“Just about everything you learned in school about life is wrong, but the wrongest thing might very well be this: Being well-rounded is the secret to success.” Seth Godin
First of all, “wrongest” is, indeed, a word, though my spell-checker says it isn’t. We shouldn’t expect anything but excellent grammar from Seth Godin, as we shouldn’t expect anything but interesting and even startling turns of phrase. So, with that settled, let me add that “being well-rounded” is the wrongest thing for several interrelated reasons.
- We can’t be well-rounded. Advice ought to be do-able; the advice we give our children and each other to become well-rounded is simply not possible to follow. We aren’t well-rounded because we don’t have the aptitude, wiring, or disposition to be well rounded.
- The pursuit of well-roundedness is the pursuit of mediocrity. Nearly one hundred percent of the energy you put into improving something you are so-so at will be wasted. Perhaps you’ll get a 2% or 5%, or maybe if you’re lucky, a 15% return on the effort. This is terrible stewardship.
- Trying to be well-rounded robs the world of your unique brilliance. Brilliance, excellence, genius, virtuosity, stupendousness, expertise – whatever word we use, mastery requires 10,000 hours of focused practice and repetition (as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his “10,000 rule”). The time put into minimally improving mediocrity is unavailable for the achievement of mastery.
- We aren’t supposed to be well-rounded. We ARE supposed to be collaborative. We are supposed to be linked together. We are supposed to ask for help, and offer aid. Our design is for teamwork and community. The only well-rounding worth pursuit is the well-rounding of a team of mates. Show me an extraordinary American football team, and I’ll show you a squad of players who are excellent in extremely diverse ways. Don’t ask an offensive tackle to take a long down-field pass!
To review, you can’t be well-rounded, you will remain mediocre and rob the world if you try, and you shouldn’t be well-rounded.
If you drop this pursuit—and you should—what pursuit should you take up in its place?
- Learn what you’re best at. Learn what you have aptitude for. Learn what gets you excited to do. Learn what fills up your gas tank. Learn who you are. You are the steward and manager of you; discover what the gift is you’ve been given. Cliffton StrengthsFinder (www.strengthsfinder.com), Kolbe Assessments (www.kolbe.com), DiSC Profile (www.discprofile.com), the Enneagram (www.enneagraminstitute.com), the MBTI (www.myersbriggs.org), and various other assessment tools are all very helpful. One assessment give you a facet of understanding. You are many-faceted.
- Learn who you work best with. Learn what you need and who you need in order to be your very best. You can’t be your best without great teammates. Even introverts and solo artists need strategic alliances and key go-to collaborators. Find out what makes the best team configuration for you, and who works best with you, in order to bring out your best contributions in work and service.
- Dedicate yourself to becoming the best you that you can be. It isn’t selfish to increase the focus you place on those things that allow you to make the biggest contribution to the world. The point is contribution. The path is focus.
- Dedicate yourself to becoming the best teammate you can be to others. This exercise isn’t about you, but about your stewardship, your service, and your contribution. Contribute to the people whose work depends on you and on whom your work depends. Free others to focus on what they do best, as you seek this same freedom for yourself.
- Keep this entire subject of “finding your strengths” in perspective. Becoming masterful as a self-serving exercise is not a contribution to the world. Becoming masterful for the purpose of service is.
There is a paradoxical humility demanded of people who want to be the best they can be. If you want to be the best, you’ll need help. Learn to ask for it. And learn to express all the appreciation you can; your successes go to the credit of others, after all.