How would you feel if the keynote speaker at your graduation said there’s nothing remarkable about you?
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.
But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
Think back to your own high school or college graduation ceremonies. How would you feel if the keynote speaker took all the air out of the room by saying, quite plainly, there’s nothing remarkable about you?
I imagine graduating seniors at Wellesley High in Massachusetts were stunned last week when their English teacher David McCullough Jr. landed blow after blow to their precious egos.
“Think about this,” he said. “Even if you’re one in a million on a planet of 6.8 billion, that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.”
McCullough’s speech exposes a hard truth for this year’s grads, not to mention Millennials everywhere. We are not great just because someone says we are, and when it comes to the work world, the truly special employees consider themselves anything but.
Take, for instance, social media. Every photo that catches us in the right light, every award we receive and every big project we complete must instantly be blasted out to 847 of our closest Facebook “friends.” Then we sit by the computer and wait for the “likes” and glowing comments to pile up.
Same goes for our jobs. It’s easy to fall into a routine of doing good work to get a pat on the head from management or a shout-out on the company blog.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being complimented. It shows you’re effective at what you do and you’re helping the bottom line.
But here’s the real bottom line: working hard to get noticed is far too common these days, and with the advent of social media, it’s so easy to brag. As McCullough said, “If everyone is special, then no one is.”
Ready for the irony? Special is to receive an honor and refrain from telling the world. Special means getting a compliment from your boss, remaining humble and using it as fuel to work harder. Special involves recognizing that self-satisfaction is more meaningful than outside praise.
With so many ways to give out personal information these days, it’s almost like society demands we over-share. But fancy, new technologies can never do away with this age-old truth:
The best employees say little, do a lot and do it well.
And when it’s time for bonus season or a promotion, your boss will scan the cubicles and zero in on you.
Because you let your work do the talking, rather than seek adoration of those around you.
And that will leave your boss with just one thing to say:
“You know… that guy sure is special.”
Danny Rubin is a national news consultant for media research firm Frank N Magid Associates. He is a former television news reporter, lives in Washington, D.C. and tweets as @dannyhrubin.