I was listening to Ray Edwards recently where he was sharing on his podcast 10 Uncomfortable Truths About Me. As he, Sean, and Tiffany were getting ready to sign off, he said something that I loved. Some of the things he shared in that episode (#399 if you want to listen) were going to clearly separate his people from those who are not his people. He was talking about distinctives, calling attention to what makes you and me different.
Too often, we forget this principle. You aren’t meant to be a perfect fit with everyone you encounter. You know that I regularly refer to you as unique. There’s something special and different about you that won’t resonate with everyone you meet.
Being all things to all people doesn’t work – there’s a tribe, a group who gets you. Those are the ones you have to find and plugin with…deeply. You have to be okay with that. You have views, opinions, and interests that will separate as well as attract. These unique identifiers may even cause others to work against you. Don’t worry about separating yourself and identifying as different. This is how it should be.
What are your distinctives? Lean into them. They not only shape you, but they also pull in (or push out!) others as you find, build, and connect with your tribe. I think there are challenges with words like “tribe.” Sometimes it sounds exclusionary to me and the reality is you are excluding people when you are being honest about who you are because you and your message won’t connect with everyone you contact.
So here are some distinctives about me.
First, I’m a Christ-follower. I would hope that in every single thing I say and do, that you see or hear Jesus in it. Part of the danger of telling you this is that you assume I’m some kind of religious nut job. Some of you are already certain that I am. I’d like to think that I’m not religious at all and instead value a sincere relationship with Jesus. I mean this from the bottom of my heart, not preaching at you, Jesus has changed my life.
Second, I had a HUGE fascination with trucks when I was young. There were truck drivers on both sides of my family. I grew up shifting gears for my Uncle Wayne as he delivered fuel between Denver and Greeley, Colorado. And it consumed me. I was forever building trucks out of Legos and drawing them no matter how poor of an artist I was. When I drew them, they came to life for me. And trust me, if you have never been in the cab of a truck, it is an exhilarating experience.
The highlight of my young life was getting to go in the truck with my Uncle Larry and my cousin Larry Jr to Grand Island, Nebraska. That memory is only outdone by getting to ride in the truck with my hero, my cousin Doug Steinbecker, from Greeley, Colorado out to Portland, Oregon.
I was hooked. It ran in my blood. My Uncle Larry and Uncle Dale owned a very successful trucking company that they started in Greeley, Colorado called Steinbecker Brothers. They started with one truck, then two, then three. At one point, they had more than 300 trucks and 500 trailers.
I worked hard from the time I was young. I mowed lawns as a pre-teen and not only paid for my part of the equipment but also paid for the dirt bike that I bought with my own money.
When we moved to Greeley, I got my dream job! Working in the wash rack for my uncles at their trucking company. Literally, I was driving trucks pulling trailers before I was driving a car. It was crazy and I loved every moment.
But like all glamorous things, the shine can wear a bit and expose some of the more challenging realities. Truck driving is a very hard life and owning/running a trucking company is even more difficult.
Fortunately, my parents watered a seed of interest in computers with a massive investment in the mid-80s to buy an IBM Portable PC and dot matrix printer. As a result, that paved the way for me to find a career in technology. But things don’t always go as planned.
The third distinctive that is different about me is that I was nominated to attend the U.S. Naval Academy by Senator Hank Brown in Colorado. In part because of all the diesel smoke that I inhaled, I had no desire to attend the Naval Academy. I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy.
It was my job as a young adult male to make questionable decisions, so instead of pursuing the Naval Academy, I entered the workforce right after high school. I was working full time in my early 20s living in north Denver when I decided to go back to school and get my degree. I was married with two kids before completing that degree in 1999. It took me almost eight years to get it done, but I didn’t have any student loan debt when I finished.
I can tell you that I worked extremely hard for that piece of paper. And I’m forever grateful for my employer at that time who paid most of my tuition as long as I maintained my grades. Ginger and the boys were so patient with me. I could never have done it without their support.
It wasn’t easy and it was absolutely worth it for me. I pushed both of my boys HARD to get degrees. In hindsight, I don’t think that was smart or helpful. As a matter of fact, in many instances, I think it can be damaging to push your children to get a degree. So, no, I don’t think everyone should go to college.
I’ve worked with some BRILLIANT people who do not have a degree. And that’s part of their list of distinctives. Not only are they more intelligent, capable, and qualified to lead than their degree-holding peers, in my opinion, they were (and are) unfairly discriminated against because they didn’t have a piece of paper saying they know how to study and take tests.
I believe that degrees have great value to those who apply themselves to the process of learning. I don’t believe that degrees qualify you as learned.
Fourth, both my wife and youngest son faced life-threatening illnesses. This is one of the distinctives that I don’t wish on anyone because it’s brutal, frustrating, frightening, and makes you incredibly thankful for each and every day. I know how crushing bad news can be and I know what it’s like to struggle through things you don’t understand.
It drove me to my knees on multiple occasions and while it didn’t always turn out the way I wanted, there was always a deep peace knowing that I wasn’t alone. There’s nothing more tragic than going through circumstances like these feeling isolated with no one to turn to – if that’s you, then tell me! You don’t have to go through it alone!
Fifth, I spent more than 30 years in corporate America working for two different companies. I worked for a medium-sized company for eight years and a Fortune 500 company for 23. Not only do individuals have distinctives that separate, so do organizations and cultures.
While they both had their share of issues, there are so many good things that I could tell you about either of them. I’ve known myriads of business owners at companies of various sizes. Entrepreneurs, small, medium, and large business owners, CEOs of both public and privately held companies and I can say this with 100% confidence: thank God for all the risk-takers who employed the rest of us!
Business owners, corporations, bankers, investors, shareholders, they aren’t evil. There are obviously some very bad people in this world. And there are some very, VERY, good ones. The answer to our problems is not vilifying those we don’t understand or disagree with. Dialog, not diatribes, will bridge the gap from where we are to where we want to be.
I’ve been burned and I’ve been blessed in the companies I worked for. And I can say that I’m genuinely grateful for each experience that continues to shape me into the individual that I am today. My distinctives are going to be different than yours.
So, here’s the thing: I want you to take a few moments today and think about your distinctives. What are some of those experiences in your background that have made you into the woman or man that you are today?
You have a story – some of those things will attract people to you and others will repel. That’s okay. Because your story will resonate with certain folks, you need to invest deeply in them. What makes you different, what makes you distinct, makes you valuable.
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