To become an expert in your field, you must have an attitude of excellence. I’ve just finished a few seasons of life that are the kind that cause you to reflect, reminisce, and regret. First, we moved. The house that was Home for 15 years is someone else’s now; a brand new abode is trying to feel normal as we settle in. Then, my eldest graduated from high school. Eighteen years of memories wrapped up in one busy week. Then, to “unwind” from it all, we took a cruise in Alaska. Ah, the food and rush of a new place and new experiences. In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have crammed all three events into the same month. Oh, and with the flu coursing through the family. But we survived.
All of these events caused me to reflect on a truism I’ve been noodling for years. We – as a people – reward those who are great, not those who are good. The adage “a jack of all trades and a master of none” and the adjective “well-rounded” are reserved for people we admire and like (or live with), but not for people we revere.
- No one remembers who finished third in their high school class (or probably second).
- People won’t flock to you at a party as you share the nuances of your +10 golf handicap.
- You won’t get a raise just because you are a handy woodworker or can sing karaoke pretty well (unless you’re a woodworker or a singer).
I’ve witnessed this in many ways in the last few months as I’ve pondered what it takes to become an expert in your field. I watched bricklayers, painters, roofers, and concrete pourers – who many would say have menial jobs – absolutely amaze me with their skills. The bricklayer could slop (I’m sure he has a better term) mortar down a three-foot row of bricks with almost no spillage, line up the next layer, and clean up the edge in a smooth motion. And the bricks were PERFECTLY straight and level. I could probably do it, but it’d take me three hours for the same row he did in mere seconds.
I watched ice and vegetable carvers on a cruise ship take common materials and turn them into amazing art. There is nothing special about what it takes to make the art – knives and chisels into fairly compliant media – but the finished result was something a person without that skill can only admire. The dining room did not gather to watch me slice my filet and no one’s ever asked me to display my creativity with Cheese Wiz. I had a photographer make me cry with the image made by a simple press of the shutter. People have thanked me for my pictures (I’ve taken over 25,000 this year), but no one’s ever paid me for them. Or cried.
And I sat through seemingly endless awards programs and speeches, all honoring well-deserving kids who had excelled at sports, foreign language, monumental academic performance (a 4.6 on a 4.0 scale?!), and even (perfect) attendance. Not one award for a nice kid who kept his mouth shut, the boy who will be an excellent middle-class worker, or the folks who only missed four days this year.
We wonder and perhaps even become angry at professional athletes who make more for one night’s work than many people make in a year. We bristle at the demands of performers who demand star treatment. We scoff at artisans who create luxury items that sell for exorbitant prices that only the rich can afford. But they are doing things no one else can. Or does. All this just proves the point. We value (and reward) those who aren’t just good, but off-the-chart great. The best player in your rec league plays for free. The best professional in the same sport commands millions. The suit you bought at Kohl’s is nice, but you bought it with a 30% coupon, don’t know who made it, and you can get another just like it tomorrow if you spill spaghetti on it (I had a client who bought a $10,000 dress for an engagement and another who spent $5,000 on his suit – both custom-made… and people noticed).
As I launch my eldest into the real world, my hope and desire for him (and you) is that of excellence. At something. Perhaps it’s music. Your attention to detail. Your ability to see a landscape where there is currently only a field. You get workers to show up on time. Do it well – I mean REALLY well – and you’ll become an expert in your field and you’ll get your reward, whether it be money, recognition, or opportunity.
But there’s a second intricacy to this. If you can’t express, market, or explain your wonder to the world, you will live in oblivion. People need to hear your story, listen to you explain how you came up with the idea, and be inspired by your greatness. Communication isn’t usually the skill you need to excel at, but if you aren’t at least competent, the world is missing out on a great gift – YOU!
And what do you have to offer that no one else can? It’s a question worthy of your answer. And your life
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This article was published in the July edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.
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