I was 7 years old when my family first arrived in the U.S. back in 1979.

I was supposed to be placed in the 2nd grade but the authorities at Santa Clara Elementary insisted on putting me in the 1st grade on account of my not knowing English. Much to their surprise, within just a few short months I was reading English at well above grade level.

I didn’t think much of it until a few months later when I got a letter from the teacher to bring home to my parents. The envelope was not sealed, so I opened it. I was horrified by what I read.

“Danilo is exceptional” is what I honed in on, and yes, that horrified me to no end.

As I walked, I thought to myself, “How could this be?”

“I thought I was minding my own business and doing well,” I reasoned.

Back then I had done my best to behave and fit in at my new school, in my strange new country where they serve beef patties sandwiched in bread, sprinkled with funny tasting sesame seeds. (Yuck!)

To me it seemed that being labeled exceptional was nothing to be proud of. It seemed to confirm a sneaking suspicion of mine. I was abnormal. An aberration. A deviant. I took it to mean that I was the odd man out or just plain weird. I knew it!

I took the note to my grandma, whom I knew could keep a good secret.

I said, “Ita [short for abuelita], what does ‘exceptional’ mean?”

“It means outstanding. That you are very good” she said.


A sense of relief came over me.

It turned out that I was a weirdo in a good way. A heavy burden had been lifted off my shoulders.

I went about my business.

Many years later I am reminded of this little episode in my life because I see how many of us are so busy fitting in. We’re not speaking up. We’re settling for less and not daring to be different. We’re squelching our uniqueness. Suppressing our God given genius. Worrying about what other people think about us or the work we do.

It’s an instinct we have to learn to keep in check.

If we don’t have the courage and conviction to risk failure and do work that is brave and unique, we will never be exceptional.

Standing out is a good thing because exceptional is what the market now demands. Take advantage of that.


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