jumping jim and the secret advantage
Jumping Jim Brunzell is profiled in a fine where-are-they-now article from Debra Neutkens of Press Publications, offering nostalgia for Saturday morning wrestling fans and a useful first-day-of-school reminder for students and teachers.
Mr. Brunzell is only 5'10" and pretty much bereft of the macho swagger that characterizes the profession, yet he parlayed his secret advantage into three decades of professional wrestling success. You see, Jumping Jim could sky. A high jumper on his high school track team, Mr. Brunzell's 36" vertical leap was beautiful to behold in the ring. Possessed of the finest dropkick in the business, he earned a reputation as an athletic "high flyer" in an era of earthbound plodders.*
Unlike Mr. Brunzell, we academics often fail to capitalize on our secret advantages. A good advisor or editor, however, can sometimes help us ferret them out. Whether you've worked as a lobbyist or a farmer, traveled the world in a military family or a circus, or graduated from an elite prep school or the juvenile justice system, you've likely gained knowledge and perspective that will interest other scholars and readers. Our job is to help you learn what's news and how best to analyze and communicate it. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is just convincing you that the rest of the world doesn't know about a phenomenon or process you'd taken for granted -- and that you might be the best person in the world to tell the story.
Secret advantages of this sort can arise from tastes, experiences, aptitudes, ascribed characteristics, or plain dumb luck. To really exploit them, however, you need to take inventory: write down where you've been, what you've done, and how you might use it. And don't brush off compliments too quickly -- especially when editors or advisors tell you that you're onto something or that some insight you shared was completely, refreshingly, and delightfully new to them. Pay special attention when you hear imaginary "air italics" in the compliment (e.g., "you're really good on this" or "I've never seen anyone make that connection").
What if nobody supports or compliments you, you've taken inventory, and you're still coming up empty? Well, we've all been there -- at least until someone convinced us we might have something interesting to say. Just go with your strengths and use what you've got, even if it doesn't fit the prototypical mold. Who knows? You might be creating the new prototype.
* I couldn't find a good highlight clip, but you can witness Mr. Brunzell dropkick a future governor at about 1:48 of this Phil Donahue deconstruction.