How to Be Outstanding

Everyone wants to be extraordinary, but no one wants to be unpopular. Everyone wants to be a genius, but no one wants to be called a nerd. Everyone wants to be outstanding, but no one’s willing to stand out.

An Outstanding Peacock
Photo credit: Nina Matthews (Creative Commons)

Earning the attention you deserve will be the hardest, scariest, most grueling thing you do. But it will also be the most rewarding.

The typical tale of an outstanding person

I once met a girl named Patricia. She wanted to live life to the full. When everyone else was playing those “reindeer games” she was being Rudolph.

She was standing out.

This usually earned her a few rolled eyes and jokes cracked at her expense, but that didn’t bother her.

Then one day, Patricia stood up when everyone else was sitting down. She did the bold, courageous, amazing thing. And everyone admired her for it.

Suddenly, Patricia wasn’t the outcast, anymore. She was the leader. And there was a crowd of people standing behind her literally, ready to go wherever she would lead them.

The cost of courage

It takes courage to go where no one else has gone. It takes the heart of a pioneer and the mind of an engineer to set out for the Promised land and build the road as you go.

To do something this creative, something that’s never been done before, you have to be a little crazy. Fortunately, those who are, end up changing the world.

Of course, like all new endeavors, this involves risk. There’s a cost to doing great things. To be a leader in today’s world, you have to be brave enough to wander off the worn path and make a new one. And no one will be walking with you those first few steps.

So be prepared.

It’s lonely

There’s a reason why most startups fail and most books never get finished: Being a leader is hard.

Which is precisely why we need you to do it. Why we need you to do what so few are willing to do: to be different. To take the initiative. To courageously go where no one’s gone before.

So what are you waiting for?

“An engraved invitation?!” as my dad used to say to the parked cars at the green traffic light. Green means go. Time to be outstanding.

99 thoughts on “How to Be Outstanding

  1. For some reason, as I read this, I thought about the recovery group I started and led for a couple years at my church a few years ago.  Often, in order to get people talking, sharing and willing to be vulnerable it takes someone going first.  As the “leader” I would often go first and then people knew it was “safe”.  Your story about Patricia reminded me of that.   There is always risk involved  when we step out and yet I have found that the rewards always outweigh the fear. 

    1. SO true, Eileen. A leader has to go first. I learned this the hard way when I was spending a month in Taiwan. Long story, but bottom line is this: if you want othersr to be vulnerable, you’ve gotta go first.

  2. Jeff, here’s a thought: leading tests motives too. If one leads for recognition or reward and it doesn’t come projects are abandoned…If a leader is compelled they stay on track to do what they can regardless of outcome. Like you’ve said in the past, writers write because they can’t not write. Same holds true for all other callings.

    1.  good one, Mike. I like that. i think we see lots of people vying for authority (because of the position), then not knowing what to do with it when they get it.

  3. Absolutely right Jeff.  We all want to do epic stuff and lead our own tribe, but we rarely want to go through the rejection, loneliness, pain, suffering, and toil to get there.  The risk is too great.  Sure, I want to have thousands of followers but do I really want to hustle?  I mean really hustle?  Do I really want to be rejected?  Again and again?  Honestly, I tend to give up too soon. 

  4. I think a lot of the issue is that we look at trail blazing as a singular action or as one major decision. Instead, it’s small, courageous choices that occur day after day.
    The desire for instant gratification is strong, and that’s when we give in. Everyone wants to take the credit; no one wants to put in the hard work. I’ve heard someone compare it to Guitar Hero: people want to be rock stars without having to learn the chords.

    1. There’s no instant path to anything worthwhile; but those who get out ahead forget to tell the rest of us.

  5. Jeff, You just get better and better. You described a leader perfectly. Well done!

    As I read this I’m thinking of my son, who from day one was different. We couldn’t get him to read, but one day I saw him over in the corner by our bookcase with the Guiness Book of World Records. He was memorizing the pages.

    We’re all wired differently, uniquely. We are wonderfully made.

    It’s when the wonder captures our hearts that we are transformed into a leader.

    Thanks for the morning read. You’ve got me thinking.

  6. I struggle with the concept of leadership. Through the eyes of Jesus, I see it as a position of lowliness and of servitude, not the up-front, in your face style that people are often trained for (especially at my Christian college).

    1. I’m sorry to hear that’s all you’ve see of leaders, Adrian. The best ones I know are very humble, like you’re describing. That said, you brought up Jesus. He was also very bold at times and a bit of a rabble-rouser.

  7. This is so true, Jeff. It’s so easy to believe that these happen by luck, isn’t it? Thank you for the reminder that there is hard work and risk involved. I guess you can’t really lead unless you’re willing to step out from the pack, or something like that.

  8. How about being a really outstanding follower? I follow you, Jeff, because you’re outstanding. If I’m outstanding, too, then I’m marching next to you and neither one of us is outstanding. Following can be very comfortable sometimes (comfort zone comments coming up!). 

    1. Hmmm… a conundrum you present. Actually, I think we can collectively be outstanding if the cause we embrace challenges the status quo. You can have an entire country of outstanding people, I believe. I hope.

  9. Nice post Jeff. To me, being outstanding means identifying and then not neglecting the things you need to do. These things will be the basic elements of your area of focus and interest. There aren’t 1,000 or even 100 of them. There are just a handful of them. And you are right. The light is green. Go!

  10. Along with this, I’ve learned that just thinking about being outstanding isn’t enough either. That same sort of mental satisfaction can be had just by imaging yourself in an outstanding situation. For some people, this is enough. But it’s not the real thing. You can’t think your way to outstanding. Only action will get us there. Nice post Jeff!

  11. PS…how does one get one’s pic to show up here?  Willing to learn from a genius like you!  You can email me that.  It’s fun to see the “who” is writing.

  12. Love this!

    The only thing I’d add is that while it’s important for me to march to the beat of my own drum when creating my unique career of therapy and low-brow comedy blogging on personal development topics, I must also remember to stay grounded by consulting with trusted and wise people in my life, and actually listening when they have legitimate concerns, criticisms, and suggestions.

    Being a great leader is such a complex blend of independence, community, confidence, and humility.

    Love your writing, Jeff. Keep up the good work!

  13. Jeff,

    When I feel like I’m walking on that lonely road I always remember the words of a friend who said “they’ll only call you crazy until what you do starts to wok. They they’ll say you;re a genius.””  Thanks for sharing this. Really enjoying your content. 

  14. I’ve had a number of people say that they wish they could do some of the things I do, lead the trips I lead and head up a ministry like I do. I always tell them they can, if they are willing to pay the price that comes with being a leader. For most people, they want the “glamour” of being a leader, but don’t realize the price that comes with that role. Great post, Jeff.

  15. I appreciate the reminder Jeff.  My husband and I recently moved to Albania to enjoy a slower pace of life.  So many times we’ve been questioned and we’ve even questioned ourselves but you know when you’re blazing the trail that makes you happy. 

    Most of us don’t want to face that one important question, what would my life look like if I was leading it?

  16. Brilliant, as usual 🙂
    Hated when I was shoved from behind to take center stage, to say or do something that I wasn’t ready or prepared for, but what I hated even more than that, were the times I made my way back into the crowd without an attempt to stand out, speak up, make a difference, etc.
    The seemingly insignificant & little things you do do, ARE obviously being noticed by others, otherwise they wouldn’t feel the need to push you from behind in the first place.
    So to those of you out there doing the shoving-Keep Shoving, sometimes its all one needs to finally Go and Keep Going…Do and Keep on Doing…
    And to those being shoved-The shoves more than likely won’t stop, so you might as well, Do Something Already…Learning to Practice what I Preach, on the daily…

  17. Hi Jeff,

    It really is about pushing through, even when you don’t feel like it. Facing up to fear and uncertainty and learning to deal with discomfort is the only way to really be outstanding at something. I used to spend much of my time gliding through my days with minimal effort, but finally got it!

    So much risk and work is involved, oh and the occasional case of the heebie-jeebies, but I’ve learned to deal with that feeling, and love it. It’s so obvious you have. 🙂

    Thanks! Love the inspiring posts here.

  18. We have way to many followers, we need more leaders! Great post Jeff. I hope that’s what I’m doing with the message that I’m spreading, I had a very similar post today on Dan Miller’s blog ( We have to stop looking at other people and trying to compare ourselves.

  19. I’ve found myself returning to your blog again and again which I don’t usually do. Your fresh, invigorating content  pulls me in.

    I believe that  acknowledging fear is not a reason to be discouraged. We need to feel fear in order to be fearless. The essence of cowardice is not acknowledging the reality of fear.

  20. Well said Jeff……and true. More of us need to follow Patricia’s and Rudolph’s examples. I enjoy reading your posts.

  21. Great article.  I’ve actually read it a few times today.  My favorite part, “Everyone wants to be outstanding, but no one’s willing to stand out,”  
    I think is something that needs to be put out there more often.  Thanks for doing it. 

  22. I decided a long time ago that its ok to be ‘wierd’. After years of running with the crowd, exalting the virtue of ‘fitting in’ and suppressing the deeper desires just to be authentic, I eventually gave in. 

    Since then, I’ve realised that it’s not just ok to be different… in fact, its crucial to standing a chance of being able to fulfil any kind of authentic purpose… Thx for reaffirming Jeff. 

    Long live the  wierd ones…

  23. I ended up here because of a link I saw on Twitter.  I found your post to be truly inspirational.  Thank you. 

  24. Absolutely. Another thing that being a leader encompasses is perseverance – you have to stand by what you started, even if no one stands with you. You can’t give up when things get hard. 

  25. Jeff, thanks for this.  I’ve been mulling over courage for months now – what it means and what it takes to be truly courageous.  You’re right – courage is about being willing to stand out, away from the pack, and blaze your own trail.  Everyone wants to be outstanding, but no one wants to stand out.  Brilliant!

  26. My favorite quote is from RW Emerson: Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

    If only he had mentioned how rough the terrain would be and how dull my machete is!  

  27. Hi Jeff,


    Your story of traveling off the beaten and into a new path is bold, encouraging, and sometimes could be lonely. And yet, that’s what leaders live their life like, and I admire them for that.

    Good leaders take the lead into the unknown, completely believing in themselves, knowing that whatever they are going to discover will illuminate millions of lives, because no thoughts and ideas are trite. They have a deeper meaning, and the beauty lies in it.

    Further when they come back, they bring something new, exciting, and beautiful back so that others can look , and think  … I WISH I COULD DO THAT ! They have done their work and got the reward.

    You are a great leader, and your posts are outstanding, and they  always inspires me to see things differently, be bold, courageous, and little bit crazy  … OUTSTANDING!

    Thank you for sharing.

  28. Thank you for this encouraging post. I’m the nerd who is willing to take the risk but is feeling a bit paralyzed in the loneliness part of my journey. I don’t care about the eye rolling, but the loneliness and new frontier can be hard as I don’t always feel there is someone to bounce ideas off. But now, thanks to this post, I will be the one to help the next person who stands where I am right now.
    I need to use the energy that I’m allowing the fear to have, to move me forward. BTW- I’ve been enjoying your new to blogging series and soaking it all in. 

  29. This is great! One of the things that kept  me from starting my blog for so long was that I thought I would take some riddle and teasing from critical friends and family. After starting, their reactions were surpassingly positive and encouraging. What I learned is that the criticism came from me, not them. I was the one who was afraid it wouldn’t be good enough so I used being ridiculed as an excuse.

  30. Very thoughtful and motivating post, Jeff (as always!). 

    In the social media realm, specifically as to how it relates to writers like us, it seems like to literally “stand out” from the crowd is the way to go. Meaning, of course, treating our social media network like a group of friends you want to brag about as often as possible, rather than a networking event where you want to throw your business cards in every direction, hoping some of them stick!

    Anyway, I just wrote a LONG post about being outstanding on social media, specifically for writers ( ). Just thought I’d add my two cents!

    Thanks again, 

  31. I read this post to my daughters (ages 12, 10 and 7) earlier this week.  My wife and I tried to generate some conversation with them around it–you know to encourage them to consider their unique genius, and find the courage to let it show–mostly they wanted to goof off and joke around.  But then my 7-yr old spoke up, and the conversation changed.  She said “if I moved to a new school, I wouldn’t want to be outstanding, I would just want to have friends.”

    Profound words from our littlest girl, and it generated a lot of conversation around that dinner table.  Thanks for providing great content for our conversation that evening!

  32. Jeff, I’ve been enjoying poking around in your blog tremendously!  You have a gift for combining information with encouragement (thank you) and your posts via e-mail are a weekly highlight.

    I’m knee deep in writing right now — no, make that eyeball deep 😉 — and I love it.  But what I love even more is interacting with folks.  The comment section is one of my favorite connections to other human beings!  Thanks again for your valuable insights on writing.

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  35. This is a very inspiring post! It is hard, as you say, and it’s quite easy to get discouraged/second guess yourself, but i guess one just has to keep at it and don’t give in. It’s hard to be different. It’s scary.

  36. “To do something this creative, something that’s never been done before, you have to be a little crazy.”

    Crazy is good.
    Your content of encouragement never loses it’s value Jeff.
    You could write a book just on encouragement.

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