There is no level playing field in life, despite the popularity of schools, companies, and services jubilantly claiming, “We create a level playing field!”
Please. Who are you kidding?
You can’t go through life as if you are playing a board game by the rules. Making sure that everyone is playing fair, and that no one has an unfair advantage over anyone else. Life doesn’t work that way.
There are so many variables that influence your success in life. Variables in who you are. Variables in your culture and environment. Variables in the workplace. Variables in your boss. Variables in the work you do. And an infinite combination of variables in the people around you and the way you interact with each other.
It is impossible to create an absolutely level playing field for everyone. On top of it all, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t leverage every single advantage that you have. The world is challenging enough without you hobbling yourself out of some naive sense of fair play.
Play as hard as you can
I remember a conversation with my children about natural talent, strengths, weaknesses, and being able to compete with others. This would sometimes come up during soccer season, usually starting with, “It’s not fair. He’s bigger than I am.”
I would have to remind them that life isn’t fair. No one can promise that life will ever be fair. Yes, there will be kids on the field who are stronger than you, and they can’t hold back that strength or somehow have it limited in the interest of a “level playing field.”
So, I said, “He may be bigger than you, but you are faster.”
He replied, “What if someone is bigger and faster than you are?”
“Well, in life there will always be people who are bigger or stronger than you, but you are faster. Someone might be faster than you, but you are stronger than he or she is. And, someone might be bigger, faster, and stronger, so you have to be smarter.”
Of course, my son said, “What if someone is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than you are?”
So I said, “Well, then I hope that you are better-looking.”
I was teasing him, a little bit. But, I’m not joking when I say that you need to stop holding back. You need to use your own “special sizzle” to create your own unfair advantage. You don’t get to reset the game board at the end of your life and play harder next time. This is your one shot. You get one game. One ride.
Obviously, be a decent person. Don’t be cruel, ruthless, or do terrible things to get ahead. But, play as hard as you can with what you’ve been given and what you’ve earned. Leverage every ounce of your natural talent, strengths, hard-earned skills, knowledge, and experience to succeed.
What is your unfair advantage?
There is nothing wrong with using your supposedly unfair advantages to succeed in your career and life. Believe me, no one else is going to dedicate their life to helping make you successful every step of the way. You’ll be on your own and have to earn it.
Use every tool in your Toolbox of You to succeed. Attract with sizzle, but retain with substance. I’m going to call bullsh*t if you huff and puff and say that you don’t notice sizzle. We vote for tall presidential candidates. Pretty people make more money than others (12% more). We even find attractive people to be more persuasive.
Do people find you attractive? If so, don’t be shy about it and feel like this is something you need to suppress to level the playing field. Embrace it, be thankful, and recognize that people may treat you as more capable, whether you are or not.
Do you have a deep, warm voice? Would you believe that a decrease of 25% in voice pitch (i.e., a deeper voice) is associated with an increase of $187K in annual salary for CEOs? For men, there is often a positive correlation between having a deeper voice and greater success in business and politics.
Do you have a great smile? If so, know that people will tend to find you more attractive when you smile (vs. not), and they can’t help but react to your smile and often they will smile back (thus changing their own brain chemistry).
Are you really funny? A good storyteller? Do you make friends easily? Do you naturally put people at ease? I could go on and on. But, I think you get the point. You have something that probably comes naturally to you that gives you a competitive advantage.
Substance over style
Now, I’m not saying that sizzle is the be-all and end-all answer to your success in career and life. That’s where substance comes into play. You’d better have that too. You can capture attention and get a slight edge with your secret sauce sizzle. But you’ll need more than that to have a sustainably successful career.
For example, when you’re interviewing for a new job, you need a certain amount of sizzle to appropriately set the stage and get things off on the right foot. Dress well, smile, and be friendly. But, your substance has to carry the rest of the day in how well you answer and ask questions, think on your feet, and demonstrate your skills and experience.
When you are presenting to a group, the sizzle is your public speaking technique and delivery. It will capture attention, help you stand out, and increase the likelihood that you will be remembered. But, content is still king and the message is your substance. You may sound smart for a while, but sooner or later people will see that the emperor has no clothes if you have no substance.
Sizzle? What sizzle?
So, you may be saying, “This is all great, but I don’t have any special sizzle.”
If you truly weren’t born with any sizzle (which I highly doubt), then make your own. The easiest sizzle that anyone can tap into is to be genuinely friendly and use a real smile to engage and pull people in. Case in point: me.
I’ve spent most of my life with a neutral to negative resting face. People have told me to smile. Friends have asked why I look so grumpy. My normal resting face isn’t warm, friendly, and smiling.
But, over the past few years I have been making a deliberate effort to smile more, using a genuine friendly smile, when I meet new people or need to engage with someone. For example, when I talk with someone in customer service in a retail establishment.
I have my own techniques for feeling true warmth and friendliness so that my smile is genuine. One technique is that I tell myself that I am meeting with someone who is an old friend, and I haven’t seen him or her in years. I know. Sounds kind of stupid, huh? But, it works. For a couple of minutes at the beginning, I light up like I’m greeting an old friend. Then, the other person tends to light up as well, and the friendly engagement will naturally continue from that point on without feeling forced. Call it a “warm and fuzzy” jumpstart.
So, you may not think you have natural sizzle, but every single one of us is capable of smiling and being friendly. If someone like me can start smiling more at this late stage of life, then anyone can. It is one of the easiest and most genuine ways to connect more deeply with another human being. And that deeper connection is one of the secrets to tapping into an unfair advantage in your career and life. It feels funny to call it an “unfair advantage” or a secret tip, yet it is because most people are in such a rush and are too focused on “me, Me, ME!” Slow down, take the time to really engage with other people, and don’t be shy about being warm and human. It’s surprisingly effective and it’s also ridiculous how long it took me to learn that.
Finally, don’t feel like you can’t really be you and leverage some of the best advantages that you naturally have. Opportunity may not knock again, so make the most of who you are and what you have right now.
“Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.”
— Rita Coolidge