I routinely have identity crises. It likely stems from my nomadic life, marrying young, divorcing young, and having two degrees in English.
Who am I?
How am I going to make a mark on this world?
Am I known for anything?
If you're anything like me, maybe you have these questions rolling around in your head too. I think it's important to be known for something, to be recognized as the go-to person for certain things. It makes you feel useful and better understood. Call it a niche or a personality trait, but you have a great deal of control over how people perceive you and what they come to you for.
One of my professors once announced to the class that the best way to dodge responsibility is to mess up the first task you're given. Then no one will bother you with more tasks. Yes, these are my role models, folks. Anyway, he was right, but the street goes both ways. I can't tell you who you should be, but I can offer some suggestions for making an impact.
1. Take inventory. How do people see you now? Make some guesses based on your current behaviors or ask a few trusted friends. How would you like to be seen? How can you get from where you are now to where you'd like to be?
2. Routines. It all starts here. Whatever it is you want to be known for, you have to make it a regular, predictable activity. If you want to be known for being active, for example, then you have to do active things on a regular basis. People who you think of as active weren't born that way; their routine behavior defines them.
3. Habits. Similar to routines, but more like things we do reflexively rather than routinely. These are a little harder because they are reflexive or instinctive, but we still have some control over them. There are good habits you can develop and bad habits you can avoid. It's up to you to define those. Some people have the habit of saying "um" or "like" while they're speaking. Trying not to say them will probably make it worse, but figuring out what triggers those words and working on developing a better replacement habit can make a person known for being a good speaker or known for being more confident and knowledgeable.
4. Hobbies. I've written about the importance hobbies before, and I stand by it. Too often, we spend our leisure time on mindless activities, and these do very little for our character. If people know that you are actively involved in music as a hobby, for example, then they might come to you for requests to play at a party or to give them lessons. People will understand you differently when they see you in this other context. Just recently, one of my many bosses saw me with my knitting group. When I ran into her at the school afterwards, we struck up an entirely non-work-related conversation that left us both with a better understanding of each other.
5. Quirks. You have to decide at what point your quirk is really just a bad habit, but generally a quirk is a slightly annoying, slightly strange, but mostly lovable characteristic. Embrace these quirks.
6. Details. As you become more comfortable with the image you want to project, this might happen naturally, but the idea is to surround yourself with people and items that reflect who you are and how you want others to see you. These are the little details that warm people up to you. Maybe it's a certain color or fragrance you like to wear. There's an instructor at my college who always has with her a travel mug with photos of her (I assume) children and grandchildren on it, and although my first impression of her was not very good, this was a detail that made me think she was probably pretty approachable after all. If you have an idea of how you'd like to be known, it's easier to figure out the details.
7. Opportunities. Take advantage of opportunities that will showcase the features you'd like to be known for. If you want to be known as, say, a good listener, then take every opportunity to practice good listening skills. Again, this is something you have control over. And it's okay to tell people that there's some skill you're working on and would like more practice with. They can help!
8. Conflict. So far, I've been assuming that these scenarios are happening in safe, pressure-free, and conflict-free environments, but that's not always going to be the case. If you're trying to put your best foot forward in all instances, the true test of your character is how you act under stress. Who you are in uncomfortable situations says a lot about who you are in any situation. When you feel stressed, try to take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, "How do I want to feel right now? How can I make my actions show that?" Once again, it's okay to tell people that you're feeling stressed.
Overall, this list is all about letting others in to your life and showcasing the dynamic person you already are. What other advice would you give someone for making their mark?