First off, you need to identify what makes you unique and what makes you valuable…
What makes you unique?
You are the only you in the entire universe. The experiences you’ve had, the decisions you’ve made, the little quirks and nuances that decorate your existence are exclusive to you and you alone. That being said, you can’t just be different, you have to stand out. Doing this requires a deep understanding of yourself. It also requires you to be brutally honest and open about what you find during this process.
Try this: play your entire life back in your mind as if it were the plot of a movie or novel. Of course, some things will be embellished, shortened, or missed entirely, but that’s not the point. As you’re replaying your story to yourself, pay close attention to what sticks out. What particular moments define who you are today? Do you see any recurring themes or motifs? What is the primary driver behind the way you currently lead your life? If you can distill the most compelling aspects of your life into a few key values or messages, then you’ll end up with a rough idea of what others will find compelling about you, too.
Once you’ve taken a good look at yourself, take a look at the things you love. What you love is important because it takes a lot of passion in order to make this work, and trust me, you’ll need as much as you can grab. The sum total of what you love says a lot about who you are and is something totally unique to you, so use what you love as a resource. Look at the things that make you get up in the morning, the objects, people, and ideas that truly move you to take action. Pay attention to what you share. If you love something enough, you want the world to know. Think about what would make people want to share whatever you do in that same manner. People will buy in to what you do if it connects to them in some way or another. Chances are, there’s a lot of people out there who love some of the same things you do. If you let your passion and what you love bleed into your work, what you’ll find is that people—complete strangers a lot of the time—will start loving it alongside you.
Finally, look at other people who have gone down the road you’re planning on taking. There are a lot of strong, unique personal brands out there that have found tremendous success by providing their expertise to thousands of others. Off the top of your head, what are the first three names that come to mind whenever you think about your chosen field? If you couldn’t think of any, just google the people that are doing what you want to be doing, then learn as much as you can from them. See how they differentiate themselves and stand out; why did they pop up first in your head/search results?
What makes you valuable?
Now that you’ve listed all of the reasons you are undeniably unique and one-a-kind, I need you to come to terms with one thing: no one really cares.
Okay, I might be overreacting a bit, but the point is you can’t do anything with your rare and wonderful self unless people see value in what you can offer. You can be the most unique snowflake in the room, but in the world of work, a client is going to choose the person who’s going to do the job right over the person who’s going to do it different. That’s why the second part of finding out your superpower is identifying what makes you not only valuable, but downright necessary.
Start by assessing what you already know. If you’re at the point in your life where you feel comfortable enough to start establishing your personal brand, you probably have some sort of expertise in something already. Whether you learn your chops at school or out in the real world, if you’re going to be successful, you need to have a marketable skill that you can leverage. Own the trades and talents that you have access to right now; don’t try and master a new skill just because it seems fun to do or looks “in demand”. Don’t follow the money; chase what you’re good at and the money will follow you.
A good way to think about this is to look back to the times that your friends or family have specifically asked you for something. What was the thing that you and only you could provide, and how did your friends decide that? What makes you that “go-to” person for ______? Or, if you see the people around you going to others for what they need, do you feel like you can do a better job than what’s already out there?
Sometimes you’ll have a number of different skills you are proficient in. Sometimes you’ll only have one skill. You might not have one at all and that’s perfectly okay. What matters is that we are human beings and we are all learning on a continual basis. So just go out and do stuff. Experiment with new hobbies. Keep an open mind and a curious spirit, and if you find something you really enjoy, don’t let anything hold you back from doing it.
Having a skill isn’t enough. In today’s competitive workplace, it pays off to truly invest in your craft. Honing your skills through practice and learning is how you can further leverage what you do. Read books on your subject, listen to podcasts, watch webinars and videos, and use as many free resources as you can. Eventually, however, you’ll get to a point where the only option to move forward with your trade is to pay some money for equipment/software/certification, and that’s okay. Figure out what’s worth getting and how much you’ll actually use what you pay for. Seeking guidance isn’t a sign of incompetency; a true expert knows that there’s always room for improvement. Just make sure you make the right improvements.
How to become essential
Being essential is finding the perfect mix of what makes you unique and what makes you valuable, then leveraging whatever that is to your advantage. At the intersection of who you are (your uniqueness) and what people need (your value) is your personal brand. This is your superpower, your gift to the world.
It’s up to you to figure out who needs this gift and which of those people would be particularly attracted to how you share it. Surround yourself with those that hold up your values, who love what you love. Put yourself in situations where you can serve a need that someone has.
Coworking spaces and open offices are the perfect places to do this. A coworking space has all the amenities people need to run their businesses, with the added community aspect that has members sharing their skills, talents, and business leads with everyone else in the space. It’s the perfect environment for fostering opportunities to grow and market your brand. If you’re not sure coworking is the right way to go, you can join your local networking group, find relevant events in your area, or simply talk to someone you’ve never met before at a coffee shop. You’re not going to become essential to anyone if you don’t go out into the world.
In Reno, Nevada, where I live, there are plenty of opportunities and resources available for those looking to become self-starters. The Reno community is intensely involved with entrepreneurship, with programs like 1 Million Cups, Entrepreneur’s Assembly, and coworking spaces like Fusion@Midtown Premier Coworking. Your city might not have this culture and support in place already, but it’s not difficult to start your own meet-up group of like-minded individuals. Think outside of the box, and if you see that there isn’t much to offer in your area, there are online groups, web classes, and google hangouts that can connect you to your tribe from anywhere in the world.
Once you’ve build up a bit of a network, forge relationships with the people that you serve. Help them out however you can, even if there’s no immediate financial return. If you’re coworking somewhere, ask around if anyone needs your services and talk through the challenges they’re going through right now. Give people a little taste of what you can do, then when they ask for the whole cake, don’t be afraid to put a dollar amount to it. People buy what they see as crucial to their immediate needs. Help them imagine you as the solution to their problem, and the only solution that can do it the way you do. Ultimately it’s up to you to paint that picture for them. But if you can own what makes you stand out and excel, then prove it with your actions, the image will be that much more clear and focused. Don’t sell what you do, sell who you are.