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Monday, January 2, 2017

Thoughts on being more than just one thing, and why it may scare people

I'm tired of people telling me that I do too many things.

I'm tired of people telling me to pick a direction, because I'm pretty sure I'm aimed in one.

Its happened more than once in the last few months.

Is it wrong to want to be good, even great, at more than one thing?

Whatever happened to being a "Renaissance man"?

I'm gonna go out on a limb and throw in a pop culture reference.  I think of the movie Divergent. Actually, it was a series of like 3 movies.  Anyhow, the whole point was there were people who were "divergent" because they didn't fit well into one type of mold. Everyone had to take a test when they were 18 to see which of the 5 career categories they best fit into. People who fit into all 5 or had no strong bias for one category over another were called "divergent" and were stamped out of the system.   SPOILER ALERT: the heroine unlocks some occultish device which reveals lost knowledge, that the true goal of the society was for everyone to be "divergent", for everyone to one day be able to equally do any of the 5 careers.

Call this confirmation bias, but I kind of agree. What fun is it to be just good at math? Or just good at writing? Or just good at one sport?    Can't a person be even great at more than one thing?

I think back to the great artists of the Renaissance- such as Michelangleo and Da Vinci. Leonardo Da Vinci is known for painting the Mona Lisa.  The funny thing is, he was so much more than a painter, he was so much more than an artist.  He was an engineer, an architect, a pioneer in anatomy. Sure these things are different and related at the same time.  To paint people well, it would help to understand anatomy, even if it meant dissecting cadavers in secret when the practice was considered heresay.  To design an incredible building, it would help to understand architecture, and it would help to understand mathematics. This could lead to being able to think like an engineer- he made the first sketches of ornithopters, and he made sketches of gliders, well ahead of his time.   Michelangelo was arguably just as multifaceted.  He was a sculptor, a painter, an architect, and a poet. He was a perfectionist and mostly a self-taught painter. Again, his areas of expertise were similar but slightly different.

So, many people want to put me in a box, and I'm sure this happens to many other people too. To some, they want to see me as just an engineer. To others, they want to see me as just a weightlifter. To others, they want to see me as just an author. Some want to see me as just a coach. Some want to see me as just a weightlifting shoe innovator, etc ,etc, etc..  And I wonder why?

To some extent, society reinforces this.  I see it every time I get interviewed for a news article. It unnerves the interviewer, because they see a news story going in too many directions if they can't just label me as one thing. Many want to reduce a multi-dimensional story into a 1-dimensional narrative, something simple and digestible.

For some people, its easier for them to categorize you if you are just one thing.  It makes them feel warm and fuzzy on the inside to be able to think, "yep, this person is this category. They belong with this group of people. Done. " . Some people even seem to feel unsettled, maybe to the point of fear, when they can't neatly and simply put someone cleanly in a box. Usually, these types of people do not like uncertainty.   Though, what can I say, you can't please everyone.

For some, they genuinely think doing more than one thing will prevent growth and expertise in any one area.  And for that, I appreciate their concern.

Still,  I really think there are some people in this world that really cannot go their life doing just one thing.  And, maybe people like me are just a tiny percent of the population, and , well, I think the world needs us.  Its like that little bit of saffron you sprinkle on rice to get that something extra.
 Saffron costs more per ounce than gold; I can live with being saffron.

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