You probably think looking good will help you in life. You’ve read how looking good will help you become rich and find a gorgeous mate or that there are proven reasons life is better if you’re beautiful. Since Internet articles never lie, you try hard to look good.
Looking good for success, though, isn’t about being aesthetically attractive. Looking good means you embody society’s valued traits of more, faster, better.
Are you better at interviews than the other candidates? You get the job. Are you more charismatic? You get a girlfriend. Are you faster than your colleagues? You get a bonus. Given the nature of the game, though, for every one who wins, hundreds lose.
Since you work hard at looking good, consider the following: in a world where everybody is playing the more, faster, better game, what real chances do you have to stand out?
More, faster, better isn’t more, faster or better
Take a job interview. Candidates battle for an hour — probably less — to convince the hiring manager they’re more productive, more intelligent, faster workers, faster thinkers, faster money-makers, better problem-solvers, better leaders, better listeners, better at doing anything the company wants them to do.
As someone who interviews and hires people regularly, the looking good attitude is annoying. The reason is simple: I see a bunch of people who are more concerned about showing how good they are than about showing who they are. They’re all sending out the same message (“I do more stuff than any other candidate, and I do it faster and better”), which makes them look all the same.
Here’s what I do at interviews: I force the candidates to explore who they are. If they do, I hire them.
Assumption: you hide who you are
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Kate. She’d worked for Google for six years on two different markets, and her credentials were great. Her CV was good, but so were other candidates’.
I kicked off the interview asking her about herself. She listed all her work accomplishments, emphasizing her great expertise and knowledge. She was trying to beat her competition at the more, faster, better game.
I said, “Kate, I have your CV. It looks good, so stop talking about it. Instead, why do you think you’re doing so well at work?”
Her first reply was about how good she was: “I’m a perfectionist, I never fail a project, I work hard…”
I stopped her. “Hold on, Kate. Take a minute and think about my question again. Not how, but why are you doing so well?”
She threw a quick side glance at me that implied what she thought of my question, then stared at the wall for a long time. Eventually, she whispered, as if she was thinking out loud, “Why am I doing well? Because I want to be the best. I can’t fail.”
I continued, “Think of the first time you remember failing in life. I want you to describe it to me. Where were you? What happened?”
After several minutes of silence, she told me how, at age 15, she flunked an important test at school while all her friends passed. She said, “I felt like a failure.”
“So you failed and all your friends passed. What does it say about you?” I asked.
She kept looking away. Then she spoke softly, “I’m not good enough. I’m not as good as others are. That’s why I need to be the best.”
And there it was. Her why.
I just want to be liked. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.
Deep down, all of us have a similar story that doesn’t make us look good. We’re so ashamed that we build a wall to hide it from the world. Talking about her long list of accomplishments was Kate’s way to hide from others what she really thought of herself.
Kate showed incredible courage in exploring who she really was. Her courage is the one trait that separated her from the rest of the crowd, more than any achievement on a CV could have ever done.
Screw looking good
Here’s the morale of the story: In a world where everybody plays the more, faster, better game, one more player won’t make any difference. (Click to Tweet!) Chances are, nobody will even notice you’re there. If that’s your strategy to get rewarded, good luck.
But there’s another way. It’s scary because it takes you to a place you worked so hard to keep from others. In this place, you don’t do more, faster, better — and you surely don’t look good — but you’ll find the answer to the question, “Why do you do what you do?”
Once you know the answer to that question, tell everybody.
If it’s scary to you, it’s probably scary to others, too. But here’s the difference between you and the rest of the crowd: you do things others can’t.
Alex Dogliotti, PhD, is the European Director of Learning and Development at ReachLocal, Inc. He blogs about standing out of the crowd on Stuckaholic. Connect with him via LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, or just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.