Finally, someone says it! And says it well!I’ve been grappling for years on how to best present myself. Some people know me as a voice-over artist. Some know me as a content marketing writer. Some know me as a journalist. Some know me as media trainer. Some know me as a video producer. And the list goes on. When I try and explain that all of the aforementioned are covered under the mass communications umbrella of which I hold a degree in and yes, I can perform all of them, I get the dreaded smirk. “Oh.” And then they walk away. So please read this, because we are all specialist generalists…
How do you answer? Maybe you say, “I own a restaurant.” Or, “I’m a supervisor at Acme Industries.” Or, “I’m a teacher.”
Whatever you say, your answer probably doesn’t include the word “and.” But it should — even though there’s often a stigma associated with being an “and.”
Take me (not because this is all about me, but I’m the only person I know a whole lot about. And hopefully you just smiled.) I’m a ghostwriter. I’m a speaker. I’m a productivity improvement consultant. I’m a wedding photographer. If I may say so – and what the heck, I will – I’m pretty good at all four of those things.
But here’s what happens. Say I do a speaking gig. Invariably aspiring speakers will corner me afterwards to talk about the business of speaking. Ever keen to plug in variables on their revenue projections they ask how many speaking engagements I do.
“I try not to do more than 20 or so a year,” I answer.
“Only 20? Wow — you must get paid lots for each event.”
“Depends on how you define ‘lots,'” I say. “But I don’t want to do more than 20 a year.”
“Why not? If you did more events couldn’t you make more money?” they ask.
“Probably so,” I say, “but I’m also a ghostwriter.”
“I’m a speaker and a ghostwriter,” I say.
“Oh,” they say, and their voices trail off as their perception of me changes. To them I should either be a speaker or a writer, not both, because successful people do onething. Unsuccessful people have to do a variety of things to make ends meet. If I’m both a speaker and a writer I must not be very successful at either.
(And that’s before I tell them I also photograph about 10 weddings a year.)
So, no matter what their initial impression of me as a speaker, no matter how big the event, no matter how sophisticated the audience… they no longer see me as a successful speaker simply because I don’t speak full time.
In short, I must not be good enough to specialize.
The same is true with ghostwriting. When I tell people I also do speaking gigs they generally assume I have to take on those engagements because I’m a struggling writer forced to find other ways to earn money.
To most people “specialization” indicates accomplishment and success, when in fact the opposite is true. You, me, all of us… we’re too good to specialize.
That’s why none of us should be just one “thing.” We all possess a variety of skills – including skills we aren’t using.
And no matter how successful we are in one pursuit, we have other skills we would enjoy developing and using. Regardless of how fulfilling a current business or job may be, we all have other things we would enjoy doing too… especially if we got paid to do them. That’s truly a win-win.
So go ahead. Embrace your “and.” Take the steps that let you include an “and” in the way you describe yourself professionally. Think about what you do well, or would like to do well… and most importantly would really enjoy.
Maybe starting a small business on the side would be fun. Maybe teaching, or consulting, or working part-time, or volunteering, or going back to school would be fun. It doesn’t matter what your “and” is, as long as it’s something you really want to do.
Then you get to recharge and refresh, pick up new perspectives, and bring certain skills back to your primary role… or roles.
Just don’t say you can’t afford to spend the extra time on an “and.” In many ways you can’t afford not to spend the time. If your “and” is professional then you create a buffer against downturns, shifts in market conditions, or the loss of a job. If your “and” is personal you get to add some a little more fun to your life.
Be an “and.” Scratch that: be lots of “ands.”
After all, in most cases what comes after “and” is are the things we enjoy doing the most.