It’s impossible to get anything done without focus. This is a real problem for a jack of several trades like myself.
It’s easy to be mediocre at a dozen trades. If you are a functioning human being you can probably walk into that many low-level jobs and get by. A body can learn to wash dishes, run a cash register, take inventory or answer phone calls in a day. But I get the impression that most people who make a lot of money are specialists. Doctors, lawyers, airline pilots etc.
But I don’t want to be specialist. I don’t want to spend six years in college learning how to do one thing really well. So…
Is it possible to get really good at lots of different things?
Leonardo DaVinci did it. He did so many different things it might seem he must have been a scatter-brain. But I bet the opposite is true. Focus is even more important for a generalist than for a specialist.
DaVinci must have been exceptionally good at seeing the big picture and then focusing on one thing at a time. When he was painting a portrait he must have put everything he had into it – focusing his entire energy on his painting until the portrait was done. When he was designing a helicopter he was designing a helicopter. He wasn’t trying to map the human anatomy and write a cookbook at the same time.
(But when did finish the helicopter and move onto the cookbook, I bet he was surprised to find how many of the things he learned from designing the helicopter ended up being useful with his cookbook.)
DaVinci must have been so good at focusing that he was able to learn a new art, craft or science in very little time. So he could paint a masterpiece, take a step back to ponder it’s place in the universe, then choose his next focus – learning how to cook mushrooms.
There are many of us would-be DaVincis who have plenty of talent and an interest in many different things, but we never choose and focus intently enough to get very good. We either refrain from choosing at all because every doughnut in the shop looks too good – or we make a choice and immdiately get sidetracked and choose something else, taking a bite out of twelve doughnuts without ever enjoying a complete one.
Or we discover a great way to cook mushrooms and they are perfect and ready to serve, then we get excited about making some garlic bread and forget to take the mushrooms off the burner and they shrivel into little pieces of rubber before anyone can taste them.
Some of us don’t get sidetracked quickly enough. We never branch out from our favorite recipe. We are so focused on one way to cook mushrooms that we drive thirty minutes to the store to buy parsley and it never occurs to us that the great bushes of thyme and rosemary growing on our back porch are edible and might go great with mushrooms.
Earlier I mentioned that most highly paid people seem to be specialists. But I bet their bosses are generalists. The generalists see the big picture and lay out the work for the specialists to do. And the specialists do it.
Finally, there are people like me who attempt both. My work day is never planned out for me. I have to lay it out myself and do the work too. I am both generalist and specialist. A generalist when I am planning, a specialist when I am working.
Sometimes the generalist in me sees too many things that need to happen and writes a list that is too long. Then the specialist in me looks at the list and doesn’t like it. But he knows that his boss is lenient – so he takes the day off and goes sailing.
A neighboring small-time farmer sums it up this way: Get up in the morning and make your list. Then go out and do whatever the hell you feel like because it all needed doing yesterday anyway.