Find Your Niche.

November 11th, 2007

The most famous performers — the Pelés and Pavarottis — are lucky because their special talents match up precisely to pre-existing, well-defined fields of endeavor. If you knew everything about golf and wanted to draw up the perfect golfer, you’d draw up a player with the physical and mental attributes (not to mention the personal history) of Tiger Woods.

And then there’s the rest of us. We don’t have the talent or the writerly ambition of Norman Mailer. We don’t have the mind of Albert Schweitzer or Paul Farmer. We don’t have the business acumen of Jack Welch or Oprah Winfrey.

Some people bang their heads against the wall, trying to be Mr. Olympia when they have a runner’s body. They want to sing opera when they have a torch-singer voice. They want to be a big-company CEO when they have the temperament to be a small-company entrepreneur — or vice versa.

If you want to be a U.S. senator, it may be hard to accept that you’re perfect as a member of the city council or the school board or the state Land Commission. But real success comes from doing what you do, inimitably.

Steve Buscemi would never have made it as a screen-idol counterpart to George Clooney. Not his fault — that’s just not who he is. But he’s a very, very interesting Steve Buscemi. Dave Barry would never have made it as a peer of Philip Roth and Toni Morrison — but that’s fine, too. He’s better off (and so are we) being Dave Barry.

Nothing too profound here, just this: be who you are. Think hard about who that is. And don’t be discouraged if your particular gifts won’t make you a peer of John Williams or Lyndon Johnson or Marilyn Monroe or Michael Jordan. Find what you can do, and do it to the hilt.

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Related: “Categories of One.”

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