Have you ever gone to a party and discovered that you had dressed quite differently from everyone else? How did that make you feel?

For some people, this experience would be the height of embarrassment.

For others, noting the differences might just draw a slight smile. No copycats need apply to these people!

By just looking around most organizations you can quickly tell whether the norm is fitting in or standing out. Which work environment do you prefer?

Choosing either one can be difficult for some people. To help the undecided, let’s take a look at some potential benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Easily fitting in usually means fewer awkward moments. Everyone knows what to say and do, as well as when.

There’s a problem with fitting in: what if more benefit would come by standing out in the crowd? Where everyone fits in well, no one may notice any differences between you and everyone else. Don’t let that bother you: fitting in can provide a slow, safe road to better jobs, assuming your organization is around for the long haul and that your ways of doing things will always be preferred there.

However, organizations seem to change cultures more and more frequently. And the length of time when an organization stays independent seems to be decreasing, as well. Add a new owner, and the culture is bound to change big time!

What might work better for your career? Some people are finding increased opportunity and security by developing a wide range of skills and standing out as an independent professional serving many organizations. Someone who impresses others as original has major advantages in attracting and serving many different organizations, people, and purposes, including:

• making available rare skills to those with specialized needs,

• greater credibility with those who want advice,

• increased respect for their abilities from those who employ them, and

• more considerate treatment from those who seek their help.

I have an original in mind to exemplify my point: Ms. Elizabeth Miller, Rushmore University’s chief editor. Let me tell you just a little about her.

While most people imagine an editor as an impeccably-groomed senior professional jotting notes with a fountain pen concerning the next great American novel while nestled in a comfortable chair in a book-lined office on Fifty-Seventh Street in Manhattan, high above the hustle and bustle of mere commerce, Elizabeth’s approach is quite different: She edits graduate student essays, theses, and dissertations that are submitted to her via the Internet from all over the world by part-time adult students who are busy with responsible, full-time jobs.

The vision of that Manhattan office, while intriguing to this former resident of the Empire state (Did I tell you she graduated from Amityville Memorial High School? Yes, THAT Amityville!), doesn’t nearly reach the level of Elizabeth’s desire to be a great mother to her two-year-old daughter. Someone who edits online can do so from home during those peaceful intervals when a certain adorable someone is slumbering. Think of that! Not a moment is wasted by this editor.

Of course, this amazing editor doesn’t have to limit providing her rare talents to Rushmore. Other organizations and writers are always calling her for help. In fact, she originally came to Rushmore’s attention through her impressive marketing skills rendered on behalf of Rushmore’s dean, Alan Guinn.

If you doubt that she’s an original who also believes in encouraging originality, let me share with you some of her recent advice to all writers: “Don’t copy!” She’s determined that not a single plagiarized word (… or mixed metaphor) will escape her keen attention.

Someone once said that if you scratch an editor, a writer will bleed. Is Elizabeth only an editor? Of course not, or I wouldn’t have used her as an example of originality.

According to unnamed Rushmore sources, she has also begun her first non-fiction book as well as her inaugural novel. Here’s an example of how she can turn a witty phrase in the form of some advice for the university’s graduates:

“Realize that what you learned provides an amazing opportunity to really make an impact on the world around you. Also, don't plagiarize.”

Okay, you’ve probably met or heard of editors who were writing (or hoped to write) in their spare time (what spare time?). But have you heard of an editor who first trained to be an opera singer and attracted a vocal coach from the New York City Opera? You’ve got to admit that’s a pretty original combination. I’m sure she was always looking to learn arias from newly composed operas!

If you are wondering about whether a parent’s interest in singing could pass to another generation, our most original editor reports that her daughter sings whenever she can. When not tending to her daughter or wielding a sharp pen (or do editors primarily wield “delete” buttons these days?), Elizabeth has been found on stage belting out jazz, pop, classical, and Motown tunes.

Something else is passed on in the Miller family: teaching. Elizabeth’s father, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-grandfather all taught at some point in their lives. If it can feel daunting to be edited by someone who is a master of the mot, imagine how much tougher it is to be checked over by someone who thinks that improving content is as important as adjusting grammar and punctuation?

As a younger person, she’s aware of straddling two worlds of learning: one that involves poring through old books in libraries and another one where “cut and paste” is an invitation not to make a collage, but rather to be unoriginal. From that vantage point, she makes a powerful observation that I encourage you to heed:

“Today’s students should consider online learning as a great alternative to brick-and-mortar schools that aren't necessarily going to meet the needs of tomorrow's workplaces.”

While many editors are privately disdainful of writers, Mrs. Miller takes a different tack: she adores the opportunity to learn about the subjects contained in the scholarly works she edits. Her enjoyment reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend the other day who is an avid reader: We agreed we would love to get paid to read all day. It never occurred to either of us that editing is one way to do just that!

Where will her original mind and skills next take her? I’m confident she’s headed for higher ground, no matter which way the wind blows or her interests, circumstances, and needs change.

After all, what more can we ask but to be the captains of our own destinies through making wise, original choices? You can do it, too!

Here are five suggestions for how to be an original in ways that will boost your job prospects:

1. Notice what skills and knowledge others lack that make them less effective in their work than would be desirable.

2. Ask others what skills and knowledge will be much more valuable in the future.

3. Select combinations of such skills and knowledge that will make your work contributions both more valuable and original.

4. Find inexpensive, online methods for gaining the skills and knowledge you seek.

5. Provide your enhanced capabilities as a highly original source in ways that will lead others to compete for your services.

What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

Donald W. Mitchell is a professor at Rushmore University who often teaches people who want to improve their business effectiveness in order to accomplish career breakthroughs through earning advanced degrees. For more information about ways to engage in fruitful lifelong learning at Rushmore University to increase your effectiveness, I invite you to visit