A Storytelling Serial
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We live in a competitive society. Cooperative cultures still exist, of course, but they’re becoming more rare.
Competition fuels sibling rivalry, permeates the fabric of education, and dominates every corner of the world of work. We encourage it in sports, expect it in all areas of entertainment, and maneuver through it in the minutiae of our daily lives.
Marketers and retailers intentionally create the perception of scarcity, and we unquestioningly wait in line for doorbuster sales, popular restaurants, and customer service: “Your business is valuable, and you’re number two hundred thirteen in the queue.”
Some people thrive on competition, feeling it inspires them to work harder. I have the opposite reaction. Competition makes me want to cry “Uncle” and walk away without a fight. Although I’ve played team sports and enjoy the esprit de corps, I’ve never liked zero-sum games with clear winners and losers.
Long ago my motto was “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Now, based on years of experience, I’ve changed it to “Nothing ventured, nothing lost.” With age and hard knocks, my risk tolerance has decreased.
I actively seek ways to avoid competition.
In that quest, my most valued technique is understanding and leading with my USP, a tactic that helps eliminate competition in classrooms, relationships, work, and beyond.
What Is a USP?
These days the acronym USP is so common in marketing and business speak that it often pops up without an explanation because, well, “everyone” knows what it means.
If you haven’t been indoctrinated, which is totally understandable, USP refers to unique selling proposition.
The first time I ran into the term was in a class on social media marketing for copyeditors. We were each assigned the task of creating a USP for our freelance business.
As did my classmates, I proudly wrote up a marketing blurb that described why my copyediting services were marvelous.
Naturally, every word was true. And sounded disturbingly like the words of my fellow learners.
Our instructor struggled to provide positive feedback to a group of students who didn’t get the point. We thought that being a copyeditor was our unique selling proposition, and we needed to just describe our editing skills—in the same vein as putting yourself out there as an available single automatically attracts a partner, right? And applying for a job makes your qualifications obvious, yes?
Wrong. And no.
These are the necessary USP principles we failed to grasp:
The Connection between Comparison and Competition
Regular readers may remember my previous mention of comparisonitis—an addiction fed by competition—and my threat to start a twelve-step group for comparison addicts. I haven’t yet, though. It’s such a common condition, I don’t know how I would manage the large number of group members.
However, if I were to found such an organization, a first step would be accepting the need for a greater unique selling power.
In comparing ourselves, we constantly look for obvious similarities. That approach causes us to ignore the complexities of human lives and to categorize other people with abandon, no matter how inappropriately, because living in a complicated world hurts our brains and forces us to seek simplicity to avoid cognitive overload.
In the recent past of my own comparisons, I measured myself against all copyeditors. Or all writers. Or all freelancers. Or all women. Or all friends. Or all previous classmates and coworkers. Or everyone with a traditional job. Or everyone over a certain age. Or under a certain age.
Simple categories. A bit broad, but they were easy to wrap my head around.
And I certainly didn’t want to muck up the clarity by breaking it down into such specifics, say, as all women who were actually my age and had similar DNA, experiences, past and current family members, education, physical makeup, cultural background, interests, hobbies, and learned skills.
Not to mention having a lifestyle and financial needs that were anything like mine.
Besides, if I had gone into that kind of nitty-gritty, I’d never have been able to find anyone enough like my complicated self for a fair comparison.
Ah. At last, something both simple and true. And when I finally got honest and admitted that authentic comparison is impossible, I decided to quit the game.
If you want to kick the habit, too, start by acknowledging the impossibility of lumping your distinctive self into a category. Then embrace the differences that make it impossible for any unique human being to be likened to another one-of-a-kind individual.
How Does Claiming a USP Avoid Competition?
Long after my marketing course ended, I finally recognized I have an experience combination that can’t be duplicated and, for that reason, makes a mockery of comparison. That’s when I identified my copyediting USP—and stopped competing with my colleagues.
I realized I wasn’t better. And I wasn’t worse. But I was definitely unique. And when I added writing and research to my business services, I relied on that same can’t-be-duplicated mixture as a recipe to remove myself from any sense of competition in my work.
In fact, now that I finally appreciate the purpose of a USP, I let my singularity lead in every situation. As someone always pursuing professional education and development, for instance, I frequently participate in various courses—and my background creates a perspective and style no other student has. Because of that, I’m not in a contest with my fellow learners.
Even as a wife, a mother, and a friend, I possess a set of qualities that will never appear together in another person. For good or ill, no one fills those roles quite the way I do. My husband and friends may have even chosen me for the particular hodgepodge that makes me like none other.
Unfortunately, my children had no choice, but I hope they’ve been made stronger by adjusting to the one-and-only amalgam that is me.
You’re just as unique as I am. There is absolutely no one like you. Never has been, never will be. Why would any of us assume that an outward appearance of similarity means we’re playing in the same league as someone else?
It’s not a matter of superiority or inferiority; the real issue is that everyone’s lives are too different for comparison. And once we accept what complicated mash-ups we are as human beings, we can stop continuously gazing at others and instead focus on our own individuality.
Paradoxically, though, once we realize life isn’t a competition, we can finally relax into authentic compassion and celebration for others—and for ourselves. And that’s the true value of a USP.
What’s your unique selling proposition, in work or in life? In the Comments section below, we’d love to know how you avoid comparison and competition.