He thought he had to choose between his job and his dream, once he learned this lesson, he experienced true freedom.
It seems that in all facets of professional life, cultural wisdom tells us to find our niche and perfect it. Professional athletes dedicate their time, energy, and effort to one sport, attorneys and financial advisors tend to specialize in a very tight demographic with ideal clients, and writers are told to pick their genre.
But what if a highly specialized approach is damaging? What if this one-size-fits-all culture isn’t the mold that some of us are supposed to fit into?
The other day, I was at a summer cookout my friend so graciously hosted. As we mingled around the lawn, which was conveniently located on the Intracoastal waterway, the sounds of an acoustic guitar mixed with the smell of the salt air.
As a musician myself, I was immediately intrigued. However, it sounded unlike anything I had ever heard. The artist was using what is called a “looping station”—a device that allows the musician to record a loop and play it back, creating a more dynamic sound. But this guy had perfected the use of his multidimensional talents.
He would beat on his guitar to record a drum-like, percussive sound. He would scratch his guitar strings to provide a rhythmic layer. Then, he would loop in the baseline that created a depth in the music that I have never experienced with any other acoustic musician. He was a walking, one-man band.
He did it all—keyboards, tambourine, kazoo, harmonica. And his sound was amazing. His enriched approach allowed his repertoire to transcend acoustic music: Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, Prince’s Kiss, and Billy Joel’s Piano Man just to name a few. I have never been more entertained by an individual performer.
The Genius of the And
Business and thought leader, Jim Collins, wrote a book called Built to Last, where he introduced a principle called, The Tyranny of the “Or” Versus the Genius of the “And.”
Collins noted that brilliant, successful companies embrace an “and” mentality: they’re both progressive and conservative. He says that the mindset of “or,” the mindset that makes companies pick, can be damaging.
As I read this principle, I wondered if it applied to people as well. Could we begin embracing an “and” mentality in our lives?
The musician I heard was genius in action. He embraced many “ands.” The result was captivating. For some, the niche approach may work well. I’m all for sticking to what works. But for some of us, maybe we’re missing an “and.”
Living in the And
For the last two years, I have been living the “and” in my life. While running a successful insurance agency, I have begun pursuing a passion for speaking and writing. A passion that has grown into a business.
My first book was published earlier this year and to date, in 2015, I have accepted thirteen paid speaking engagements.
What I have learned is that this “and” approach has broadened my horizons on both fronts. My experiences in my business have bled over into my speaking and vice versa. And not only has it benefited me, but it has also brought a richer experience to my clients as well.
There are many times when discussing insurance with my clients has prompted an opportunity to discuss the “and.” I’m able to give away books as a thank-you, and some clients have even purchased additional copies to give to others.
However, it didn’t begin that way.
When I first felt the calling to speak and write, I approached the situation with an “or” mentality. I felt like I was forced to pick, forced to find my niche and perfect it. It was exhausting.
An “or” approach to life is stressful. Moreover, it’s polarizing. With every decision, you’re forced to pick. And when you pick, there’s a right, and there’s a wrong. As you question yourself, you wear yourself down, and you dilute your effectiveness in each area.
I’ve learned that the “or” is captivating while the “and” is freeing.
Begin Testing the Water
I guarantee you that my music friend didn’t start off where he was. I would like to think that he recognized he could play both the guitar and the piano—that he liked percussion and singing.
And it started by trying out new “ands.” The beauty is that as you take the courage to try new things, as you step out and take a risk, you’ll find the “ands” that are right for you. Begin by embracing the “and” right where you are.
My friend, Mark, graduated from the Air Force Academy and is a test pilot. He flies state-of-the-art aircraft and dreams of, one day, being an astronaut. However, Mark is also a father to four children, an active member of his church, runs a boutique publishing company, and is an author.
Mark has combined his passions for leadership and the lessons he has learned from his years of service with his passions of writing and fatherhood. In turn, he writes a book for each of his children which he gives as a gift on their thirteenth birthday. What an amazing example of living in the “and.”
- What skills and talents do you have?
- What passions can you not get away from?
- What thoughts keep you up at night?
Begin looking for opportunities to engage the “and” in your environment. They’re probably right under your nose; you just need to shift your perspective from “or” to “and.”
Truthfully, it starts right under your roof.
For the family man, you may have a successful business, but you also have children. For those married without children, you have a wife. For the singles, you have a community where you exist that you can pour into—opportunities to embrace the “and.”
I know that, for me, I don’t fit into the mold. I’m a non-conformist at heart. While a niche approach may work for some, I choose to swim upstream. I choose to embrace the “and.”
And I’m richer for it. I believe the same will be true for you.
Matt Ham is a speaker, author, and coach.
Photo: Flickr/ A bloke called Jerm