The desire to be heard. It's why entrepreneurs, writers, rock bands, artists, and a lot of other people do what they do. Or, like the great ska band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones says in the song "Graffiti Worth Reading":
"I tagged and marked and bragged and barked and I was here!"
How do you tag and mark and brag and bark in a way that can't be missed? Start by not being That Guy. And, I mean That Guy in a gender-neutral way. Because whether That Guy is a man or a woman, you know the guy I am talking about.
That Guy has an opinion on presidential candidates, social movements, race relations, young people, and a variety of other issues. That's not the problem. We should all have opinions on important things. The problem with That Guy is that you've heard all of his opinions before. You've already heard his opinions on TV or talk radio, or read them on any number of blogs.
Here's what happens when I come across That Guy:
I pretend I'm in Jurassic Park. The 1993 Jurassic Park. (Have I referenced the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Jurassic Park in the same article? Yes, I have. I am a child of the '90s. I also have a barbed-wire bicep tattoo. Class of '99 4EVA!)
When I hear That Guy start giving his opinion on politics or the social issue of the day using the exact words I heard on the news this morning, I act like I'm one of those kids in the upside-down Ford Explorer about to get eaten by a T. rex. I try not to move. I try not to breathe. I open my eyes really wide and try not to blink. Because if I move, if I give the slightest hint of interest, I might become engaged in a conversation with That Guy. And while what That Guy has to say may not necessarily be offensive, there's a good chance I've heard it all before--and being unoriginal is its own type of offense.
If you want to be heard, you need to be unexpected. (Note: Being unexpected is not a license to be a jerk in the name of "speaking your mind." Before you go too far with the "be original" thing, remember Jeffrey Dahmer was unique, too.)
In one of my favorite movies of all time, Ratatouille, a restaurant critic named Anton Ego discovers that the best meal he has ever eaten was cooked by a rat hiding under a chef's hat. The rat controlled the chef's hands and arms by gently pulling his hair. When Ego discovers this, he writes this in his review: "Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core." Be the rat in the hat.
Don't just regurgitate someone else's opinion. This applies to careers, too. Don't come to a job interview repeating a bunch of buzzwords everyone knows and overuses. If you want to separate your voice from the rest, you need to have your own ideas. You need to think critically about what you believe, and develop your own original opinions. Because anyone who has ever had too much Coors Light in a dive bar knows there is an inherent sadness to any cover band: It's usually just background noise. But people stop what they are doing and listen when a true original comes onstage.