Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jack of all Trades

I can do a lot of things well.  I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it’s true.  I’ve placed in the top 25% in 5k’s and my only marathon.  I’ve won the C division of a local bike club race series.  I can pick up most instruments and make them sound passable; my guitar playing and singing are good enough that I can lead music without worry.  I placed in the top 15% of math teachers in math aptitude on a national test.  I’m a solid carpenter and theatrical lighting designer.  I’m confident that I can develop passable ability in nearly any challenge put before me.  Thank God for all that.

There’s a challenge for me, however.  I really like learning to proficiency (as you can see from my laundry list above), but I find it very difficult to learn to mastery.  It’s not that I don’t think I can do it (or so I claim), it’s that I find hard to be one thing.  Maybe it’s my ADD talking (ooh, shiny!), maybe it’s my perfectionist nature (why work harder if I can’t be perfect?), or maybe I’m just not able to be great at any one thing. 

Maybe, however, I’m just blessed and cursed with the ability to see the big picture, to want to know how a forest works when to be an ‘expert’, I’d need to study the trees and cells.  I miss out on the details.  I hear a piece of music and I love it; I see the whole of it and don’t know how to break it into parts to reproduce it.

I want to make music, but I can’t arrange the whole thing by myself.  With me, for whatever reason, the piece has to create itself organically – with all the parts in place from the beginning.  There’s an earthiness that comes with music created from the ground up as one piece of music that is lacking when it’s built one part at a time.  This can be stifling for the solo musician with little money to pay a band (me!).

The beauty and pain that comes with this points to another universal truth: we need other people.  Just as music thrives in collaboration, any community thrives when each member contributes equally to the spirit of the group and stagnates when a sub-set of members set the principles to the exclusion and devaluation of others.

It’s not possible for me to know and individually value every human on earth.  I just don’t have the time.  I don’t have the time to learn every instrument, understand each mathematical property and topic, train to peak performance for running and cycling, and hone my (somewhat lacking) finish carpentry skills.  I can, however, be an expert at one thing (even if that’s an expert at the big picture), surrounding myself with experts in other areas. 

You see, together we can be all things and one thing simultaneously.  Bono can’t play guitar like The Edge, but he doesn’t have to.  I can involve myself in one of a global network of intertwined communities,  spanning from me to a little boy in Uganda, trying to escape the LRA.  I may not know him, but we’re connected.  If we do this right, the world would look like a very different place.


  1. I love you so much. This is the best thing you've written so far.

  2. You forgot to mention photographer, awesome dad, amazing person, and ballroom dancer on your list of things you are really really really good at!


  3. Michael, it's funny how much you and I have in common when it comes down to it. I have so many outlets that I feel like I bounce in and out of it feels ridiculous sometimes. I can never seem to figure out what I really want, and am not even sure if I would want to pick just one thing...because I really want to do SO MUCH. What ever it really means in the end, I hope we both eventually know what we really love and what we want to be "defined by", even if that doesn't necessarily mean we actually have to let any one or two things define us.

  4. Aww, thanks, guys!

    and I miss you too, Lauren. We'll all have to find some common time and geography sometime soon.

  5. have you taken the DiSC. i suspect much of this is not "ADD" but just the natural wiring God gave you. good stuff. (and yes - it does take a team)

  6. You may want to read "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. Here's the quick (Wikipedia) review:

    Outliers: The Story of Success is a non-fiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell and published by Little, Brown and Company on November 18, 2008. In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. To support his thesis, he examines the causes of why the majority of Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year, how Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates achieved his extreme wealth, and how two people with exceptional intelligence, Christopher Langan and J. Robert Oppenheimer, end up with such vastly different fortunes. Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.