Driving home from what, to me, was a usual Friday evening of live broadcasting $5,000 being handed out to local nonprofits, listening to NPR. The story of Owura Kwadwo Hottish came on, discussing the worldwide attention he is receiving for teaching technology in his rural Ghana classroom by drawing a computer screen on the blackboard for every class.
What especially struck me was this:
Did your students laugh at you when you first tried teaching them computers on the chalkboard?
No. That’s the normal way and they’re used to it. They were OK since they don’t have an option, not having computers at the school.
So you’re not the first to teach computers on a blackboard!
Yeah, that’s normal in the rural community.
It reminded me, in one short exchange, of a lesson I’ve been trying to truly embrace for years. The lesson? What is “normal” or “easy” or “makes sense” to you is often what’s shocking or surprising to others. We all have a normal — the things we do every day, that we think about constantly, or that we just absorb from our everyday life. It’s when something becomes “normal” to you that you likely know a lot more about it than at least 50% of the people out there.
Owning what makes you awesome
One of the most common questions I get asked when I’m talking with people about social media is “but what do I post?”
The answer is, more often than not, to post what seems normal to you. A big part of sharing our stories isn’t sharing the Big Lessons or the Huge Ideas that we have to think about and work to perfect. Often times, if the only thing you’re posting about is the Huge Ideas, it feels… fake. It feels like someone putting on a front and inauthentic. It’s no fun to follow in the long term, because it’s the digital equivalent of watching a 24/7 highlight reel. And that’s exhausting for everyone. There’s a reason that hours-long live videos of things like fish tanks and commuter train views are so popular.
The “secret” to owning your expertise, to mastering your personal brand, to being a good citizen online, is letting people see, authentically, into your everyday. The everyday that you’re habituated to and barely see unless you’re looking for it.
What’s awesome? Probably what is ‘normal’ to you.
It’s a scary proposition, too. Letting others in to your everyday as a person or as a brand, means sometimes you’re being a bit silly, uncertain, or unpolished. Sometimes it means that you are sharing what feels just ridiculously basic. But that, right there, is where the magic happens.
I can’t tell you how many times I have, in the past, had a conversation that’s gone something like this:
“So I am hosting Thansgiving again this year, but I’m at a bit of a loss, because there’s only 8 people coming. The pies…”
“Wait, 8 people? That must be stressful!”
“It is. I would really prefer about twice that, minimum.”
When what I really wanted to talk about was the pie issue, this person who dosn’t know that I grew up in a catering business, owned a personal chef buiness, and love feeding a crowd is stuck back on what, to me, is barely worth mentioning.
Your life is a math problem. And unless you share the basic arithmatic, then nobody is going to understand the algebra. It’s going to fly right over their heads.
You are habituated to yourself
I have a friend who owns a business repairing pagers. Yes, those devices from the 1980s that you thought nobody carried any more? They know them inside and out, from the systems that make pagers work to the components in individual pagers. It’s “normal” to them, but it’s fascinating to those of us who don’t know them in detail.
Another friend of mine is an incredible artist, who “doodles” these hand-drawn mandalas that are mind-blowingly beautiful. When she’s not doing that, she processes bones, creates jewlery, and hand-inlays bone runes with stone. And that’s while she’s also home-schooling her two kids, making beautiful bread, and more. Her “everyday” is incredible, an she’s got expertise in dozens of areas that would take the rest of us years of Googling to begin to approach.
Both of them have to be reminded occasionally that any of these things would be great to share.
Habituation is powerful, and makes it easy to forget that the things that are “normal” for us are fascinating to others. Embracing your expertise starts with sharing your everyday, and recognizing it for just how awesome it is.