The ridiculous pursuit of being well-rounded

Multi-disciplinary, general studies, political correctness, easy to get along with, in moderation, “nice”…these are all ways that we polish off our edges to be socially acceptable and useful – even though it’s your edges that give you traction and make you interesting. Your “edge” – where the genuine You meets external reality, is where your strengths are, your genius, and it’s way more fun hanging out there than in the middle ground.

Being well-rounded is highly over-rated.

Employers who are trying to multiply the strengths of people are missing the point. Entrepreneurs trying to do it all are bound to go in circles. When you focus on building on your natural strengths, on doing what comes easiest to you, you get some serious momentum. It may be counter-intuitive, it’s certainly counter-culture because it’s been drilled into to us to work hard (all you Catholics and Ivy Leaguers say hey!) but truly, optimizing your second nature is the surest way to get a return on your investment.

Ever since I read Marcus Buckingham’s The Truth About You, I’ve been stopping strangers on the street. “Hey, get this. You know what a strength is? A strength is what you do that makes you feels strengthened, vital! And…wait, it gets better, you know what a weakness is? A weakness is stuff you do that makes you feel weakened!

Deceptively simple. Revolutionary.

Why does this make me wanna do back-flips? Because this changes everything, people. And it goes back to my root theory in life, that it’s all about feelings. It means that all that crap that you don’t really like to do, but that you’re really good at … you get to dump it! No more faking it to make it.

So what about good old-fashioned hard work? I’m all for it – when you’re moving towards the real you. No more trying to be a PR genius when what you do best is paint landscapes or make the widgets (hire a PR genius.) No more trying to come up with blue sky five year plans when you’re a short-term focused details guy (get a coach or a visionary friend to help you see the possibilities.) For me, that means I will never care about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, being good at parties, or rocking Excel. Never gonna happen.

Buckingham has a powerful exercise that I loved. For one week I wrote down what made me feel strong and what made me feel weakened/drained. This showed up on my “weak” list: unqualified meetings make me feel like a loogan.

I was scheduled to have tea with an acquaintance of an acquaintance. I trusted the referral and so I made the date in haste, with a quick “sure, how about the café by so and so’s.”

A few weeks later when I was walking to the meeting, I was feeling really resentful and pissy. WEAKENED. Because I hadn’t bothered to ask, I had no idea why the person actually wanted to meet. And I was feeling like I’d betrayed my time, my priorities. (And sure enough, the meeting could have happened in 15 minutes over the phone and I wouldn’t have had to find parking or rush to pick up my kid.) Conclusion: I feel strong when I ask, when I clarify, when I know The Point. I feel weak when don’t value my own time.

The masters focus on what they do best … on their NATURAL CAPACITIES. They stay in their zone … and the zone is what feels good, damn good.

So I what makes you feel strong?
Do more of it. And more still. Find ways to get even better at it, sharpen your saw as the old master of effectiveness, Stephen Covey puts it. Push your edge. Dare to be focused on your natural capacities. Say yes to what you love, what inspires you, what lights you up. It takes some kahunas, but it beats well-rounded mediocrity any day.

. . . . . . . .

His site
The Truth About You
Now, Discover Your Strengths
Twitter: @mwbuckingham

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