June 14, 2016

What's your Unique Value Proposition?

What’s your unique value proposition?

These words were displayed brightly on a white wall.

My mind was spinning.

The past three days at Meetup 3 had been a deep dive into exploring what my Ei year was shaping up to be and where I might head after it was over. I didn’t have an answer to the question posed. I simply had more questions.

5 minutes to come up with your unique value proposition.

I could feel expectation fueling my need to perform and satisfy. I stared at that sticky note trying to find a way to scrap something together. Nothing.

Form groups of 3 and share your unique value proposition.

I pulled my chair towards Jake and Lan insisting they go first - a desperate attempt to delay my embarrassment. Halfway tuned into their propositions, thoughts of what to say on my turn rushed me.

2 minutes left!

Despite delaying to this point, Jake and Lan turned to me encouragingly. I looked back down at my sticky note. The warmth of embarrassment crept up my back to my cheeks and wetted my eyes.

“I don’t have anything.” I cried. I looked down. I felt vulnerable. I apologized for making a harmless exercise uncomfortable. Jake and Lan hugged me. People told me what I was good at. It was nice, but it didn’t help.

My answer could not have been more true. That’s what scared me the most. It’s not that I don’t believe I have value, it’s that I don’t know what I have to offer the world yet. My ideas are vague approximations of where I might go - and they are changing all the time.

This unique value proposition exercise highlighted my age and experience level. 22 years old and about 4 months of out-of-school work experience. That’s where I’m at. Most of the time I feel like I’m 20 steps behind my classmates. My realizations about work and the world feel juvenile and clumsy. I’ve worked hard to quicken my steps and close the gap, but it costs me the ability to savor my growing moments.

The evening of “unique value proposition day” I spoke with Lance, a former Ei student. I shared my swimming thoughts, what happened, and the questions I wrote on that sticky note. He didn’t reassure me or tell me what I was good at. He simply told me to keep questioning.

I suppose that might not sound like something that would calm me, but it did. Here’s the best way I can explain it:

Saying “I don’t know” felt like being thrown into water and calling out for help. Some people tossed me flotation devices to help me keep afloat, but “keep questioning” was like someone reminding me I can swim and get somewhere on my own.

In the 4 weeks since “unique value proposition day” I’ve owned my “I don’t know.” I’m not sure exactly what I have to offer. I’m figuring it out. “I don’t know” doesn’t mean I don’t believe I have value to offer in a workplace. It means I have a lot more exploring to do, and I don’t expect that exploration to end.

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