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Derreck Kayongo Headshot

What Makes Some People Exceptional and Others Just Accomplished?

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It's All About the Power of Your Story: First off, let me say this isn't one of those step-by-step instructional books that ubiquitously litter our bookstores, airport newsstands or libraries. On the contrary, what I am going to do in this blog is simply suggest a pathway to being exceptional, not six or seven steps of anything because to me that is too intellectually pedestrian. I, therefore, highly recommend that you each investigate and define your unique pathway from being accomplished to that of being exceptional because each one of us has varying circumstances that preclude us from being exceptional. While for one it might be just typical lassitude, for another, it's a genuine lack of resources that you might need to overcome in order to arrive at the exceptional place. Either way, there is no pretext for inaction at the alter of exceptional living.

Each one of us has to summon the universe to overcome our bottlenecks, while at the same time bring around the ideal circumstances needed to move from mere accomplishments to serious exceptional living. Whatever it is, the cardinal point in this blog is for you to get off your arrogant, accomplished ass and do something with your life that will make a transformative difference that advantages society as a whole.

That is what Benjamin Franklin did: As a man passionate about making life easier for everyone, he invented products like the lighting rod, bifocals, odometer et al. That is what Henry Ford did for transportation. That is what Oprah Winfrey has done in television. These were all regular folk, and by regular I mean that we all start from nothingness and then, over time, we take that which has been given us and transform it into the miracle it ought to be. Using a biblical metaphor: We take the five loaves of bread and two fish and feed 5000.

There is no competition for who is more exceptional than the other. Rather, there is a fear from the rest of us that we might miss out on our full potential because we were hiding behind our general accomplishments.

The Power of Mentorship: With the above in mind, and as I mentioned in my last blog ("The Difference Between Being Accomplished and Exceptional"), many of us are accomplished. But I think the reason why we don't aim for exceptional living is either because most of us are unaware of how powerful our skills or talents are, or because we don't have the sort of mentorship that we can look to as exceptional so as to emulate. Most of us have surrounded ourselves with accomplished people, and that's what we know. What we need is to find one exceptional person who can teach us their ways so as to move to that higher level of completion or perfection. The adage goes, "birds of the same feather flock together," and that's what needs to happen. Lose the losers and flock with the winners!

Use Discontent Wisely: We move from being accomplished to exceptional through the power of a final discontent within ourselves, when we can no longer bear just being accomplished as a person and want to be part of something more meaningful and powerful in life. We need to take on something that can challenge us to the maximum so we are part of a bigger story. Like I said in my last blog, accomplishments are simply initiation steps in life. Their principle purpose is to serve as a conduit that provides for mental fortitude as a mnemonic tool you will need to become exceptional. For example, getting a college degree prepares you to learn patience and to develop stamina for long-term commitments to goals. Most people wrongly think that a college degree is attained in just four years. No, it actually takes about 15 years if you think about it! The process starts in preschool and goes all the way up into your 20s for most of us! In the same vein, an exceptional life demands that one find a cause in life's journey that warrants an immediate and sincere desire to champion beyond one's current accomplishments for a lifetime of transformational living. It's a desire to indulge and play in the gargantuan world of the so-called perfectionists.

Understand the Origin of Miracles: For an exceptional thing to happen, it has to be followed by a coming together of natural coincidences that organize our skills and talents in such a way that the idea of being more than just accomplished is fomented in almost a miraculous way. The organizing factor could be a disaster that befalls you, or the beautiful birth of your child that sets you upon a journey of self-introspection. Whatever it is, there is a process of taking time out to connect dots that didn't make sense for years, so that you start to naturally see the gaps and the picture like a completed puzzle, unknown and unrecognizable to most from afar. It's the intentional creation of space where wisdom can accrue so as to lay the land for what makes perfect sense to you. The completion of that process forces you to put the pieces together, when others are simply overwhelmed by the idea itself. After you land on the concept or cause to champion in your niche space, then I recommend finding a support cast of exceptional friends and individuals to help you assemble the intellectual and material resources needed to make the inevitable jump from being accomplished to being exceptional. Most exceptional people create a situation where friends and foe can infuse informed critic of their work. Allowing for that helps an exceptional individual birth a real magnum opus.

Understanding the Degree of Difficulty: This all happens over the accumulation of time, not in a single moment of arrogance. Like a brilliantly aged wine and cheese, it takes time and stubborn consistency to be exceptional as a person, a group, a society and as a nation. In other words, you don't stumble into being exceptional. Unlike being accomplished, which also takes hard work, being exceptional is three or four times more difficult to achieve because it means you are trying to separate yourself from just being accomplished to being transformative. Exceptional people, therefore, practice twice as hard. They arrive at work before anyone else and leave after everyone is gone for the day. They are twice as much more patient than their accomplished counterparts. Exceptional people take more abuse because they can come off as almost wanting it. They can be a subject of scorn and ridicule, as others view them as trying too hard to look smarter. When, in actual fact, they are trying to be better than themselves, rather than being in competition with their accomplished friends. While their counterparts revel in becoming victors over small failures, exceptional people don't fret even BIGGER FAILURE because they understand that the bigger the risk, the bigger the success, a financial concept of investment.

This reminds me of a small but important story. Fellow engineers and artisans lambasted Gustave Eiffel the designer of the Eiffel tower for his effort to become exceptional: They ridiculed his lack of imagination and creativity. They wrote about the tower in the following epitaph:

We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection... of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower... To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for 20 years... we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal

But guess what? Today the Eiffel tower is the most visited paid monument in the world with over 7.1 million people per year on average. It received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010. So much for the ridiculing class of the accomplished writers, painters, sculptors and passionate devotees!

As Jim Rohn suggests in his famous book, The Art of Exceptional Living, exceptional human beings perfect the art of recreation. Because remember, only God creates raw materials, we as humans recreate from God-given raw materials arts of incredible beauty. We take a tree created by God and turn it into a beautiful piece of art or architecture. Jim Rohn concludes by suggesting that you don't have to do exceptional things at all. Rather just do ordinary things exceptionally well. That's The Art of Exceptional Living.

National "Exceptionalism:" In the same vein, if you are an American, in some elite circles you have heard the term, "american exceptionalism." The term might connote a level of individual superiority over the rest of the world given how some people use it. What this really means is not superiority over other nations, but newness or a fresh approach to nation building, given how young America is compared to her sister nations in the West. It's a determination to seek an extraordinary life through a country that allows for incredible possibilities for each and every citizen of hers. NO LIMITATIONS in America is the goal: something they call, "The American Dream." Alexis de Tocqueville actually can be credited for putting some meat on the bones of the definition of, "american exceptionalism." He suggested that Americans are exceptional because they have chosen the path of individual pursuits born out of a revolution that forced them to free themselves from the chains of colonial rule. Notions like the separation of church and state and the art of association, most cardinal the spirit of laissez-faire.

What the aforementioned speaks volumes about is the determination by a dissimilar people from all walks of life that came to this country to start something new -- but more so, exceptional. Many were tired of religious persecution and bigotry, while others ironically came as a result of racism and bigotry. But what happens after that arrival was hard but important for the new denizen. In this new land one was to lay down the old beliefs and embrace a new idea for the sake of perfecting a union. That is what we need to do when moving from accomplished to exceptional. Revisit our old assumptions and see whether we need new ones for the new world of exceptional living. Assumptions are okay but they too have to evolve. The spirit of self-awareness starts to churn in America. Americans become the first nation to really have racial dialogue, which continues up to today. This discourse forced them into a civil war, again a perfecting tool for an exceptional nation. America embarked on the women's suffrage moment; America begins to write a constitution that is inclusive, even when that meant a struggle between her children. All these events and more are what forces America to become the exception to the rule. Think about it, in just 300 years or so, Americans have been able to create a milieu in which the most powerful country has emerged, while her elder sister nations in Europe have lost their global leadership in essentially every area except for a few. The above successes and triumphs in America have come through blood, sweat and tears. In almost every case that I know of, to build an exceptional career, life or nation, one has to go through a gothic emancipation of discipline with a pointed focus on becoming incomparable. This goes for an individual as well as a nation. Exceptional nations are made up of exceptional people, perhaps even a great argument for immigration, if we were to go there.

What I am suggesting in the idea of being exceptional is not so much the destination, but the journey through which one has to travel in order to be exceptional. Consider some of the people in our lifetime that have been exceptional. For them, it's not so much the end results, but the process of getting to the end result that is better proof of their worth. It's the Olympian who gets the gold medal amidst equally accomplished Olympians that makes him exceptional.

Individual "Exceptionalism:" Exceptionalism, thus, is creating and improvising when things get tough rather than giving up. Perfecting one's craft is always about beating obstacles in the most ingenious way. Nations like America are exceptional because they have, with genius precision, beat the odds through innovation and a Calvinist approach to life. But so are her denizens.

For example Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a precocious human, was exceptional because he was not only naturally gifted with the smarts, but he also went the extra length to perfect his gifts in alignment with his natural calling to live up to his name, "Luther," as in Luther the Reformer. He skipped both the ninth and 12th grades, and entered college at age 15. He went on to get his master's degree as a reverend and became a pastor of a church at age 25. He then started his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Boston University, and was done by age 26! He got a Noble Peace Prize by age 35! What is striking about Dr. King's life's work is that he actually came from humble beginnings. He was not a child of the most notable African American family in the U.S.A. Nor was he born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Rather, he was just a young man who, from the beginning of his life, chose a path of exceptional living, which eventually demanded the sacrifice of his life. This wasn't a destination he hoped for, but one he feared might transpire. He didn't die very wealthy if you think in terms of financial gains, but what he recreated in life was more affluent than what most billionaires will ever recreate. Why? Because his life's work remarkably impacted the lives of people world over and was dedicated to human service, a virtue that is the noblest of all.

A Concluding Remark: The unequivocally exceptional being is one who rises up against all odds to an awakened gumption, who stays true to perfecting their work and who doesn't focus on whether they will become exceptional or not. They practice being perfect and perfect the art of practice. Every day, they accumulatively become greater. Their wins are circadian and, before you know it, up raises a giant Eiffel Tower of success. Being exceptional is a construct of a lifetime of work that is perfected by and through a devoted life of self-engineering. These exceptional beings are at your workplace getting "employee of the year" awards. They are at your school getting honors through harder work. They are mothers raising children in the ghetto with no help at all, recipients of regular insults from many of us as being languid and incompetent, while they persevere even under threat of gang violence! They are your CEO who has turned your company around to keep it among the top 500 on the NASDAQ, without caving to self-greed. They are your unsung heroes: the firemen who are constantly unnoticed until a fire breaks out and who come to the rescue and save a life or a home. Yes, exceptional people are regular people who have perfected the art of doing small things exceptionally well, every day over a lifetime. If you are potentially one of these unusual people and, yet, have opted to stay at the margins of this incredible gift of being exceptional, then you are missing out on a brilliant life! May the above humble edifice hopefully create enough anxiety within you, thereby nudging you to start down the road of your life's work of exceptional living! You mustn't give into the doubting charms of others when you have a whole recipe uniquely gifted to you by God to author a thing of beauty. We all await your gift and talents to manifest... give it to us, you exceptional being in waiting!

Next blog share explore the "Power of Timing" in pursuit of an exceptional life. "Eighty percent of success is showing up!" -- Woody Allen.