I commute by train to and from work every day, and I can’t help but notice how the first car of the train is always much more crowded than the second car. Crowded enough that people are willing to stand, to squish together, and generally to be uncomfortable.
Logically, you’d think people would be balancing how close they are to the front (and how quickly they can get to work or get home) with other criteria (like getting a seat and not being squished like sardines), but they don’t. People think of themselves as “front car people,” and this shorthand makes them act in a certain way.
Professionally, there are increasing opportunities to be the best at something, and to get noticed for it.
What’s interesting is, you become the best at something, and then the front-of-the-car phenomenon can kick in: people want “the best,” so they squish into the front car to demand your services (your expert advice, your opinion for a magazine article, whatever).
Today I had the chance to attend a PowerPoint training by Gene Zelazny, who is the author of “Say it With Presentations,” “Say it With Charts: The Executive’s Guide to Successful Presentations,” and a host of other books. I’m pretty sure Gene didn’t tell his second grade teacher that he wanted to be the world’s expert on PowerPoint charts. But he’s built an amazing career out of this, published a series of successful books on the topic, and he works with CEOs and their teams on effective PowerPoint communications. Gene has built a platform around something he’s incredibly passionate about, and he’s the first car on the train when it comes to PowerPoint training.
Your platform can (and probably should) be narrow. You’re probably not the next George Soros, Bill Gates, Stephen King or Peyton Manning, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance to be the best at something smaller, and in so doing you can make a career and life for yourself doing something you’re good at and passionate about. And whatever your platform, once it’s established it can broaden and strengthen over time.
But first you have to know – or have some inkling about – what this “thing” is. And if you can’t draw a line (even a tenuous one) from what you do today to this thing you might be best at, you might be in the wrong line of work.