Five Easy Ways To Stand Out in a Competitive World

*Shameless plug: If you haven’t read my latest piece for USA Today College called Five Ways to Beat the All-Nighter Blues, check it out here! Thanks!* I’m realizing more and more that succeeding in life isn’t that difficult when you think about it. With a little dedication and some follow-through it’s easy to go after exactly what you want. Here are some of the most important skills to get ahead:

1.) Follow through: Last week I told someone I work with that I would call her on Monday. I called her on Monday. You would have thought I built a bridge to Mars, she was so shocked and excited to hear from me. This made me realize that 99% of people are sketchy. They’ll tell you they’re going to call and they don’t, or they’ll call late. Or they’ll say they’ll do something and they never end up following through. For example, last year I went back to my school to talk about my job. Two girls came up to me and told me they really wanted to intern with my company. “Sure, just e-mail me.” I said. One of them never did. One did end up sending me an e-mail. That was a good step. I asked her if she could come in for a quick meeting to set up a schedule for the internship. Translation: she had the internship, she just needed to set up her hours. She never e-mailed me back. So we have two girls, one never started the process to get an internship even though she had a connection at the company, the other one had the internship and just didn’t follow through. I couldn’t believe it. Lesson learned. People are super duper, ridiculously, embarrassingly sketchy. If you can avoid this and always follow through, you will put yourself ahead of the vast majority of people competing with you for jobs (or internships, scholarships, etc.) and really impress others.

2.) Be polite: My friend works for a university and always has ridiculous stories about different things students and alumni request from her. For example, “Read over my resume and then find a job opening for me that fits my skills.” Um…what? It’s your job to do the research, pal. Plus, have you heard about the job market recently? Yeah… My friend can help but you need to put in some work too. If you can be polite, learn how to network, and tell your connections what you’re looking for without demanding they assist you, you will be way ahead (unfortunately) than other misguided people who feel entitled to things.

3.) Create good content: Is it difficult to get your stories read, your videos watched, and your songs listened to today? Absolutely. But there is no better time to be a creative person than in the 21st century. Here’s why: There are literally millions of creative outlets. Actually, you could probably make that billions. There are millions of websites alone. And these outlets need fresh content seven days a week (and many of them need it 24 hours a day too). This is great news for creative people, because that means there’s always going to be a demand for interesting, innovative content. Yes, it will always be hard to get your article published in a national magazine. It will always be hard to get your song played on a radio station. But these smaller outlets mean you have an easy place to start and you can quickly work your way up to a bigger level. Thirty years ago you didn’t have thousands of websites where you could publish your content. You had three radio stations, five magazines, and two TV stations. If they didn’t want it then it didn’t get read, listened to, or watched. That is not the case anymore. Now you have a constant demand for content and you can help feed the demand. If your content is high-quality and interesting it will get accepted and slowly pushed to the top.

4.) Be dedicated: We live in an instant gratification world. We want to order movies to our TV so we don’t have to drive to the store or wait for them to come out on DVD. We are the society of frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, okay? We want things and we want them now.  This is great in many ways, but it can be harmful when it comes to trying to learn and perfect a skill. Because we’re so used to quick and easy we forget that it usually takes time and effort to learn something new. If you can fight the “gimme NOW” feeling and stay dedicated, you’ll end up getting better at your chosen task and coming out ahead of those who give up after the instant gratification urge kicks in.

5.) Be kind: My day job involves a lot of social media, so obviously I love Twitter and Facebook. But I also realize that these outlets make it a lot easier to “hide” meaning that people feel like they can just say whatever they want with no repercussions. It’s easier to criticize, complain, or critique because there is no face-to-face contact. Some of this is good. It keeps things in balance. But, from what I’ve seen, it’s also making neutral or negative feedback seem to be more common because people don’t have to call a manager over or take the time to write a hand-written letter. So in this very social media-based world, a note of positivity and praise goes a long way. Take a minute to make a call or send an e-mail or a tweet to a company (or person) and tell that organization or person that you appreciate the work they’ve done. It’s easy to fire off a cynical tweet or a nasty e-mail when you’ve received poor customer service. Understandably so. No one wants to be treated poorly or feel like his/her money has been wasted. But taking a minute to recognize hard work is rare. You’ll be appreciated.

These are a few easy ways that you can set yourself apart from everyone else in your generation. What other ways do you make yourself stand out?

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