Are you a Survivor or a Standout?

I wrote Survivor or Standout to point out the two choices we get to make when it comes to our lives and careers.

People often ask me if they’re a Standout. And the Survivor or Standout paradigm offers an opportunity to answer that question for ourselves. Because you know yourself better than I or anyone else ever will.

But here’s what I do know:

You’re either a Survivor or a Standout.

One consistently gets sustainable results that align with the life they dream about. The other one doesn’t.

I invite you to read the rest of this essay to find out which one you are.

And although Survivor or Standout focuses on entrepreneurship, the lens you choose from impacts all areas of your life. (So you’ll get something from this essay even if you don’t own a business.)

One more thing: I know marketers can be sneaky with tactics, but rest assured: This isn’t a sales letter.

Now, shall we get started? :)

The "Perfect Scenario"

Survivors believe they’ll eventually be Standouts. That’s why they’re so resilient.

Every decision they make is a lifeline to buy them more time until they arrive at the "Perfect Scenario.” Survivors expect their perseverance to translate into results. And a lack of results just means The Perfect Scenario hasn’t arrived yet.

In the Perfect Scenario, all the ducks are in a row. In the Perfect Scenario, the funding has been saved or invested. In the Perfect Scenario, mistakes don’t exist.

Survivors choose from the belief: “When I get X, I’ll have Y.”

The Survivor Says....jpg

On the other hand, Standouts realize they ARE the Perfect Scenario.

Standouts believe they already have enough to create the life they dream about. So they start from where they’re at. And they trust that they’ll attract the resources they need along the way to keep on keepin’ on.

Standouts view every experience as an opportunity to learn something for the next experience. It’s often a Standout’s breakdown that waters the soil for a breakthrough to sprout.  

Standouts choose from the belief: “I wasn’t made to fit in.”

The Standout Says....jpg

For Survivors, the Perfect Scenario is a dangerous trap. Many people leave Earth with dreams deferred because death beat the Perfect Scenario to the punch. Standouts know that they only get one shot. So they choose to bet on themselves instead of waiting for permission to answer their life’s call.

The Power of Choice

I mentioned earlier that people ask me all the time if they’re a Standout. Want to know the truth?

In my opinion, EVERYONE is a Standout. Including you. Especially you. Because you weren’t made to fit in.

Or you wouldn’t still be here. Nobody exists on Earth without an assignment. You have something someone needs. You’re the answer to someone’s prayer.

Whether you believe it is a choice. And whether you use your “something” is a choice too.

There’s an unattributed quote that makes it plain:

“Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.”

We can’t always control what happens to us. Survivors choose from the past and in the process turn their backs to future possibilities. Standouts choose from the present with eye towards their vision.

There is nothing about your life that’s a mistake. Who you are and what you have is a result of a choice you made.

And someone’s choice to abuse, betray or neglect you doesn’t cancel out your choice to find the support you need so you can let go and move forward.

Because whatever or whomever has you stuck in Survivor mode isn’t thinking about whatever they or it did. Your dreams are worth more than things and people who weren’t powerful enough to take you out.

For some of you, you think that’s an audacious claim for me to make. And for others, you’re wondering what the hell this has to do with entrepreneurship.

It may help you connect if the dots I shared some of my personal backstory.

I, Too, Was Once a Survivor

I had plenty of practice writing my Survival narrative by the time I became an adult.

There were several long, melodromatic chapters, including:

  • “My Aunt Called Me a Faggot When I Was 9, So That Must Mean I’m Worthless”
  • “Secrets Hidden From My Parents: The Basketball Coach and Teammates Who Verbally Abused Me”
  • “Since Some People Hate The Way I Dress, I’ll Just Hate Everyone Back (Even Though I Pretend Like I’m Happy)”
  • “The Only Reason I Pretend To Be So Happy Is So Teachers Won’t Call Me An Angry Black Boy”
  • “My Parents Should Have Stopped Me From Buying The Car I Couldn’t Afford (Spoiler Alert: They Tried)”
  • “I’ll Be Alone Forever Because That Asshole Cheated On Me”
  • “Look At Me Now: I’m Everything You Said I’d Never Be! (But I'm Exhausted From Trying To Prove You Wrong)”

And I carried the beliefs that informed these chapters everywhere.

They were with me at my first grown-up job, where I got fired for doing the right thing. Instead of acknowledging my integrity, I blamed myself.

They followed me to my next job. The one with the SVP who sent me Human Resources at least twice a week because my pants were “too skinny” (true story). I stayed until they laid me off.

I kept my Survivor beliefs in storage after I relocated to New York City. They reemerged when I got laid off from my dream magazine ... twice in six months.

And I was so dedicated to this Survivor life, I postponed my entrepreneurial dreams. What did I do instead? Went and worked for another entrepreneur, who was oil to my water.  Because, you know, I “needed the experience.”

I promised myself I wouldn’t bring that Survivor BS into my business.

I’d finally had what I wanted. An opportunity to call the shots. The chance to “be my own boss.”

And I hit the ground running. Until I kept running into the same wall.

Life As a Survivor

Not before I told everybody who would listen that I was starting my own business though.

Doing what, who knows? But I felt like I had enough going for myself to make money doing something.

My Perfect Scenario looked like this:

  1. I’ll synthesize my experiences as a corporate trainer, fashion editor, style columnist and freelance writer
  2. Order business cards, get headshots, and update my LinkedIn—that’ll show everyone I’m official!
  3. Hit up all my old colleagues and let them know I’m open for business
  4. Wait for the clients to pour in…

After the enthusiastic haze and reality set in, I realized I was in over my head.

But can you blame me?

My work ethic, creativity and skills had gotten me into the offices of Conde Nast and Hearst, front rows of Fashion Week and some of NYC’s envied social circles.

Surely, this entrepreneur thing couldn’t be that hard. Just stay the course, I reasoned. the Perfect Scenario is on the way…

Fast forward a few months.

Still not much progress.

But I was determined to figure it out. Who cares if I was bloodied and bruised? For Survivors, those battle scars are a badge of honor. Evidence of what we went through to get what we have.

I was at my wit’s end. So I decided to see if I could learn anything from successful entrepreneurs who had amassed moderate-to-large social followings.

There wasn’t an email list I didn’t sign up for. A live webinar I didn’t clear my schedule to attend. A free template I didn’t download. A tweetstorm I didn’t archive for reference. A premium product I didn’t sacrifice my brunch budget to buy.

Maybe these could be the GPS to find my Perfect Scenario. It worked for them, it’ll work for me.

Talk about information overload.

I pieced together all those tips and techniques as best I could. But I still felt like I was a business owner only  in name, not in practice.

And the clock was ticking. (Or so I thought. Survivors love drama.)

Bills were due. (But aren’t they always?)

I needed results. (So I could show people I wasn’t stupid for choosing this path.)

So I got desperate.

And created a style-consulting service. Yay! (?)

Without a business model. Or a sales funnel. Or a customer-success plan.

Who has time for all that? Not Survivors.

The good news is I booked clients like crazy. You wouldn’t believe how many people were referring me!

But I burned out in less than three months. Zipping from neighborhood to neighborhood ran me thin. And since I only charged $97 for 90 minutes, I was actually losing money.

I hated it. Haaaaaaaaaaaaated it.

And decided that I wasn’t cut out for this entrepreneur life.

My parents—the ones who tried to stop me from buying that car—encouraged me to give it one more try. (This time I listened, Mom and Dad.)

My sister, who's also a writer, offered to pitch in with pro-bono proofreading and copy editing.

My friends made sure I ate and had a roof over my head.

And my faith gave me strength to dust myself off and try again.

Then came my breakthrough.

If I wanted a sustainable business, I would have to build it. There were no get-rich-quick magic bullets.

No more Survivor. It was a game rigged for me to lose. And it was time to choose to create my own Perfect Scenario.

I’m a Standout

Standouts are in it for the long haul. They’re open to ideas from other successful entrepreneurs and creatives. But lean on their discernment to know what to toss and what to try.

Because Standouts know that the true treasures aren't fame and fortune. They're time and attention.

Unlike Survivors who opt for quick-cash strategies to make ends meet, Standouts create synchronized assets that add value and increase awareness over time.

Standouts know they can’t be everything to everyone. Most importantly, they don’t want to be.

They attract the tribe they want to serve while repelling the ones they don’t.

Standouts meet their peeps where they are. And look for and listen to the pains, passions and possibilities that matter to those folks.

Standouts ask these questions, in this order:

The Standout Asks....jpg

When I answered these nine questions (and stopped waiting on the Perfect Scenario), I started creating immediate results for my life and business.

I connected my vision to my business to give me a sense of purpose and direction.

I found a business-minded achievers who shared my vision. And focused on their needs and desires so they’d come back for more experiences. (Because you don’t have a business without repeat customers.)

From developing a signature system to fine-tuning my content strategy, I worked to leave no stone unturned.

And to make sure my I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed, I did some competitive analysis to make sure what you got from me you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Once the foundation was established, then I turned my attention to marketing, sales and growth.

I created ways to share everything I knew. And people started to view me a trusted friend. One that gives advice that serves their best interests. Without being preachy or pretentious.

My mindset is what changed the game. I realized I didn’t need the Perfect Scenario anymore. In fact, I never did in the first place.

My newfound relationship with abundance encouraged me to advise, consult, educate and serve … before someone became a customer. And without demanding they give me their email address in the process.

As a result, four-figure projects turned into five-figures. And making money while I sleep is now a reality instead of far-off dream.

Now, I get to help others to do the same. Because they, like you, weren’t made to fit in.

The Wrap-Up

For Survivors, image is everything. They’ll stick with the status quo if it means they don’t have to rock the boat. Even if it’s at the expense of their Big Idea.

Case in point: I met a seven-figure-earning wealth manager a few months. I asked him if he was happy. He said no. He’d rather be a high-school teacher, but didn’t want to deal with the backlash (and judgment) from his family.

So sure, survival can be lucrative. But there’s not enough money in the world that can buy you the peace of mind that comes with freedom.

Some Survivors are perfectionists who think their survival status is punishment for decisions they did or didn’t make.

While others operate in isolation. To support their belief that they’re the only ones who experience breakdowns. And to avoid people who would hold them accountable to the truth that we’re all screwed up.

Survivors always need an antagonist. Someone to fight or blame. Even if that someone is from their past. And has no impact on the Survivor’s future.

Lots of Survivors were told along the way to “be grateful” and that their situations “could be worse.” So they suffer in silence. So they don’t appear “selfish.”

Standouts take a different approach.

They focus on the journey, not the destination. They live life with a sense of discovery and possibility. Always looking towards what could be while working on what already is.

Standouts reserve their right to be wrong. And use every experience as an opportunity to gain invaluable wisdom.  

They train people how to treat them. Standouts rebel against the unrealistic expectations from people. They don’t let fear or ridicule keep them from trying new things.

Standouts operate from a place of contribution and service. Standouts have “nothing to prove, just something to share,” as my friend Melvin Britton-Miller says.

So what’s the verdict?

Are you a Survivor or a Standout?

Survivors, guess what? If you want to be a Standout, just choose it. If you want a different result, make a different choice.

But know this: You can’t mess it up.

You make the choices you make with the knowledge and wisdom you have at the time.

I don’t regret any of the survival decisions I made for my business.

It was all I knew. And it’s gave me access to choose like a Standout.

I wasn’t made to fit in. Those aren’t just words for me. I get that I can create the world that reflects the vision I have for it.

Even if it’s through my business. Especially through my business.

You too? Awesome. Because we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. And I’m here with you every step of the way.

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