“To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”
- Anatole France
THE X FACTOR. What sets you apart from others? What do you add to the world that is outstanding or just different? Does your business have a unique competitive advantage? What is your X Factor?
Think about this scenario: two entrepreneurs have similar backgrounds, pretty much identical business proposals, and exposure to the same professional network and one of them secures funding and becomes a success while the other struggles. One seems to attract “luck” while the other doesn’t. Why is this so? Or, what about two tennis players who have fairly equal technical ability and track records, and one receives multiple endorsements and the other none? In each scenario, the standout has that certain something you can’t quite describe – the French would say that je ne sais quois, or “I don’t know what.” Some would call it the “X Factor.”
This was the case, for example, with actress and singer Dorothy Dandridge. My dad was friends with Dorothy and her older sister, Vivian. From Ohio, both sisters grew up performing first in Baptist churches across the country then as the Dandridge Sisters in places like the Cotton Club. They finally moved to Los Angeles and both got work in film. According to my dad, who was one of the leading voice and speech teachers at the time, Vivian was actually more talented than her sister, at least in terms of her singing. However, Dorothy had that special spark which made her light up a room. Vivian appeared in eight films, from the 1930s through the early 1950s, though most of her roles were uncredited. Dorothy, on the other hand, became a true star, garnering an Academy Award nomination for her title role in the film, Carmen Jones opposite Harry Belafonte. In addition to being the first black woman to be Oscar-nominated for “Best Actress in a Leading Role,” she was the first black woman to grace the cover of Life Magazine. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe and Golden Laurel, for her 1959 role in Porgy and Bess with Sidney Poitier. Although she died when she was only 42 years old, she appeared in over 15 films from 1937 through 1961 and left an indelible mark on film and African-American history. For many years, Vivian, with all of her innate talent, lived in the shadow of her more famous sister. She certainly had her own special gifts. However, except for an appearance in a TV mini-series in 1986, she lived pretty much in anonymity until she died in 1991.
What is this X Factor? It can mean the difference between an average salesperson and a superstar producer. It’s that element which makes you stand out in the job interview versus the twenty other people who have similar credentials. It’s a quality that separates the extraordinary from the ordinary. In people, it’s often seen as a type of charisma you’re simply born with. My theory is that we each can tap into our own X Factor through a combination of belief and connection. For an individual, this means cultivating a deep awareness and belief in the Self coupled with the ability to connect authentically with others. It is being Present with your Purpose, which manifests as an electric presence. It is a consistent focus on your vision and the quest for personal excellence. The depth of your belief could be the difference between success and failure.
For a business, it means having strong leadership based on a clear vision and a distinct connection with clients and/or customers. It is actively cultivating the company’s competitive “edge.” Companies that have identified at least one special thing to set them apart from their competition and are constantly focused on retaining excellent customer interactions, succeed. Starbucks, for example, started off in this way (though they may have to reinvent themselves again). Business analysts say that they “reset the customer’s expectations around the retail coffee experience.” They tapped into many elements such as multiple well-placed locations, an inviting environment, and management’s strong belief that people would buy a $4.00 cup of coffee! Many say it was the superb employee training and careful quality control, however, which really gave them their initial edge. That was their X Factor.
The X Factor also refers to the “unknown.” For example, in politics, young people and Independents have been referred to as the X Factor because of the uncertainty as to how they may vote in an election. In planning an event, the weather may be the X Factor in gauging the attendance levels. In math, we learn how to solve for the “x”, the unknown quantity which is vital to an equation’s solution. For example, 2 + x = 4. In life, the equation is more complex. Being diagnosed with Crohn’s was my “unknown” which became the catalyst for me to truly understand my special offering. My life was moving along smoothly, step-by-step as I had planned – steady path in school, quick rise up the corporate ladder, secure financial foundation – until I almost died in 1997. That unforeseen experience took me off the track and forced me to re-evaluate everything. I had to go back to the basics in terms of rebuilding my health and my external world. Even though I went back to the corporate job for a couple more years, ultimately that “detour” led me to my Purpose. I could never have planned for things to happen quite that way. My X Factor – the ability to remain focused and positive even through adversity – was there all along, and contributed to my past success. However, when I was forced to be still, I became clear about my gifting and open to new possibilities.
Therefore, in looking at the X Factor as the unknown, it is important to keep your eyes open to read the signs. Although you can map out your life, certain things may come up which seem “off-plan” but may actually be leading you closer to your true path. The same thing applies to a business. One of my mentors, for example, set off to launch a tea shop in San Francisco. A few years in, he and his wife realized how tough a retail business was so they shut down the teahouse and started manufacturing and distributing premium whole-leaf teas to restaurants and stores like Whole Foods and Nordstrom. Instead of the regular tea bags, they designed and trademarked special stitched tea pouches. Keeping their belief in the value of tea, they read the signs in the marketplace, listened to their customers and followed their own intuitions. Now, they have over $10 million in sales and are an INC 500 business – The Mighty Leaf Tea Company.
So, how do you recognize your X Factor? Dr. Seuss gave us a hint in saying, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” In other words, the first step is to know yourself – there is something in you that is entirely unique. It is your job to discover, believe in, and release your Gift, and be open to course corrections and true connections. It requires you to honor the unseen forces in the Universe, as you cultivate your internal intuitive compass. I understand that this may be easier said than done. It’s asking:
The same questions can apply to business. When you go through the process of answering these questions, you’ll come closer to solving for the “x” – allowing the magic of you, or the magic of your company, to shine through and be a magnet for success on your own terms, over the long term.
Today, I honor my uniqueness.
There is magic in me ready to be released. My job is to See IT, Be IT and Share IT. That “IT” is my Inner Talent. I believe in the power of my dreams. I seek true connections with myself, with others and with my Divine Source. I am open to receive inspiration and instructions for my next steps. I know that if the seed was planted in me, it was destined to grow.
Today, I honor my uniqueness.
Listen to the Affirmation:
Copyright Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy. Power Living® Column Vol. 69.08, originally published March 2008. Teresa Kennedy has written over 70 “The Power of…” columns that are a part of the Power Living® Empowerment Series and available for syndication. Call 212-901-6913 for more information.
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