Figuring out what you have to offer the world is far more effective -- and more fun -- than following in someone else’s footsteps.

We say things like, “It’s my time to shine,” and “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” and all those other fun quips and adages. But at the heart of each saying is the same message: “Get off my back!”

We all have our own style, signature and colored lens to look at the world. It’s a gift, so find your own voice, embrace it and stop trying to be like someone else. At least, that’s what we often think about people who steal our ideas, criticize us unfairly or watch us just a little too closely. We tell people like that to stop hatin’!

But what happens when we become the haters? I don’t mean on someone else, but on ourselves. What should we do if we find ourselves dumbing down our ideas to gain others’ approval, or tearing down the personal brand we’ve established for ourselves, or nit-picking at every little thing we do wrong because we saw someone else do something that looks better?

You’ve got to tell yourself to stop hatin’!

As an emerging professional, it’s super important to find mentors and other people in your field who are where you want to be. But the most successful people haven’t gotten where they are because they CC’d themselves after someone else. Driven and successful people glean from other successful people, but they learn to adapt new ideas and fuse it into the plans they’ve already set for their lives, both personally and professionally.

Ready to embrace the you that others should want to follow? Here’s how:

Establish or review your personal brand

You can’t really make plans to go anywhere in life until you know who you are and where you want to go. Reading the how-to books and blogs like this one are great, but if you don’t know who you are, you’ll just be spinning your wheels.

Your brand is your personal manifesto. It’s your thesis statement. It’s what you want to be known for. It’s a succinct summary of your values and goals. As you assess the types of projects you engage in and the direction you want to move in for your career, match that to your brand.

Are you being true to what you want? Does your brand reflect your priorities? If you find yourself busy with a bunch of activities that don’t meet your goals, that’s a pretty good sign you might be headed in the wrong direction.

Identify your niche and expand your knowledge

Assess your interests, knowledge and experience. Ask yourself what you’re most passionate about, then start to focus on those areas — which means most of what you read, blog about or get involved in professionally should support those interests.

Join professional associations and Linkedin groups that reflect those interests, and get involved in conversations in those online hubs. Don’t pass up opportunities to learn more and interact with others who know more than you, so that you can start to add that information to your skill box.

Become an authority in your field

Now that you’re soaking up all this awesome information and growing and developing as a professional, don’t be stingy! It’s time to share what you know.

Offer yourself as a resource. You can do this within your professional circles by presenting at conferences, starting a blog and creating content that answers questions most people in your field want to know, or by launching a listserv, throwing out introspective topics that let your peers know you’re a focused thinker and a leader, and that you truly care about what you do.

This helps to build your reputation on the playground, so to speak. Before you know it, someone else will be gleaning insight from you.

So don’t sleep on what you have to offer. Self-evaluation is worthwhile, and we should always be looking for ways to bring fresh ideas to the table. But don’t ever compromise who you are for the sake of keeping up with the guy next door. If you do, you’ll likely never advance beyond that neighbor.

Christina Wood is an admissions counselor at Harrisburg Area Community College. She blogs at Community College Voice and is a contributing writer to The LI$T. Tweet Christina @ChristinaW82.

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