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Key Lessons: Play Your Own Game

By Jane Wurwand
Posted: March 3, 2008, from the March 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Specialize or generalize? As far as I’m concerned, there is no question that mastering a specialty or niche is the most powerful advantage you can give yourself and your business.
     Many self-help and business gurus advise that you should broaden yourself in order to achieve excellence. This means identifying what you’re not so great at and trying to make yourself better at it. My advice on this subject is to focus relentlessly on what you’re great at, and then polish this passion and specific skill night and day.

Success in specialization
     I made this decision early in my professional life. By the time I was 14 or so, I knew skin was my thing. I was not interested in the hair, nails or makeup game, and I still am not. I leave these categories to the people who are truly passionate about them.
     Success requires pragmatism. You cannot be good at everything, just as you cannot be all things to all people either. When you think about it, this is really not a bitter truth. In fact, it holds the essence of what you need to unlock your greatness.
     I’m drawn to the idea of the savant, a person whose brain can allow her to name all of the prime numbers—whatever those are—or to extrapolate pi to the millionth place, but who cannot microwave popcorn or work the TV remote. True, you may not want to go to quite this extreme, but I think there is truth in the example of the savant.
     These days, people love to say they are striving for balance, but beware—a quest for too much balance can dull your keen edge, your point of difference and your unique selling proposition.

A forward game
     I am also inspired by the brilliant career of tennis legend Martina Navratilova. She started out with some disadvantages—sportscasters fumbled her melodious Czechoslovakian name and she is left-handed. But by understanding herself, she became an unstoppable force.
     Her unconscious instinct was always to rush the net with an approach that was more of an attack, and a tornado-like one at that. When Martina recognized this tendency in herself, to play a forward game, she began to use it consciously, strategically and—may I say—mercilessly as her opponents gasped and floundered at the rear of the court, unable to meet her crushing volleys.
     Martina did not, for instance, try to learn to serve with her right hand. In fact, I’m not sure that she tried to do much else during those years other than reduce her competition to wet rags—although she was actually a dog-lover and philanthropist.
     Her example illustrates an important lesson: Learn your game, and make others play it. When you play this way, it’s all your turf, your home court advantage. This requires not only identifying your own singular strengths, but also realizing the weaknesses of your opponent and shaping your playing style to bring out those weaknesses in competition.

Discovering your edge
     Early in your work, you may not be able to recognize your own unique winning advantage. It may seem as though everyone else in town is already doing what you think you want to do, whether it’s shirodara, ayurveda or posh chocolate-and-caviar treatments.
But has your nearest rival expressed a love of lasers? Then don’t compete in that area. Do your clients comment on your seeming knack for painless extractions? Use this knowledge to make yourself the best at this specialty—practice it, study it, eat, drink and sleep it. In the end, the key is to master it.
     If you’re feeling unclear, or perhaps aren’t bubbling over with passion for any part of your work, the answer is straightforwardly simple: Get yourself back into the classroom. If you ceased your advanced skin care studies shortly after earning your license, it’s time to return.
     Perhaps you stopped after a few successful years, thinking that you knew it all. Well, the good news is that you don’t know it all. Actually, you don’t know anywhere near it all, and taking advanced classes connects you with the process of revelation. You’ll learn more about what you don’t like, and in the process, you’re also likely to feel that click of ignition, that thrilling spark of connection that says, “Follow me to passion, to dreams, to success.”

Eye on your unique prize
     As members of society, there is cultural value in being well-rounded. This was the basis for the now-defunct concept of the liberal arts academic education. It is wonderful to know enough about a number of things—a sprinkling of politics, fashion, arts, media and books—so that you can hold a decent conversation over that prawn kabab at your next cocktail party, but when it comes to your business, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the idea that you have to be equally skilled in all areas. It’s impossible. And it’s just not how winners win.
     Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the idea that you have to be equally skilled in all areas.