Have You Mastered Doing What You Love?

As I write this, I’m aware of two things: 1) I have not written anything yet in April, and 2) I probably would have if I really wanted to.

None of this is earth shaking (I’ve been extra busy since April is a peak month in the world of radio.) But it harkens to something I’ve been thinking about for awhile now – and something I think would be of benefit to my readers (all five four three of you.)

It’s an old bit of advice, so you’ve likely heard it.


Jack of all trades, master of none.

Now of course that’s a bit whimsical/glib, and not entirely accurate. For example, if you’ve read anything by 4 hour week writer Timothy Ferris then you know mastering something is more a matter of how much focus/planning you apply to it, and less about the years spent.

On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote of the 10,000 hours experts need to master something, shows that deep single-minded mastery of something does takes time.

Confused? To balance the two extremes, we need only realize that if you want to play classical piano in a concert hall it will take many, many hours to train. But if you want to entertain people on your guitar, the bar to mastery – and the effort needed – can be mightily reduced with planning and focus.

So yes, you can master quite a few things in your life – but should you?

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the opposite may be true. Master one thing first; then move on.

I once saw a video by Paul McCartney called ‘Coming Up‘. I had heard he played all the instruments himself. Impressive I thought. I’d like to do that.

However, he spent years mastering just the bass guitar in a little Hamburg-based band called the Silver Beetles (although I think they may have renamed themselves soon after) In any case, he had some measure of success, and so then could devote himself to learning other instruments.

The key: Succeed first, then diversify. Learning for learning’s sake can be enjoyable, but if your core strengths are valuable, perhaps focus on them for awhile.

In my case, I enjoy writing, and I enjoy programming, and I think I’m good at them. You may disagree (after all, you’re reading this, so your opinion is valid) but I’ve had a measure of success. I still make a nice bit of coin from software I wrote over twenty years ago (OK, 21 years, but that’s still ‘over’) and I’ve done well with my writing, both as a column writer and a self published writer (I still remember fondly my first $1,000 day soon after I released my book “Top 10 Tricks to Conquer Your Niche With WordPress“)

However, when I form a business around them, I bog down. My core strengths get diluted with customer support, advertising, management, sales, financials and much, much more. So my core strengths bring in the money, while my non-core ones dilute how much I effectively make per hour of my time.

Don’t get me wrong – learning it all is fun. But focus is the key to success. So in my case, I’ve decided to keep my eye out for partners that can fill the gaps in my strengths with their strengths, like sales people who enjoy promoting products, or people who enjoy the minutiae of business. That way, I can focus on programming and writing. And the timing is right, since I’ve picked May 1st to start my own annual Summer of Code.

The takeaway from all this? Perhaps you should examine your strengths, and find someone to balance them. It may mean paying out a wage or commission or sharing a company, but the result is the two of you (or three or four or whatever) work at peak efficiency, and more gets done faster.

And if you become successful like Sir Paul, THEN you can learn the piano…

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