Standing Out in a Vast Professional Sea

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After sending out my newsletter this weekend, I got one of those fabulous notices that said someone who had unsubsribed from my list had left a reason as to why. Eagerly I scrolled down the email, to find the following phrase:

“This service has little use in a sea of related sites.”

At first, I furrowed my brow in annoyance. And then I smiled.

Because my intention has never been to be the best professional development site in the vast sea of options. It has always been to be the lighthouse.

There are hundreds of thousands of professionals out there in the job market that have a similar skill set, a similar job history, and a similar education.  All of them are competing for the same kinds of jobs in markets that are likely over saturated with candidates as it is.  They are all trying to stand out in the sea of their field.

But trying to stand out in a sea of competition is a losing game. Unless you have some serious ace in the hole about you as a professional, like you’re Richard Branson’s cousin twice removed or a former child star, it is a fruitless battle.

I know this first hand.  The founder of a major social networking site published an adaptation-themed professional development book that was released three months before mine.  Talk about competition…

I can’t compete with that. At least not directly. If I tried to best someone with those credentials, that marketing machine, that ace in the hole, I would fail miserably. If The Finch Effect were in the same sea with his book, it would be lost – drifting along, pulled down in the under-tow of his book’s publicity machine.

Which is why I never even got into the water, and honestly never would want to. I am happy his book exists, but I am (obviously) happy mine does too – they reflect different experiences, different philosophies, different voices. There is room for both when both aren’t trying to be the same thing. So if his book is the sea, then my book can be the lighthouse.

Be a Lighthouse, Not the Sea

And in fact, the lighthouse is not just a casually chosen metaphor. I never wanted to be part of that professional development sea – the sea of “get rich quick” and “manifest your passion” and “2 hour work weeks.” In fact, that is the very reason I started writing in this field – I wanted to share a voice that could engage in a thoughtful dialogue about how our work and life integrate, not a voice that told you for just $39.99 you could make $10k a month from home.  I wanted to be a lighthouse; something honest, helpful, and dependable in fair winds or foul.

Whether I’ve come close to accomplishing that somewhat mawkish goal is for you, my fellow Uncommoners, to decide.

Aside from reminding me of how important it is to stand out from a sea of competitors by thinking of yourself as something different, this 10 word note also made me realize that the former subscriber clearly didn’t get what The Life Uncommon and related works are really about. It isn’t a “service,” at least not in the traditional sense. It is meant to be a conversation, a dialogue, a train-of-thought-starter, and a here-is-something-that-worked-for-others-maybe-it-will-work-for-you-too motivator.

It made me think that others out there, those who are new to this community, might not “get” what this is really about. So here’s the mission of this site, and in fact all of my work, for your review:

The mission of The Life Uncommon is to educate and inspire new and established professionals on how to develop, improve, and advance their working lives with integrity to their experience, passions, and skill set in the context of our current economy and global landscape.

The term “working life” is chosen deliberately; unlike other vocational resources, The Life Uncommon takes a comprehensive approach to career development and services the integration of work and life. There is no “working world’ and “real world” – living in a manner that tries to separate the two is not only a waste of energy but also the waste of an opportunity. If we let it, life has the ability to feed and enrich our work, and work has the ability to feed and enrich our lies.

The Life Uncommon believes that through professional branding, leveraging of the gig economy, skill cultivation, self-awareness – and a little bit of fun – an individual can thrive in any economy and live a prosperous, fulfilling, and truly Uncommon Life.

For me, this mission has never been about the sea – it’s always been about the lighthouse. There are many others who can do lots of things as good if not better than me. But no one has my voice, my experiences, my inner world – just as no one has yours. These are the things we need to leverage in order to be something more than a part of that big, vast sea.

I’d love to hear from you about where you are trying to position yourself, and how are you doing that? Overly elaborate metaphors relating to the sea of competition are of course welcome (and encouraged!).

Here’s to your Uncommon Life,

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Photo by paul bica

Written by Nacie Carson

Nacie Carson is a the author of The Finch Effect (Jossey-Bass), founder of The Life Uncommon, and CEO of Working Life Media, LLC.


  1. says

    Great post, Nacie! You are so right that we can’t compete against the crowd, and we should do our own thing. I know that, looking at the world of academia, there are a lot of people who seem to want to go for the same track, but I looked at the research university track and decided that I would rather focus on teaching. This is why, when the time comes, I am looking at liberal arts colleges, even if the pay isn’t as much.

  2. Samir Atalla says

    Dear Nacie,

    I’m sure you are aware that you can’t be all things to all people and not all the people will be attracted to your site, that doesn’t mean it is not successful, because it is successful and a source of inspiration and education to the people who have signed up, subscribed to and follow your posts on the various social media, some are die hard followers who anxiously await your next post, that is your target audience and your mark of success, and source of relevance.

    I feel there is too much emphasis on highlighting what others have done and trying to emulate them, rather than considering one’s past achievements, successes and failures and using them as ones source of inspiration and guidance. Highlighting the positive and building on it, while learning from the negatives and “failures” without dwelling it and letting it define you. Everyone goes through ups and downs in life and face their share of success’ and failures, and in the business of living our daily life, we sometimes lose sight of the positives as we do really seem to just want to dwell on why we are not or have not become like “Richard Branson” or “Donald Trump”.

    It could very well be that Richard Branson or Donald Trump envy your simple every day life with what seems to be it’s monotony and repetitive ins and outs. So concentrate on your story, review where you had success and failures and that should be your guide.

    Having reached to where you are is a story and an achievement in and of itself.

    I won’t claim to be a frequent visitor to your blog, but I always love to read your posts when I can, and always get the urge to put in my 10 cents worth of thoughts and ideas, so thank you for allowing me to do that and tack my own thoughts and ideas on your blog.

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