What do you want to be known for?
Establishing legitimacy is perhaps the most sought-after of professional goals.
The problem is that we tend to approach this objective in a bit of a backwards way.
Too often we ask ourselves, “What do I want to be known for?” as some type of theoretical exercise. We wonder, what’s the idealized future state version of myself that I want to see? What, exactly, can I do to become the expert or the specialist? What does it take become the one that other people call? Do I need to blog more? Speak at a few big conferences? Oooh, I know maybe I just need a new certification.I’m so close, you might think. What am I missing? There must be just a few missing pieces that stands between me today and me as the lauded, global subject matter expert. But what?
Of course, this line of questioning is not only impossible but fuels only more anxiety. Instead of channeling motivation, we channel obsession. Rather than get to work, we make lists. Long, never-ending ones with a litany of dreamy skills and achievements that serve only to show us everything we lack.
Then we stare all of these incomplete conquests, of all the things we want but don’t yet have. And rather than inspire us to get to work, they only make us sadder. “Here’s a list of everything you are not.” It stares you straight in the face. You have a long, long way to go.
All in all, this is a pretty demoralizing process.
There’s a better way, of course. Rather than seek legitimacy in a future state version of ourselves, it’s likely that we’re all already at least a little legit – just as we are.
The trouble is, if you spend too much time thinking about what you’re not, you forget to notice what you’ve already got.
The notoriety you already have
I believe everyone is an expert in something.
It might be that you know all of the hacks it takes to get someone to read and respond to a cold email. Or maybe you’ve spent the past few years teaching elementary robotics to schoolkids. Maybe, through a series of negative work horror stories, you know exactly what not to look for in a new job.
No matter what your laundry list of past experiences looks like (including all of those seemingly random pivots), there’s a story embedded there. Telling that story is what makes you legit, just as you are.
It’s hard – maybe impossible – to look objectively at your own story and identify the patterns. It’s always easier for me to tell someone else’s story than to tell my own. Sometimes it takes an experience like the one I had recently, where you sit in front of a room and watch the collective brains around the table suddenly “click” into recognition as you introduce yourself. Other times, it might take a friend or colleague to reflect your own story back on you.
Rather than fixate on what you don’t yet have, spend a little time deconstructing the pieces of your story so far. Done correctly, it can be an incredibly worthwhile, cathartic and liberating exercise.
In the end, you may be surprised to find that you’re more legit than you think.