It’s the age-old struggle between generalists and specialists. Which one is better? Is it better to be mediocre to good at a lot of things, or exceptional at one thing? In the end, it is all about your goals and continuous improvement.
There are basically two things we can do to improve at a skill we already possess.
Get good at what we’re bad at or;
get great at what we’re good at.
Bad to good
Like the majority of people, this is the one I used to focus the most on. This is basically putting most of your energy into one of two things:
Either something you are already able to do, but you want to get better at.
Or some completely new skill you want to learn or quality you want to have.
In practice, this approach is quite simple in the beginning. Some examples:
Want to build a better website? Learn how to write some code.
Not in good shape physically? Go work out 3 times a week.
Bad at cooking a great meal? Learn to follow recipes.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t improve at something you’re not good at but want to get better at. Improving in any way is great and beneficial in more than just that area. It will also boost your confidence and show yourself, that if you put your mind to something, you can get good at it!
However, I want to offer another perspective as well. A perspective that might be an eye-opener if you feel like you’re “just mediocre at everything” or feel like there is something that you might be able to excel at.
What would happen if we put most of our effort into one thing? If we commit fully to becoming exceptional in one area of our life.
Good to great
A great way to get the most out of life is maximizing our potential. Getting the most out of either that which we’re already naturally good at or that which we already achieved a good level of proficiency at.
For example, I’m an enthusiastic, energetic, no-bullsh*t type of person. I will naturally use these parts of my personality in my coaching style as well. This is great! It allows me to inspire people, motivate them, and get them moving. However, this also means I will miss the mark with some people. People who are less susceptible to this type of energy.
Feeling that my natural type of coaching will remain as it is, I decided to focus most of my time and effort on getting better at the other side. The softer, less explosive kind of energy. In doing so, however, I basically stopped maximizing the potential of my already present, natural skills.
Not as great as I can be on one end and putting too much energy in trying to be what I’m just not the best at on the other.
Obviously, we do need to keep learning and improving our weaknesses, however, there will always be another new thing to learn. If we never focus on that which we are already good at and choose to become great at that, we will never reach our fullest potential. We will be good at a lot of things, and great at nothing.
Dominate one aspect
Imagine if Michael Jordan at the earlier stages of his career said:
“Ok I’m pretty good at this basketball thing now, let’s see how I can improve my archery skills.”
Or what if Serena Williams had chosen to improve her golf game, kite surfing, and bowling skills whilst simultaneously working on her tennis career?
Do you think they would have reached their legendary status? Do you think they would have reached the pinnacle of their respective fields? Of course not. They might have still been pretty good and probably way above average, however, the kind of expertise these people exhibited, would, in all likelihood, never have been realized.
They chose to go from good to great and in that way dominate one aspect of their lives.
How to divide your time and energy
I think a great way to choose how to divide your time and energy between getting good at what you’re bad at and getting great at what you’re good at, is by using the 80/20 principle.
A great way to start is by making an assessment of your own abilities (natural or acquired) and decide what change will have the maximum impact.
For example, you are a good public speaker and less confident in one-on-one sessions. You can either choose to get better at one-on-ones by spending 80% of your time on this and not maximizing your skill in public speaking. Or, you could choose to spend 80% of your time getting great at public speaking and your 20% on getting better at one-on-ones.
So in short, use 80% of our time developing our greatness. Use the remaining 20% to develop other skills. If they are complementary to the first skill; great! However, they don’t have to be. It all depends on what you look to achieve. Maybe the 20% is better used in something which is completely different so that you don’t get burned out as easily.
How can we use this in daily life?
While there always seem to be exceptions to the rule, it still applies in some form or another. For example, Elon Musk, who is a specialist in many fields (rockets, electric cars, flamethrowers), still has one skill over all others that he has become great at; building businesses.
To effectively use this, start by recognizing if there is anything you are currently in the process of becoming great at. Or if there is some area where you see you have the talent and would love to become word-class. It doesn’t matter what it is, and it is by no means limited to physical skill or business ventures. Why not go from being a good parent to a great parent? Or go from being a good listener to a great listener. Literally, any topic/area/skill you want is a viable option. Once you recognize this, it can be extremely useful to prioritize around this one topic. By using the 80/20 principle for example. That way you are still able to improve in other areas.
In the end, it comes down to commitment. Commit to being great. Commit to putting in the practice. Commit to not being distracted.
Make sure to put in the focused practice and see yourself go from good to great.
Any areas in your life you want to see yourself be great at?