Have you ever struggled with identifying what unique qualities and characteristics you bring to the table?  Have you been faced with stiff competition and wondered how you’d stand out?  I encourage you to make your deficit your greatest asset – believe it or not, what you consider to be a weakness may actually be your strength.

I have the good fortune to mentor on young man named Shubham Choudhary who lives in Delhi, India.  With few resources and against all odds, Shubham, is fighting for the LGBTQ community to gain safe access to healthcare in a country that criminalizes homosexuality and creates immense barriers to access for healthcare.  I was matched in a mentor relationship with Shubham through Rise Up (riseuptogether.org) where I am a member of the Leadership Council.  Their mission is to activate girls, youth, and women for a more just and equitable world.

Shubham and I  connect via FaceTime every month to develop his communication skills and strategy in order to reach his goals and entrepreneurial pursuits.  He goes after grants to fund his efforts and has been awarded both grants and fellowships through his commitment, passion, persistence and intelligence.

However, it is not always easy for him.

Speaking to him recently, he described an experience where he participated in a conference with a group of social entrepreneurs and was asked to share what he brings to the table and what he has to offer.  The individuals he found himself surrounded by were mostly from US Ivy League colleges and who had abundant resources and connections whereas he was one of just a few from outside the U.S. and had little to share in the way of resources and connections.  Shubham admitted to feeling a bit intimidated by the inquiry and daunted by his fellow participants.

As we reflected on his experience, I asked him to set aside all the things he did not have and instead think about what his unique advantage was.  Could he make his deficit, his greatest asset?  He proceeded to tell me that what he does have is “Jugaad”.  I had never heard this word before. He told me it was a Hindi word that captures the meaning of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way.  If you need a desk and all you have is cardboard, you make the desk from cardboard.  It is a new way to think constructively and differently about innovation and strategy.  Jugaad innovation has a long-lasting tradition in India and means thinking in a frugal way and being flexible, which, in turn, requires the innovator or entrepreneur to adapt quickly to often unforeseen situations and uncertain circumstances in an intelligent way.

Shubham realized that one of his distinctions was his jugaad ingenuity.  He has that unique ability to bootstrap almost any situation and find a solution to whatever stands in his way.

When trying to sell yourself or pitch your idea against daunting competition don’t waste your time comparing and contrasting yourself against those who you deem to be more intelligent, more artful, or more powerful…instead look inside at what makes you unique and different and embrace that distinction.

Make your perceived deficit your greatest asset.

  • If you are older – remember age equals greater experience and depth of knowledge
  • If you are younger – remember that youth provides a fresh perspective
  • If you are slow – remember a methodical approach to problem-solving reaps rewards
  • If you are new – remember that new eyes on the status quo can prompt innovation
  • If you lack prestigious degrees – remember your boots on the ground experience

When communicating your story, step back and remember the innate abilities, the incomparable life experiences and distinct point of view that you bring to every opportunity that comes your way.  Thank you Shubham for your wisdom and inspiration!