A Storytelling Serial
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Recently I watched a short video from writing-business guru Ed Gandia, in which he teaches viewers how to decide which projects to take on—and when to walk away.
He says that everyone has one to three things they do very well, in fact better than most other people, and it’s important to figure out those exceptional abilities.
Do you know the one to three skills where you excel? If so, I hope they’re better money-makers than mine are.
The Reality of Skills
A former career counselor, I’ve accumulated contradictory book titles. Phil Cooke’s One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do occupies shelf space right next to Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose! A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love and Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One.
Yet the coexistence of these guides makes an odd kind of sense to me. I’ve also completed the CliftonStrengths Assessment a few times. The results are consistent, unlike with other popular career inventories I’ve taken more than once (yes, I mean you, Myers-Briggs and Strong). My top strengths, every time: input, intellection, and learner.
Which means I have a talent for collecting information, thinking, introspection, and learning. (“Duh,” says everyone who has ever known me.)
According to Cooke, then, I was born to take in, ponder, and absorb information. And Sher and Lobenstine want me to use that Big Talent to pivot through everything I find interesting. It sounds like a reasonable way to live, but there’s a price to claiming my destiny in the way Sher and Lobenstine encourage.
By now, having been a learner throughout life and an inveterate explorer of the new, my job-performance expertise runs from so-so to good enough. I don’t stick with any one type of work for the time required to get truly great at it, and I can’t think of a thing I do better than most, or even extremely well—except for chasing my insatiable curiosity and pursuing endless education.
I’ve tried, but I still haven’t figured out how to bundle those two abilities into a package and charge for them.
Sure, I can be a curious learner in any kind of work; but sending stuff into the world requires much more than that. Practice is essential.
And the “more” is where I plateau at good enough. My billable skills top out at pleasing some of the people some of the time. When I’m not directly engaged in my strengths of discovery and learning, I find that genius—and sometimes enjoyment—eludes me.
So does significant profit. And this is where Ed asserts that when we do what we most enjoy, we not only become good at it but we can also earn more doing it.
He doesn’t understand why many folks—and I’ve certainly been one—stubbornly continue a path that doesn’t combine genius, enjoyment, and profit.
Some Don’t Fit the Mold
With me, the explanation is simple. In my working life, I’ve never been able to identify the sweet intersection of superpower, delight, and income. My career Venn diagram refuses to materialize.
Instead, I do what I’m able to do well enough and with some satisfaction, for whatever money I can earn. Would I like to achieve the elusive “more,” the one to three things where I happily shine and others happily pay me the value of those polished skills? Yes. Yes, I would. But am I willing to give up a core part of who I am to get there?
Not so far. I’m too much of an adventurer—easily bored, relentlessly seeking fresh territory. And I have to accept that if I continue to embrace that part of myself, Ed will always be confused by my lack of success, and I’ll never be paid for greatness in anything.
However, I’ll have the satisfaction of staying true to my nomadic heart, of remaining inquisitive and gathering knowledge. I won’t reach any pinnacles of persistence, but I’ll enjoy my own up-and-down journey.
Make a Conscious Choice
I know I’m not the only one who has been grabbing for the familiar during a no-normal pandemic. But given my nature, there was only so long I could trudge the same path. Now I sense that my bent for curiosity and learning conspire to send me in a different direction.
With age, though, I have dwindling confidence in my ability to handle the changes and manage the financial recovery required by career reinvention, so I’m more hesitant at this fork in the road than I’ve ever been when heading into virgin territory.
Still, I’m not in a great place now; so what do I really have to lose, except the chance to follow my questions and be a student once more?
That type of choice doesn’t make for good business or a comfortable living; but when what I’m good at isn’t the road to riches, and no amount of creativity can squeeze money from my deepest pleasures, sometimes I have to choose what I love and do best—realizing that for me profit doesn’t fit in a tidy box along with genius and enjoyment.
At the same time, Ed reminds me there are those who can make money from skills they love. If that’s you, I hope you’ll do so fully and completely. And please, don’t take that magical combination for granted. Embrace your good fortune in the worlds of work and income.
We wanderers wish you well.
What are the one to three skills where you excel? Do you enjoy them? Are they profitable? If you’d like to share below, we’d love to hear about the strengths that influence your work choices.