Today I was listening to a podcast interview of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the interviewer brought up an interesting topic. He said that from looking at Arnold’s photographs from his first bodybuilding competition (that he won) as a teenager, he could actually assume that Arnold won that competition without looking at any of the competitors’ bodies – just by looking at the confidence in young Arnold’s face. Arnold went on to explain that from an early age, he always had a clear vision that he was going to be a world champion in bodybuilding. So when he stepped on stage, he competed as if he was already the best.
What makes people like Arnold so special? There are many factors, for sure, but we can all agree that successful people in any field have this innate characteristic that makes them stand out from the crowd. Especially in the startup world, most investors always invest in people first, idea second. They look for certain qualities that make an entrepreneur an outlier – someone that can get things done and make something happen in this world. Someone that doesn’t necessarily have a gift, but they’ve cultivated certain qualities within them over time for an investor to think, “Wow, I want to join this person on this ride.”
I have a maxim that I wrote on a sticky note and have up on a wall in my room. It reads:
YOU HAVE TO BE CRAZY TO DO CRAZY.
Put in another way, if you want to do extraordinary things within your lifetime, you have to be willing to break away from the thought and actions patterns of the average. I was masterminding this morning on this topic with a close friend of mine, and he brought up a great point – when we think of these outliers that we admire and emulate (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama, Gandhi, etc. etc), it’s very natural to think that these figures are/were gifted with character traits that only the 1% have (i.e. the “I can never be like them” mindset). I thought about it for a moment, and I took the opposite point of view – it’s actually not as hard as we think to stand out.
It doesn’t take a lot to stand out and be “special” actually. The threshold is so low. Even in the classroom for example, raising your hand puts you in the top 50%. Going to office hours puts you in the top 10%. Researching what the professor worked on in the past and cares about puts you in the top 1%. By nature, most people in groups will conform to the actions of the majority. So it doesn’t take a whole lot to stand out.
So try a thought exercise: think about what it would take to stand out in a current situation in your life that could have a positive impact. What would it take to stand out in your company? To be noticed by that investor? To impress that girl?