What Makes You Exceptional?

Do you know what makes you exceptional?

If you do are you frequently and fearlessly expressing your exceptionality?

Here’s my theory of exceptionality. We increase the probability of creating a life of freedom, fulfillment and financial prosperity to the degree that we are willing to express our exceptionality.

I hope you’ll agree, that the best of both worlds, would be if we could all be paid very well, simply for being who we really are. When we take action from the core of our uniqueness then it’s an easier action leveraged by our inherent assets.

But it seems like so many have gotten so far off-track that even if offered a great reward simply for being completely authentic – they may not be able to collect. Could you? If a foundation sought you out and made an offer of $100,000 just for being 100% who you are, for one week, would you collect?

In order to collect you’d have to choose to fearlessly express your exceptionality every time it ran smack into cultural conformity.

In order to collect you’d need to express your odd behaviors, personality quirks and peculiarities without regard for societal norms.

Could you do that? Would you be willing to risk becoming a cultural outcast to collect the hundred grand? If yes, I salute you. If you would not be willing, what stops you from expressing yourself completely? Haven’t you noticed that most of us are obsessed with the uniqueness of celebrity while personally reeking of conformity?

Identifying and expressing ones exceptionality is an essential key to self-employment success. The market is way too crowded to hold back and expect success. We’ve got to let our exceptionality rip so that our unique voice can be heard. I call that guy my Wild Tommy. He’s the part of me who doesn’t give a hoot what others think. He just shows up and lets it all hang out.

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

– Dr. Seuss

Cultural conformity is a fear-based limitation that tells us what we are supposed to do. There are no rules and there are no sacred things that we are supposed to do.

“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas A. Edison

Somewhere we lost our way and allowed appropriateness to crush our wildness. Do you think that’s why it seems like we have to work so hard to get what we want? I do. Somehow we have lost the inspirational example of our natural world and replaced it with lots of effort. Whistling while we work is natural. It’s how life gets to be when we express all of who we are. Isn’t wholeness the meaning of integrity? So what’s with all this pretending?

Perhaps we simply need to check the validity of our decisions on how alive they make us feel? Does it really need to be more complicated than that?

“Don’t ask what the world needs – ask what makes you come alive and go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

What can you do to express your exceptionality more? A good first step would be to discover it. You can discover it by answering some questions designed for that purpose.

I’m curious, what do you think? Could expressing our exceptionality more frequently be the key to creating the life we most want to live?


  1. Clem Gigliotti Jr. says:

    How often I used to look in the mirror and wonder who the hell that person is staring back at me. Your article brings me to the verge of tears, as I look back with such gratitude at all the things I have learned and come to understand about the power of being true to, above everyone else, myself first.

    Clem Gigliotti Jr.s last blog post..We Had a Website Once

  2. Expressing my exceptionality more frequently certainly has been the key to creating the life I most want to live…and I’m nowhere near done yet! Great article!

    Suzanne Bird-Harris | Learning Curve Coachings last blog post..Tell Me What’s True for You

  3. Like Clem, I didn’t know who I was for many years. Now that I know who I am, expressing what I am exceptional at is a lot of fun.

    Patricia – Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworkers last blog post..Tag—You’re It—Another Meme

  4. I become more wild with each day! I enjoy life more, and I certainly make more money that way. As I work with coaching clients on mastering the keys to drive their points home through speaking and writing, I find that the freedom to make mistakes is essential to expressing each person’s uniqueness.

    Thanks for the helpful article!

  5. Hey Tom,

    I love the new look of the site. You’ve been working hard.

    “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

    I love this quote because it’s so true. We need to stop worrying about what other people think and let our true selves come out. It’s the only way we can be truly happy. I used to be very nervous at work, worrying about what other people said about me. I soon realized that I can’t stop it, but I can change my perspective, so I stopped caring. The only thing that mattered was doing a good job. This helped me let go of all my frustrations and work became enjoyable. It was a welcome change.

    Karl Staib – Your Work Happiness Matterss last blog post..How You Are Silently Signaling Your Co-workers to Treat You

  6. I have a note card taped up in my home office that says, “the only barrier to growth is pretense.” (A friend of mine said that in passing once and I’ve never forgotten it).

    Whenever I find myself feeling disconnected from my true nature (for lack of a better description), I start scouring my life to find the pretense that’s holding me back. It’s always there and rooting it out is always worth the effort.

  7. Hey there, Wild Tom.

    This is something that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about lately. I’ve tended to censor myself somewhat in my writing. But no more. You can’t give a damn about what other people think, because ultimately, you have to be doing this for you. Being yourself, you’ll become much more accessible and people will be able to relate to you more easily. People want to talk to people, not machines.

    Jonathan Meads last blog post..The Cult of Productivity & the Art of Purposeless Living

  8. Great article, Tom (or should that be Wild Tommy?!).

    I’ve always stood out because of the colour of my hair (I call it auburn, but it’s really kind of a red-gold-blonde-dark blend) – luckily no-one was ever nasty to me about it and most people (including other children) complimented me on it, so I always had the sense that unique was good!

    I remember once, during university when I had quite a few courses with Arts students, someone asking me why I was dressed so “normally”… in a sea of so many students all trying to stand out so much that they actually all looked the same (think dreadlocks, nose-rings, tie-die, henna etc), dressing “normally” was actually the only way I could find to stand out 🙂 . (I was actually a Commerce faculty student (since they administered the Organisational Psychology majors), but I didn’t fit in there either fashion-wise – not trendy enough!)

    That said, although I’ve never minded standing out physically, I used to be fairly timid about expressing my opinions, especially the more woo-woo ones 🙂 . It took me a while, but I’m much (much!) more comfortable with that now… I think I may just have a shot at that $100 000 😉

  9. Tim Brownson says:

    Can I agree with you, Jonathan AND Shann? Yeh of course I can, it’s a forum.

    I am getting edgier with my blog. I subscribed to the myth that you can’t talk about certain issues. Well quite frankly I don’t care anymore. If somebody spots I don’t like Republican policies, woopy-do. The moment we compromise we end up being nothing and satisfying neither ourselves nor our readers.

    Tim Brownsons last blog post..How To Change Your Attitude

  10. Hi Tom!

    I agree with you and Jonathan.

    Here’s to cultivating and flaunting our originality.

    What you see is what you get … Honey!
    -The great Flip Wilson

    shanns last blog post..Unconventional Inspiration

  11. Lance Snow says:

    I am laughing out loud! I JUST came to a bit of a revelation moments before I read this article! And, I made a comment to my wife that it seems to me that I have taken a several year detour away from being who I really am and who I am meant to be. Clem said it best at the top of the comments… I too have looked in the mirror over the last couple years and asked who that was staring back at me. This just proves to me that I have been holding back most of what makes me exceptional. It feels like I have been hiding from the world… when I should be sharing my exceptionality freely with all! I don’t know exactly why I have been holding back… cultural comfortmity or pressure to be “normal”? Maybe it is just that I tried to fit into the mold of companies and rather than embrace my exceptionality and make those situations fit me, I forced myself into their molds thus suffocating my exceptionality. Whatever it is, I feel like doing some long overdo expressing. 🙂 Watch out world, here I come!

    Thank you!

    Best regards,

  12. Kenneth King says:

    Cara – I love that quote about pretense. It is so true and ties in perfectly with what Tom is saying about cultural conformity. Fear is why we so often default to things like conformity and pretense – things which don’t serve us well but that we perceive will keep us “safe”. But let’s face it, most of us have found out that playing it safe really sucks. No authenticity, no growth, and no true sense of fulfillment is the price we pay for giving in to fear. I appreciate people like “Wild Tom” and Tim Brownson (see above) for having the courage to express themselves the way they do for encouraging others to do the same.

    Kenneth Kings last blog post..Life Coaching and Improv Comedy

  13. Hi Tom,

    Once again, you’ve hit upon something extremely important for all of us to realize: the price of conformity is conformity. So many of us hammer down that nail when it pops up because we learned that to get along one must go along. Wrong! What you’re saying is that until we find what makes us exceptional (and each of has something that is truly exceptional), we don’t really live.

    When I was growing up my mother used to say, “What will the neighbors say?” whenever we got loud or drew great pictures with chalk on the sidewalk or sang a song with too much gusto. She tamped us down and essentially shut us up. And shut off the exceptional beings my siblings and I were. So I think your call for exceptionality is one of the most important messages any of us can hear or read.

    Thanks, Tom, for another nugget of insight,


  14. Clem the mirror is a wonderful tool to confirm our authenticity and to congratulate ourselves for living form the core of who we are. You tear up because you’ve come home to yourself and these kind of joyful connections are wonderfully affirming. Good show man.

    Suzanne most of us do have lots of room remaining when it comes to flexing that muscle of exceptionality. Like you say frequency is the key.

    Patricia like you, I was once lost and found myself. For decades I lived an unaware, unexamined life that seems so shallow in retrospect. But it certainly feels good to be enjoying this full bore living now. 🙂

    Hey Wild Bonnie the freedom to make mistakes is so essential for our growth. Without that permission we stunt ourselves. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Karl it sounds like you’ve come along way in the “don’t give a damn what others think” department. That’s great man; it’s such a lighter way to live.

    Cara welcome and thank you for the great quote. It is so powerful and covers so much. I started to look for areas where it might not apply and I couldn’t find any. Pretty cool beans!

    Mags I’m so pleased that you’re speaking your mind and have come all the way out of the closest regarding your more “out there” beliefs. Faking it or holding back is so much work and takes so much energy.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Works last blog post..What Makes You Exceptional?

  15. Jonathan I’m so encouraged that you have decided to no longer censor yourself. Fear not man, express away – those who love you and are stimulated for your original views will come.

    Shann you go girl! Flaunt your bad ass self!

    Lance hold back, no more. Quit hiding. You and others like you in these comments are a great inspiration to the many silent folks who are afraid to make their move. Please come back and tell us how your newfound determination to express your true self turns out.

    Dorothy you made me laugh with that “what will the neighbors think” story about your Mom. My Mom remains a big proponent of worrying about what “they” will say, even when she doesn’t respect “they”. That fearful thinking is kind of nuts. Thank God for family. My brothers and I have made a habit of saying the hell with the neighbors. Even in our fifties we enjoy giving them something to talk about. 🙂

    Tim no compromises – free speech all the way! I also have held back even slipping in anything remotely political. But no more, the hell with false correctness. You’ve inspired me. Go Obama! There I said it.

    Kenneth “playing it safe really sucks”. Well summed up my friend. Thanks for your support and poignant comment.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Works last blog post..What Makes You Exceptional?

  16. Tom,

    I really enjoyed this post. For me, it’s a matter of giving myself permission to be who I am, versus waiting for someone else to invite me to express myself.

    I’m not always good at this, either. I wish I could say I am, but I often suppress myself to make sure I fit in, and then regret it later! Your post is a great reminder of what I need to work on.


  17. The best love is self love! This is a great article about being true to yourself and being who you are. The key to an emotionally happy and healthy life starts with knowing what makes you exceptional. Having a high self esteem.

    Please visit my blog http://www.DOCintheBiz.com/blog and view my articles on self esteem. I would love to do a link exchange with you as I feel we both have much to offer people in way to live happy!

    Dr. KC

  18. Wild Tommy huh? Go for it!

    When we were doing the high end juried art and craft shows with our jewelry all over the country, we got to see a vast sea of mediocrity in much of the jewelry offerings at the shows.

    People don’t whip out their credit cards for a vast sea of mediocrity. But build some wild and unusual jewelry and they sure will. I made some outrageous pieces, like a ring with a 64 ct fantasy cut stone the cutter thought would be put in a neckpiece.

    And the ring I made with it, although extremely large, was graceful, airy, and comfortable, no small feat with the size of the thing. Sold to a lady who loved it, after it stirred a lot of attention in our booth.

    I did a lot of enjoyable jewelry designs during those years, and sold them all.

    So, skip boring mediocre ordinary and just go for the really fun good stuff! Works for jewelry and for life!


    Lexi of Creative Energiess last blog post..Carnival of Creative Growth #27

  19. I’m very glad I subscribed to your RSS feed awhile back. This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.

    I’ve never been what one would call a conformist, but I’m not as “wild” as I used to be. Alot of that was rebelling against ‘what are the neighbors going to think.’ My poor mother! Thankfully for her, she doesn’t care so much about that anymore and she can get pretty wild.

    I’m about 10 1/2 months away from an early retirement. Being this close is both a little scary and very exciting. I will wear an exceptional (and extravagant) color of purple and love every minute of it!


    Cheryls last blog post..Making A Living Without A Job

  20. Well, it depends on what you’re after. If you want a career in the corporate world, then no, you shouldn’t express yourself to the degree of disregarding social norms. But if you want to be self employed, especially in creative fields, then yes, of course, letting your true personality shine through would help you be more successful.

    I think I am somewhere in the middle. 🙂

    Vereds last blog post..A Peek Into My Portfolio: 5 Great International Funds

  21. Erek yes I often need to give myself permission to let it rip as well. Isn’t it interesting that we need to consciously remember or cue ourselves to remember to be who we really are? Our conditioning has been so engrained that we need to practice being authentic until it feels natural once more.

    Dr. KC thanks for stopping by. I’ll check out your blog soon. Knowing what makes us exceptional is key to a happy life because we don’t have to expend so much energy in pretense.

    Lexi I love your story about the outrageous jewelry. You obviously went with your whims and were rewarded. Go for it indeed without regard for what others may say or think.

    Cheryl since you’ll soon be joining the ranks of the self-employed you might as well dust off that wildness. You’ll need it and you’ll have much more fun that way.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Works last blog post..What Makes You Exceptional?

  22. Vered you have pointed out quite clearly the difference between being employed in the corporate world and being free as a self-employed individual. I don’t want to live my life according to anyone else’s idea of what one should or should not do. Your comment made me realize that I don’t often write thinking about folks who are happily employed.

    Thanks for stopping by. Before your visit I hadn’t considered that exceptionality even had a middle ground. 🙂

  23. Hi Tom,

    “Cultural conformity is a fear-based limitation” — right on! One thing we can ask ourselves when we’re “stuck” is “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” That’s helped me several times to transition to whatever came next.

    I think fate had me find your post, b/c I just read a book called “The Woman’s Field Guide to Exceptional Living” by Corrie Woods. It certainly has helped me further define, refine and design the life I want to be living, now that I am an empty nester. Sorry, but while the book is really written for women, Tom, I just had to include it in this excellent discussion.

    It’s a little book with a lot of heart, and I couldn’t put it down — a perfect blend of practical advice and deep wisdom. Woods also has a section on her site about inspirational women that is worth reading over as well.

    So glad I “happened upon” your blog. 🙂


  24. Linda thanks for visiting, I’ve used that question myself. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It really does free things up so our imaginations can work in unlimited fashion. I hope fate brings you back as well.


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