How to be different?
Congratulations on your Duke of Edinburgh award and the 500,000 others who did it too. I don’t mean to burst your bubble but a girl called Beau named 230,000 Chinese babies and made almost £50,000 doing it. Oh yeah… she’s 16 years old. But feel free to carry on hiking up grassy meadows!
All jokes aside, what this A-level student has done is nothing short of remarkable. Trust me I know. Having started businesses and currently running one, I understand what it takes to achieve what she did. What’s more, the money she made is a lot less relevant than the positive effect this is going to have on her future. What am I on about?
Just like you, Beau is going to be judged a lot over the next 10 years and asked the question “How good are you?” over and over again by lots of different people. Admissions tutors, employers, colleagues, managers, partners you name it. Each time, she will stand head and shoulders above many of her peers simply because she has this story to tell. Why? Because, even though every person on this planet is different, all share a common respect for those who take creative risks.
What is a creative risk?
An idea that you successfully execute. The best creative risks are those that help a large group of people. The most impressive creative risks are those that help a huge number of people and are so valuable to people that they are happy to give you money in exchange for what you offer them.
It’s called a risk because you have to put energy, time and resources into it before knowing if it will work out. This is exactly why it’s impressive if it actually does work out. Beau’s creative risk paid off big time. However, you can be half as creative as her and still stand out from the crowd. The question is, how?
First you need an idea….
Step 1: Keep your eyes peeled and ears tuned
A lot of people ask me how I came up with the idea for How to ACE Your A-Levels and GCSEs. It came from my own exam struggles at college and I thought it would be worth sharing my story. Most ideas start like this, so my advice would be to start with yourself. Pay attention to any annoying and frustrating feeling you get when something doesn’t work or you can’t get what you want. On your phone note down…
What you were trying to do? E.g. find relevant work experience
Why it was difficult. E.g. most businesses don’t have the time or are not interested in taking on young inexperienced kids (even for free).
Chances are that you’re not the only one having trouble here, so speak up and discuss it with those around you. Find out if they also suffer from that problem and note down their comments too. Form a list of at least 10 problems that you can try to solve and rank them according to their importance.
Step 2: Choose an idea
Brainstorm solutions to those 10 problems by word-vomiting the most simple and obvious ideas that come to your head. Don’t be too vague and describe, in as much detail as possible, how you are going to solve the problem. For example…
– Create a website that connects industries and local businesses to schools.
– Visit/call some local businesses and ask if they would be interested in participating in such a scheme.
At this stage, you’ll probably have one idea out of the 10 that sticks out like a sore thumb. If so, great! Take that idea and move on to step 4. If you don’t, then keep your eyes peeled for more problems and continue discussing ideas with everyone around you.
Small minds discuss people.
Average mind discuss events.
Great minds discuss ideas.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Step 3: Execute
Now you need to act on the idea and this is the hardest part. You are sacrificing time you could essentially be studying or relaxing to work on an idea that may or may not succeed. However, this leap of faith into the unknown is exactly what people will respect you for. If you do pull it off, everyone will think you’re some ballsy visionary wonder-kid who takes chances and catches trends.
What sounds better? Ballsy visionary wonder-kid or student who got 8A*s? I think you know.
(or Ballsy visionary wonder-kid..oh and by the way, she/he got 8A*s) #makeyourgradesafootnote
Step 4: Sell
After you’ve convinced yourself on the idea, you will then have to start convincing everyone else. Your parents, teachers, other students, business owners, website developers, graphics designers etc. Everyone needs to believe in you and your idea and you are the only one who can make that happen. This isn’t easy.
People rarely act out of selflessness and if they do it’s never with their full attention. Most will only act when there is something in it for them, so it’s your job to show how you or your idea is going to add value to their lives. For example, if you were building the work experience website, convincing business owners to spend a week or two of their time tending to a 16/17 year old is the hard part. You could however, incentivise them by offering to advertise their business in the school newsletter, on the school facebook/twitter pages and to alumni.
Step 5: Document
Record the entire journey using pictures and videos. Blog or vlog every day and share it on social media. Be honest about your doubts, hopes and challenges you face. This will help others buy into you and understand what you are trying to achieve while also assembling proof that you did it. You can then use this proof in the future. So many exaggerate on their personal statements, CVs and applications. So actually showing your admissions tutor, flat mate, employer etc. your accomplishments is much more powerful than telling them about it (I landed my first job by doing something similar).
With record numbers of students graduating each year and 40% of graduates still hunting for jobs 6 months after finishing university, standing out from the crowd has never been so important. Following the 5-step plan above is the best way you can do this. Mark my words…
Each year, your grades will become less relevant and what turns up on the first page of your Google search result will matter more.