ion a store shelf or advertised on TV. It hurts. It happens to me all the time. For example, the Lume line of products (for body odor “down there”) was something I came up with a few years earlier. (In their ads they even say, “Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?” I scream at the TV every time I hear that, “I did!”) I have to own the fact I had a million dollar idea but didn’t act on it. Since we spend a big portion of our lives working, it would seem we would want to do something for a living we love—or at least like. From what I have found is that the happiest working professionals do the kind of work they are best suited for and they use their strengths some or all of the time. When we’re good at something, we like it a whole lot better than when we’re mediocre or bad. The problem can be that what we love to do doesn’t pay as well as something we settle for because of the salary.

I grapple with this all the time. I really enjoy writing (look at the length of this article for instance) and yet, it doesn’t pay the bills. Fortunately, I also love creating custom speeches, designing slides, and then getting up on a stage to deliver the presentation. I love everything about it, but I’ve come to realize the groups I prefer to speak to don’t have the biggest budgets. I’ve chosen to not worry about then money and do what suits my strengths and is the best fit.

Like Jack Black, I’ve put on a few pounds, and I’m not what many expect a motivational speaker to look like (unless you picture Matt Foley in a van down by the river). However, I recently said, “Screw it” and walked on stage in front of 1,000 people like I owned the place and you know what, it felt good. Really good.

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