Depending on the culture, circumstances and stage of life, people who stand out can face a number of difficulties. In Japan, for example, the phrase drummed into children from a young age is ‘The nail that stands up will be hammered down.’ (deru kui wa utareru, ?????????) A stereotypical view perhaps, but one that’s reflected in many aspects of life here.
The loudspeakers used in kindergartens (which I have never seen overseas) to keep the kids disciplined, the love of homogeneity, ranging from a hundred people wearing similar suits of the same colour to a tour group of thirty people all ordering the same meal as the group leader to maintain harmony and avoid inconveniencing the restaurant and the (occasionally unquestioning) love of rules and regulations, to name but a few.
However, this national attitude, although admirable to some extent, may well be incompatible with the increasing need for entrepreneurial thinking and new dynamism required to revive the country, its economy and its population, which is shrinking faster than anywhere else.
Back in the UK, the home of punk and many other forms of self-expression, we have a tradition of embracing and even championing individuality. Many people would advocate the opposite of the Japanese viewpoint and say ‘All nails should stand up!’
For me personally, standing out in a positive sense means ploughing your own furrow, avoiding the ‘herd mentality’ and asserting your own unique individuality as a professional.
Two of my favourite expressions that capture this approach are “thinking outside the box” and “going the extra mile.”
From a professional perspective, given the ease of access to the translation market – which is only getting easier as the price of computing and Internet access falls – standing out has never been more important.
Armed with basic language skills, a broadband connection and a list of agencies, the temptation for many is to spend hours on end e-mailing identical or minimally tweaked resumes to agencies across the planet, promising – as do many agencies– to complete almost any job on any topic. In other words, desperately seeking work and making it painfully obvious.
Adopting a generalist approach could be compared to a trawler – 90% of what it catches is often useless. Spending years doing all kinds of assignments averagely well at best rather than specialising, differentiating and distinguishing yourself and what you offer, means you are wasting precious opportunities to upgrade your skills and improve yourself.
By contrast, focusing on a few fields, two to three at most, is a more realistic and sensible approach. In my case it’s the areas of law (mainly contracts), technical (typically specifications/manuals) and finance (usually balance sheets).
Perhaps we could compare this shift to abandoning a trawler for the pursuit of expertise in angling. Focusing on what you do best and what you enjoy most is most likely to benefit you, your work and ultimately your bank balance.
Standing out is all about focusing in on the fish you really want to catch, in a pond or lake you know like the back of your hand.
You can’t be all things to all people.
This may seem obvious but the proliferation of reverse auction sites and jobs at rock bottom prices attracting mountains of offers suggest that many have yet to realise this.
With thanks to Andrew Morris for inspiring this topic