On Friday 13th February last year, flouting all superstitions, I relaunched my consulting business.
I had worked hard with my designer to revamp my logo, renovate the website, add a new space to experiment and share ideas (my blog The HR Rabbit Hole), took a crash course in a new language (Digital Speak – SEO, Backlinks, Content Curation, Copywriting) and became a social media newbie for business purposes with 2 new Facebook pages and 1 Twitter account.
I felt confident. I was ready to rock.
I had something of value to say. My business was ready to help more clients get unstuck, do work that matters and grow.
I wanted to make a difference. Run a successful business. Yes please. Bring it on!
The Cloak of Invisibility
Weeks and months sailed by. There was no stampede of new clients to my business.
Cripes! This might not work.
My social media followers, friends, likes, comments barely made it to double digits.
I know it isn’t but it sure felt like it was a competition.
I was invisible in the digital universe.
The green eyed monster moved into my office and took up residence in my mind; egging me on to check out other people’s social media following, their business blog traffic and comments.
I know I shouldn’t have but I obsessively checked and kept score.
What the $#%! are they doing that I’m not?
Folks, social media profile envy is a real condition.
The e-books and webinars offering guarantees to “boost your followers by 205%” or “increase your engagement by 183%” “grow your list and make money FAST” started to pull at my attention.
The blog posts promising game plans, quick and easy steps to remove the doubt and share tactics to erase the worry only served to fuel the fear that I dared to step too far and dream too big.
Let’s be honest. Some of these are packed with value, created by helpful and generous knowledge sharers.
But most are published by dodgy snake oil merchants, peddling hope in a post to stressed-out solopreneurs and harried start-up business owners.
The Book that Unexpectedly Saved My Sanity
That August, thoughts of my business stresses tagged along on my summer holiday to London. But I was determined to catch up on my reading and find sanctuary in something that I have loved for as long as I can remember.
I headed down to my local bookshop and bought a book recommended by a friend. Back indoors, I inhaled the new book smell and brewed a pot of coffee. Curling up in the old green comfy chair, I dove in.
I have to admit, I didn’t expect to enjoy reading ‘The Wright Brothers: The Dramatic Story Behind the Legend’ by David McCullough.
Definitely, not my usual cup of tea; and certainly not my typical holiday reading!
I expected it to be an exceedingly well-researched and written story. It said so in the write-up.
I didn’t expect to discover a lesson about the value of obscurity from two bicycle mechanics who made the dream of human flight a reality.
On December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright’s airplane lifted off the ground for few seconds to make the first powered in history. They continued to refine their planes for the next 5 years.
They were largely ignored by the Press, their hometown, their government, the scientific establishment and the world during this time.
Reading the Wright Brothers’ story got me thinking about the value of obscurity.
In our ‘like me’ ‘follow me’ culture, we live externally and conspicuously searching for the limelight, recognition, validation and even celebrity.
Perhaps, a period of obscurity is a much overlooked critical stage on the path to stellar success – whatever your criteria for success might be.
But you can’t just languish in obscurity waiting for the lightning bolt of success to strike.
There’s work to be done whilst you have the advantage of obscurity. The mindset you adopt and the consistent application of certain habits, will be the difference between a remarkable or commonplace achievement.
Instead of lamenting how deserving and super-special you are; get to work.
Start here. Rewire your thinking to take advantage of obscurity. Here are 9 smart habits from the Wright Brothers to help set you on the right path.
9 Smart Habits You Need to Adopt to Get Results from Obscurity
Yes, 9! Come on, 10 would have been far too obvious.
1. Focus on your goal with single-minded determination:
The Brothers toiled for years, 14 to 16 hour days, six days a week, devoted to achieving their goal; to achieve powered flight AND to learn how to fly. Are you willing to make the sacrifice to achieve your goals?
2. Be willing to take ‘calculated’ risks:
They flew those rickety looking contraptions themselves. Orville crashed, killing a high-profile passenger and seriously injuring himself. He recovered to fly again. It is dangerous moving beyond your comfort zone. But the edge is where the interesting discoveries are made and transformative stuff can happen.
3. Tune out the naysayers and critics:
“There was a human fixation that man can’t fly and anybody who pretends that man can fly is a crackpot.” David McCullough.
They tuned out the peddlers of conventional ‘wisdom’. But unorthodoxy exacts a high price for the promise of great reward. Are you willing to pay the price?
4. Compete only with yourself:
Run your own race. They were not the only ones who dreamed of achieving powered flight. In Europe and the US, men were experimenting with air balloons, large kites, gliders and aircraft designs.
5. Practice humility:
While others were chasing prestige, inviting the press and attracting crowds to their flight demonstrations which often ended in jaw-dropping failures; the Brothers focused on honing their craft. From inside their bicycle shop they put their energies to ironing out the kinks, building, rebuilding their flying machine from scratch without fanfare.
6. Persistence and perseverance:
Without the distraction of mass public scrutiny, they actively learned from their mistakes. They never let failure or disappointment derail their mission. Failure should not be the fatal nor sound the death knell to your purpose. Instead it is the opportunity to unlearn that which does not work and apply this to new learning.
They systematically identified one problem at a time and eliminated it through trial and error. With each problem or mistake uncovered, they repeated the process until they found the solution – amplifying their output and transforming disparate bits of metal and wood into a flying machine.
They didn’t fall prey to the Siren call of quick fix solutions. Artisan in their approach, this is a masterful example of ‘incremental iterative learning’ delivering monumental results.
7. Stay curious and keep learning:
From humble beginnings; they did not attend college, had little of their own money and had no financial backing. But they were smart visionaries, industrious and single-minded.
They were self-taught, continuous learners. They read widely and deeply and studied the pioneers of their discipline.
8. Cut your own path:
They were inspired by the early pioneers. But when they discovered that the widely accepted science of flying machines incorrect; they were not afraid to correct or adapt it or rewrite it completely. They rewrote the rules of aerodynamics.
When they needed a part that didn’t exist, they designed it and built it themselves. Limited access to external resources and obscurity was the mother of invention, adaptation and improvisation.
9. Build and maintain your support network:
They had the foundation of a strong close-knit family. Not only did they have each other, their sister Katharine Wright was a strong supporter and helped manage their public appearances as they became famous. Charlie Taylor, an employee in their bicycle shop, was instrumental in the design of a gasoline engine to power their flying machine.
The Wright Brothers is an inspiring read not just for entrepreneurs. It is an uplifting story to encourage anyone who has an audacious dream.
Obscurity, whilst it lasts, is like possessing a Superpower – Invisibility. Don’t squander it. Use it wisely and responsibly.
So if you want to make sure obscurity doesn’t suck, you can do worse than pick up a Wright Brothers’ inspired habit.
My takeaway: I learned that obscurity is the opportunity to hone your craft, build success and achieve your desired goals from the inside out, not the outside in.
Flash in the pan celebrity OR lasting legacy?
Ultimately, choice is yours to make.
Nicole Antonio-Gadsdon is an advocate of the art and craft of Creative HR. She is particularly fond of plucking square pegs from round holes and ruffling Establishment feathers. Her main purpose is to help clients transform from blah to cooking with gas through her company Aquarius Human Resources Consulting Ltd.
She writes stories about her Creative HR journey and shares tips and discoveries in The HR Rabbit Hole blog.