I attended a conference of uber-successful solo consultants and coaches this past week.

It turns out, uber-successful people are some of the hardest-working individuals in the world on one core thing: themselves. They understand that they have to be at their best to serve their clients in an extraordinary fashion.

Interestingly, the core themes these professionals focus on:

  • Creating meaning in their work and lives.
  • Striving to find unique, meaningful ways to stand-out in a crowded world
  • Learning to discover and harness their superpowers.
  • Finding happiness.

…are the same themes the rest of us are wrestling with in our lives and careers.

These are human issues.

Becoming You at Your Best:

We’re all searching for the same thing. (Deep down, it’s not money: that’s a byproduct.) We’re looking for that convergence of factors that enables us to be at our best as human beings.

The difference between the group at the conference and many of the rest of us is that these people work unceasingly at becoming themselves at their best. (See my article: Revisiting What It Means to Become You at Your Best)

  • They are chronic learners, hungry for ideas.
  • They give themselves permission to fail.
  • They give themselves permission to succeed.
  • They unselfishly help each other get better at their craft.
  • They challenge themselves and others to open their minds to new ideas.
  • They cry “foul” on poor thinking habits that keep others (colleagues and clients) from being the best possible version of themselves.
  • And, they know and harness their backstories—the experiences that have shaped them as humans.

More on backstories in a minute.

Becoming the best possible version of yourself requires you to tune in to your true purpose. Your backstory holds the key to uncovering this purpose. Click To Tweet

It Takes Courage to Zig and Zag:

It’s energizing to hang around a group people that have it all going on. Except, they are the first ones to admit there were times in their lives that they didn’t.The word Rethink displayed on a chalkboard

Almost all admit to taking a zig-zag line to the place where success, significance, meaning, and happiness converge.

Too many of us expect a straight-line to this place.

There are no straight lines in life.

Accept the zig. Be courageous enough to take the zag.

The Power of Your Backstory:

The most important conversation of the event was around backstories.

We all have one.

The challenge is to tap into it and to find energy and purpose from it.

Several people shared their backstories and connected them to their purpose and mission. The stories were moving. When someone shares their backstory, it’s an intimate moment. You gain a glimpse of an individual at a deep level. You forget the labels: consultant, coach, author, executive, manager, engineer or accountant. You see the person and understand the purpose.

It seems that most backstories involve adversity. These are crucible moments in our lives. Crucible heating metal

The adversity provides the fuel for the purpose.

If you choose to uncover your backstory—often buried or blocked under the layers in our memories—and then harness it, you set the stage for growth and success.

It becomes the “Why” in what you do.

In case you missed it, Simon Sinek reminds us of how important the “Why” is in our lives, careers, and businesses. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

How My Backstory Drives My Professional Work:

The exercise on uncovering my backstory forced me to think about my “Why.”

I connected some dots.

My mission is to help others overcome adversity in their professional lives and to achieve things they never dreamed they would achieve in their careers.

If I have a superpower, it’s in that neighborhood. Or, at least that zip-code.

But I hadn’t thought about my “Why” on this one in too much depth. It turns out; there are four pivotal moments in my life that give life to my mission. They drive my effort to become myself at my best.

I’ll share just one here.

How Billy Defines Part of My Backstory:

I was going into 4th grade when we moved, and I had to change schools.

As everyone who has lived through that experience knows, it is disorienting and a bit frightening.

During one of the first days at recess, I was standing alone and noticed a group of my classmates huddled over near the building. They were all staring, and a few were shouting.

I went over to see what was happening, and I saw a couple of the kids pushing around and hitting a smaller, bald boy. One of the bigger kids knocked him to the ground.

I recall the fear on his face and the venom of the crowd. There were no teachers around, and I stepped in. I was the new kid, and fortunately in this instance big for my age. (OK, my jeans size was, “husky,” which was the the size for big, fat kids.) In this instance, my physical size and the fact that I was an unknown worked in my favor, which was fortunate, because I was not particularly confident in my fighting skills. (Proof that sometimes, you have to fake it.)

The bullies backed away, the crowd dispersed, and I was left staring at a small, cut and bleeding bald kid with tears in his eyes. I helped him stand up and dust himself off.

His name was Billy McAullife.

Billy, it turns out had undergone surgery, and thus the bald head. He was a sweet kid, and we became fast friends from that moment.

He missed classes fairly regularly, but always returned with a smile. He never focused on whatever illness it was that he was dealing with, and I didn’t ask about it.

I remember him as happy and as a good friend.

Billy had been gone a few weeks, when one morning, Mr. Hall announced that Billy had passed away of brain cancer. (I can’t tell this story without choking up, and I’m struggling writing it.)

I did not recognize it for a long time, but this is one of those defining experiences in my life. It both explains my desire to help others (in a way that I am capable of helping) and provides fuel for my mission.

It’s part of my backstory, along with a few other unique events.

I cannot help the Billys of the world escape their diseases. I wish I could.

However, I can help great people who need the tools, approaches, and encouragement to succeed in their careers. I can support their efforts to develop as effective, values-based leaders. I can help them help others. I’m uniquely suited to this work, and as I engage in it, the work offers me the opportunity to be me at my best.

And sadly, the world of work is not much different than the playground where I met Billy. I can help good people navigate and beat the bullies.

I’m not a fixer, nor a rescuer. I am an enabler of success. And understanding how important my “Billy” moment turns out to be in my life, helps me reframe my “Why.” I’m not a speaker, or a workshop presenter, author, or even an executive coach first, I help people and teams overcome adversity. I just happen to do it through speaking, writing, and coaching.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Is it time for you to uncover your backstory? What is it about this backstory that defines your purpose? Your mission? Your “Why?” If your work is out of alignment with your purpose, you’re likely feeling distress. Find your backstory, connect it to your mission and then zig or zag if you have to.

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