Staerk: Want to stand out? Go one step further


Courtesy of Dylan Gillis via Unsplash

Columnist Ashlee Staerk explains how easy it is to make yourself stand out and set yourself up for success. 

Ashlee Staerk

It’s safe to say that everyone longs for success in their life. While success means something different to everyone, every person has dreams and goals. For college students, this is no exception, and what I’ve heard is how you have to make yourself stand out. You must find what sets you apart from people with the same desire to be successful and market that originality. If you’re anything like me, hearing that making myself stand out can be the difference between achieving a dream or not feels daunting. 

There’s no shortage of resources on how to be successful at anything, and that can be an overload of information. Besides, there is no concrete list of steps to achieving anything — if there were, everybody would achieve their version of success. So why am I repeating what you already know? Because in my experience, I think standing out and setting yourself up for success is actually easier than people realize. To stand out, go one step further. 

You’ve probably also heard this advice — “stand out from the competition,” “do what no one else is doing,” etc. The advice I’m sharing is similar, but my advice makes “doing what no one else is doing” and “standing out from your competition” much simpler to do.

All my life, I’ve loved to learn. I enjoyed academics, but I also enjoyed doing my own research about my passions and seeking out insight from those wiser and farther along in life than me. Growing up with my dream to write and publish books, I started a blog. When work with a web designer fell through, I self-taught myself web design and branding. I’ve reached out to people I look up to and taken the initiative in researching my career goals and the best way to achieve them.

I’ve talked with several people at Iowa State to determine the best major for my goals, as well as the best courses, connections and opportunities. Through all of this, there’s a trend that leaves me confused: the surprise people show at my willingness to pursue success.

I’ll share three recent examples of this. The first from a meeting with a Career Services adviser. It was my second meeting with this adviser. The first time we looked over my resume, and I took notes over every comment she made. After that meeting, I went through my resume and made every change I could. That’s what this second meeting was about — to look the new one over.

I mainly heard how great it looked and when she was done going through it, she made a comment I was not expecting. She was surprised I had actually made all the changes she suggested and said a lot of students come to her with their resumes but then don’t make the changes she suggests.

Then, there was the time after switching my major that I scheduled an appointment with my new major’s internship coordinator. I wanted to meet with her to start learning how I could prepare. I went into the meeting overwhelmed and discouraged. Even though I was only a freshman, my lack of work experience made me feel like I was already behind with obtaining an internship relevant to my goals.

I had a list of questions and was poised to take any feedback she gave me. The one thing I kept hearing again and again was that by already meeting with her, she knew I was going to be fine.

My last example is from a couple days ago, both of my parents telling me how proud of me they are for taking the initiative in networking and being so career-oriented.

Now, I’ve begun to realize that what the competition is doing may not be as big as you might think. I’m constantly amazed by how many people seem apathetic about planning things out and thinking even a little bit further down the road. Look, I get it: life is hard, and it can be busy. But if you want any chance at making the success you dream of a reality, the least you can do is prioritize it. 

People notice when someone is prioritizing their success. I never thought I would be someone people viewed that way, and I don’t say any of this to pat myself on the back. I say this because I never thought I’ve been doing anything extraordinary. I always believed I would feel like I was doing extraordinary work after I obtained the success I dreamed of. Getting the impression that the competition would be fierce, I never thought I was doing anything big enough to stand out.

I’ve learned differently. Now I know it all comes down to one step at a time, one email at a time, one meeting at a time, one deadline at a time. What seems natural, standard or insignificant to you might actually be that one step ahead of your competition, the one step further that makes you stand out.

I still have a long journey ahead of me to fulfill all my dreams, but now I don’t exactly believe it will be the “big things” I do that set me up for future success. I think it all comes down to the type of person you are and the little habits you’re instilling for success day by day. Doing the right thing, staying on top of things, taking the initiative; those are the big things. The next step you can always take is to begin with what feels like the right thing, whether it’s scheduling a meeting with someone who knows better than you, making an important deadline or taking the time to reach out to someone. 

If you want to make yourself stand out, start there. You might be surprised at how the smallest things can set you up for the biggest successes down the line.