Versatility vs. One Big Thing

Recently I commented on a post by Phil Cooke titled “The Bread Plate Lady and the Power of Your “One Big Thing.” You can read his post and the resulting discussion here.

In the article, Phil makes some valid points in the defense of what he calls your “one big thing.” What he means by this is the thing (ability, talent, skill, passion) that you have completely mastered. He’s pushing for being remarkable in something so that you can “cut through the clutter and get noticed in the crowd of competition.”

I get it… it sounds nice. And I heartily agree with the concept that I we should all strive for excellence in everything we do. But what I think is missing from this idea of “one big thing” is versatility, flexibility, and adaptability.

I recently departed, or rather fled, from this idea. The belief that I needed to have “one big thing” suffocated me for years as I pressured myself into thinking that I had to be master of one skill. I wound up frustrated and empty handed in the end. When I finally embraced the fact that God made me to be diverse in my skill set, and useful in more than one area, I was inspired to chase after all of those different things. Now my biggest problem is deciding how to divide my time. I feel like I’m finally on my way to becoming what God wants me to be instead of trying to squeeze myself into this mold that the world has created for me.

I believe with full confidence that we can pursue many passions, and achieve excellence in everyone of them. I believe that we can lead dynamic multi-dimensional lives that keep us learning and growing all along the way. I also believe that God created some of us with the drive and focus to pursue one big thing, and he made others with the ability to span a wide ranging array of skills.

Today’s unstable job market will smile on the people who can demonstrate proficiency in varying areas. The guy that can develop your website AND edit your video AND do your accounting will probably be a more useful member of your team than the award-winning accountant that only does accounting. Diversity and agility in skills is a becoming more attractive to employers, especially small non-profits like religious ministries that require much work on a small budget with limited staff. If you’ve achieved that “one big thing” in your life, perhaps it’s time to add another one. It’s never too late, you’re not too old, and you’re probably not that busy. Never stop learning and developing whatever skills you have to be the best version of yourself.

Agree or disagree? Are you a “one big thing” or a “jack-of-all-trades” kind of person? What holds you back from jumping into a new skill?

Getting Out of My Way

I’m on the road to recovery. For years I was one of those chaps who would waste time, energy, and resources trying to find the solution to a problem on my own. I can’t recall how many wheels I’ve reinvented, but I know it’s up there. I resisted the sage advice of seasoned professionals. I had Google, what use would an expert be?

So what’s changed? Well for one thing, I’m getting over my phobia of asking questions. I’m learning to step outside of my comfort zone to engage people who know what they’re talking about instead of trying to do it all on my own. For so long I resisted the common sense approach of asking questions in search of what I thought was a better, purer way, but it turned out to be rooted in selfish and egotistic motives. If I had to ask someone else the question, then they would get the credit. Naturally I assumed that if I could discover the answer on my own, I would get the credit. Sound logic, right?

This is corrosive behavior. Now I have a difficult time being open to collaborative opportunities, I’m stubborn, and I tend to think that if I didn’t come up with an idea myself, well, then it’s probably not worth pursuing. I struggle to be enthusiastic about other people’s ideas and I plateau quickly in my cycles of learning because I’m unable to reach that next level that requires me to ask the questions. My lack of openness to learning from others on a personal level has left me devoid of some very necessary characteristics for ministry work. In short…I’m a bad team player. But it gets even better…

I love playing guitar and writing songs. I’ve been doing it for over a decade and it’s one of the few things I can say I’m passionate about. In fact, I taught myself how to play guitar by writing songs. I was awful for a while, but I gradually got better. But ten years after I picked up my first guitar I’ve plateaued. Why? I should be pretty good by now, right? Well, because in all of my “teaching myself” I wasn’t learning from anyone else.  I wrote all of my own songs and learned very few of the songs that had shaped my musical tastes in the first place — songs that would have challenged and improved my skill as a guitarist. Instead, I was an island unto myself. I developed a one-dimensional approach to my songwriting and guitar playing because I wasn’t seeking out those influences that would have made me better. For this reason, I haven’t improved much in my playing or writing skill for many years. And I know I’ve developed a bunch of bad habits that are going to be that much harder to unlearn when I finally buckle down and hire a guitar teacher to get me on the right track.

“Great. You’ve pinpointed it. Step two is washing it off.” – Tommy Boy (1995)

Let’s just cut to the quick here. There’s no shortcut to success in this area. We either are, or we aren’t, asking questions, asking for help, and learning from others. We have successes and failures along the way, but if we are purposeful about the change I can guarantee we’ll see some major improvements in our relationships, learning ability, and lots of other areas. The hardest part is getting out of your own way.

Like I said, I’m recovering. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I’ve got a decent start. What about you… is this something you struggle with or are you naturally a question asker?