Photo Credit: I don’t know who took this photo, but it is from when I worked at the USM Free Press in the mid-00s and was skinny enough to wear a tight-fitting polyester shirt without a hint of irony.
I had the great pleasure of being invited to talk with the staff at the USM Free Press about how I got where I am today. I worked at the student newspaper on and off from 2000 to 2006. I first came to the paper during my last year of high school, and my final day there was punctuated with the exclamation mark of shouting match with fellow-coworkers over drama that looks petty and hilarious in retrospect. In the years that have passed I have traveled, worked in politics, activism, writing, and content production, started my own company and gotten a family up and running, and in doing so I have encountered an experience or two that informed the aforementioned conversation.
While my points were directed to an audience of student journalists, I feel the primary takeaways are applicable to a more general one, particularly in the anyone-can-have-an-audience age.
Be an interesting, compelling, and dynamic person. Really, that is the core of what I have to suggest, though it is not necessarily as simple as it sounds. In a world where most are now equipped with a series of digital megaphones, many have come to conflate the ability to express any passing thought with the innate possession of a compelling reason to do so. The result is that we are now surrounded by loud, predictable and boring sentiment nearly every place we fix our digital attention. That or controversy, though those who engage in the former and make possible the latter phenomena are typically one in the same.
To start, consume more in the way of dynamic and interesting content. Read more, watch more movies, listen to more music, have more conversations, discussions and debates and just generally be aware in your life. Do new things, meet new people, be curious. There are too many who attempt to create the illusion of possessing some great depth of experience, knowledge and taste by confusing people with big words or witty references, but this is an illusion that cannot be maintained in the long term. It works well when we are young, but becomes boring as we get older and meet people who have actually attempted to live dynamically. Beyond the fact that these things frankly make you a better person, and expand your brain space, and challenge you to consider new positions, ideas, and perspectives, this the core of what is imperative to being a worthwhile communicator in the 21st Century. It is, after all, impossible to be boring and stand out. Actually, this is not true, is it? Plenty of boring people, boring incidents, and boring occasions get a lot of attention by way of sensational presentation, but it is impossible to be proud of standing out when sensation alone is what is at the root of earning said attention.
From all of this my secondary suggestions are sourced. Set limits, maintain something of a guiding philosophy, and do your own thing. I don’t live by anything of a list of commandments, but I know that being aware of my ability to do these things has served me well. It is by learning what I can and cannot take on that I have come to set limits, and thus discovered how to be more effective and productive with regard to what I set out to do. It is by having something of a guiding philosophy that I have known when to say no and when to say yes, and which battles are worth fighting and which are best to walk away from. And it has been by way of doing my own thing, self-initiating projects, finding other ways to pull something off that naysayers suggest is not possible, or taking on a task in my own style that I have learned to stand out, often for the better. In standing out, I have forged new opportunities, made new friends, met my wife, won battles, learned about myself, and so-on. And sometimes I have been wrong, which one cannot be afraid of doing these days. Those who are afraid of being wrong hide and cheat and do stupid things that come back to haunt them, and those willing to acknowledge a mistake, apologize when necessary, be humbled, and learn something new are rewarded by living free of the fear of waiting for another shoe to drop.
All so I just live my life. There is a lot of related commentary worth touching upon, commentary with regard to how one decides to present their self online, overcoming fears that stand in the way of various successes, which battles to get involved in and how and when to do so, whether or not the concept of personal branding is as douche-y as it seems and so-on. The foundation, though, of being able to do any of this is constructed out of a willingness to expand your experience by living your life fully, by taking it all in, and by learning to stand out.
In a world in which your ideas, presentations, creations, battles, and everything in between are in competition with the latest pop controversy (not to mention other mind-blowing content), the only way to stand out come up with interesting ideas, hone your talents, be willing to experiment, get comfortable with being wrong and everything mentioned above, all of which is made possible by living this life as dynamically as is possible for you to do so.