To do something big, aim to be irrelevant.

Urban Meyer, coach of Ohio State football, likes three-sport athletes more than singularly focused athletes. Yet sites like Active for Life jump on the three-sport thing to tell parents that early specialization is bad for kids.

I don’t believe specialization is bad. But I do believe it’s scary. You could get hurt, you could miss your big chance, you could be disappointed, you could fail publicly. But if you don’t learn to take risks by specializing early then you won’t be able to be great at anything later in life.

But what does it mean to be great at something?

Being great is relative. Relative to what you’ve been exposed to.

Before Eddie George played football for Ohio State, he left home for a private high school that specializes in keeping kids for a fifth year so they’re better recruits for college football. There’s tons of Ohio State football players who played multiple sports, but to go pro like Eddie George, you have to build your life around it. Because specializing is how you go from great to the best.

Corporate life has the same rules. You can be a parent and work full-time, but you can’t get to the top while making your kids a higher priority than work. Really. People at the top hand over parenting to someone else.

I say this a lot. And then people tell me, “I don’t need to be CEO. I just want an interesting job.”

And then I say, “How can things be interesting if you’re not trying to be the best?” You can’t be great at three sports or three instruments or three careers. I don’t want to do the work equivalent of three sports. It’s so insanely uninteresting to me to just be OK at something.

But when I start pounding my fists and shouting about the difference – commitment, focus, determination, grit, risk – people say, “Oh. I don’t want to do all that. I just want to [insert some mediocre version of what they are doing here].” Those people sound so rational, but I’ve spent my life trying to be great.

I am so enthralled with the relativism of being great – that’s the arena I’m always trying to be in, even though I think it’s killing me. Also, I look at that picture of my son being little and playing football not very well, and I am happy thinking about him being happy playing.

I can’t tell if I’m exhausted or changing or both.

So few people understand the gulf between the top and the very top. Most people know they don’t want to work hard enough to be the very best, but they still want to be learning and growing. But that level of constant engagement is really intense. Very few people want to live that intensely. Because it’s exhausting.

Science says you’re always going to want 20% more than what you have – whether it be money or skills or recognition. We get used to where we are and then it’s not exciting anymore so we want more. We always want more. It’s human nature.

You actually have to approach your entire life differently. You have to want the crazy life of singular focus.

Which is why talking about how to be the best is sort of boring. Because being the best disrupts all calibration in your life.

People who are trying to do something huge are on the fringe. They are doing stuff no one else is trying to do. They are taking risks no one else relates to. Most of the time you can’t even talk to people trying to do something huge. Because those people don’t ever leave their office unless the hugeness requires leaving. They’re overly invested to the point of being irrelevant in any social gathering or reasonable conversation.

Until they are big and great, that is.

Which may be never.

53 replies
  1. jessica
    jessica says:

    I’ve met a lot of the ‘top’ of industry. The difference is their cognitive ability and emotional intelligence. They all seem to have enormous stamina and are excellent decision makers who know how to prioritise within their expertise. No one I’ve met *seems (I’m not behind closed doors most of the time) to take it as a challenge or extra hard work. In fact, the work becomes more intellectually challenging, but less hour intensive over the years from what I have observed. They are primarily consistent people. I haven’t see any as Elon Musk types, which is what this post reminds me of, from the PR perspective of a person ‘in over their head’ with their goals- The misunderstood genius, who somehow manages to communicate and get everything done regardless. The top seems to carry a passion for the work they’ve chosen, something that clicks with their personality.
    I think it’s pretty normal for people to not want to achieve enormous things in their lives, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to them. Everyone has to weigh the benefits and rewards of their choices and the risk level for what is described here is incredibly high.
    People can be successful in industry and considered at the top without losing all social connections.
    Running a startup is different and I think this post is more about early stage startups.

    Reply
    • Michael
      Michael says:

      You are spot on. I have met many a person who lost family, friends etc. when they either started a company (startup) or joined a startup. I consult to some who after leaving a failed startup or failed division or who have been terminated for budgetary reasons now find it so difficult to find work. The ones with the passion to be the best will bounce back and they typically are the founders. No, is not in their vocabulary. The ones I consult to in many ways are broken but over time their passion comes back mostly because they have to with family and financial commitments that if left unattended will be highly destructive.

      Reply
  2. Esther Chandy
    Esther Chandy says:

    I get so mad at some of the stuff you write. Because it’s true and I hate that it’s true and I hate that it changes my world view from then on. I remember you once wrote about hating secrets. Ever since that day, I’ve hated secrets. I tell the people around me my most embarrassing secrets. Because if you have a secret then you lose power.
    You’re the person who voices things people are afraid to voice. Don’t stop.

    Reply
  3. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    Here’s another consideration:
    I knew a man who told me he resisted taking vacations because he was afraid that he might lose his desire for work. It seems to me that a lot of great top things require you to kid yourself about how rewarding it truly is. And about how hard it really is.

    If being second best is just as hard, and also is judged not worth it, then that might ring an alarm bell regarding choice of career.

    …Sometimes parents and people claim to respect a work ethic, but in reality respect income even more, and may discourage a daughter from working to become the prima ballerina.

    Reply
  4. Michael Aumock
    Michael Aumock says:

    One of your best, Pen.
    Even 9000 miles away you still write important and timely posts which positively impact my life. Thank you! I know you have had a challenging year, and I wish you an amazing 2019.

    Reply
  5. Caralyn
    Caralyn says:

    I’ve been thinking about a career lately…I’ve been an at home mom for 21 years and a homeschooling mom for 15. I have zero idea how to frame all that I’ve learned in a resume and sell myself well. Any idea on that, Penelope? You could have a whole series for retired homeschooling moms. :)

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You should actually approach the job hunt the same way someone doing a career change does, or the same way a kid just out of college approaches the hunt. That is, you need to figure out ways to cut corners to make your resume look like you’ve already done the job you’re trying to do. I know that seems impossible, but it’s not. Its sort of a game. A good career coach can give you a plan to play that game so that you aren’t starting from scratch.

      The other thing is that older people do really well as entrepreneurs. A lot of the risk taking doesn’t feel as terrible when you’re older — because you have a good sense of who you are. Also, being an entrepreneur doesn’t have to mean working all the time and building something huge and crazy. It could just be doing work that allows you to do something that leverages your strengths.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Caralyn
        Caralyn says:

        Thanks for the advice, Penelope! It’s very appreciated. Yes, it feels so overwhelming I had decided to go back to university. I never had a career so the business world feels very foreign.

        Reply
        • Michael
          Michael says:

          Here is a little thing that you can do that may make a massive shift in your approach to a career , interviews and out of the box thinking. We always use the term “What’s the worst that can happen”. Change it to “What’s the best that can happen.” You should see a shift in your thinking and approaches to difficult situations change for the better. Miracles do happen. I define miracles as a shift in thinking. All my best.

          Reply
      • Ann Eichenberger
        Ann Eichenberger says:

        You are so on target about older folks starting a company. I know that mine will never change the world or land my name on WSJ’s pages. But at age 66, what I do is enormously satisfying and it builds on my many years of experience in several fields. It provides me with the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people. Perhaps most importantly, I know my product are very good quality and I don’t have to justify what I do to anyone. My goal as always is to my customers come back again and again. Thanks for this post!

        Reply
    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I’ve learned to create work for myself after years of trying to figure out an answer to this question.

      After having the privilege to stay home with your kids and homeschool them I’m sure you’ve picked up a few hobbies that you excel at and probably prefer to be your own boss anyway.

      Other moms I’ve talked to start out small. Temporary work in an office in their former profession then move back into their former profession-law, real estate, brokerage… know anyone that needs part-time help?

      Reply
      • Caralyn
        Caralyn says:

        I sadly have almost zero hobbies. I think the thing that I can do best is advocacy. Because two of my kids tht have learning disabilities have gone into school, I have learned how to ensure that their education plans are being followed, etc.

        I worked for a chiropractor/massage therapist part time for the past six years, doing admin. I currently work part time for a man that co-owns 60 pharmacies. But I’m not passionate about admin.

        I’m going back to university to study Health Policy. I already have 1.5 years of my degree done from 25 years ago, so I only have 2.5 years left. I’m concerned about racking up debt. Will it take me where I want? I hope so but I do feel uncertain.

        Reply
        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          It’s really really important to know what you will do when you finish school that you can’t do now. In most cases, you will be in the same situation when you graduate as you are now. That is, you will have to convince someone to take a risk and hire you.

          There is probably nothing you would get hired for after you graduate that you couldn’t learn now. And there are very few jobs where you really truly need that graduate degree. Maybe at really high levels you need the degree, but at lower levels it’s usually about someone giving you a break.

          I think a lot of people go to school because they think school will be a magic ticket to a job, and it’s really really not. So many times I talk with people who are going back to school so they can get a job they like, but what they really need is help job hunting.

          This is all to say, be really really strategic about going back to school. Make sure you know exactly what job going back to school will get you. Because if you don’t know the exact job you want that you will get after this degree, then it’s a good bet you don’t need the degree.

          Penelope

          Reply
        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I’m not sure on the ROI if you go back to school at this time. If you have the money to pay for college would it make more sense to do something else with those funds for advocacy related work? Could you start some sort of non-profit that helps parents whose IEP’s are not being followed?

          Reply
          • Caralyn
            Caralyn says:

            Ah, Penelope and Yes…

            I don’t want to hear that! I really don’t! :)

            I’m borrowing money from the gov’t to go back to school (no interest until 6 months after I’m done), so not investing into a not for profit.

            By the time I’m done my youngest will be done high school. It’ll be my time to go into the business world and climb the ladder.

            I don’t know the exact job I’ll be looking for. Nothing is guaranteed. But I’ve felt like I’ve had to justify myself all these years with not having a degree and I feel like I’ll be stuck in admin for my career if I don’t move forward with my own education. With health policy I want to be part of change. I’m not ready to work full time yet as my kids are still around, but I want to be prepared with my own future when the last is done high school. So I guess I’m doing it for me, and I’m hoping it’ll pay off. That’s the gamble.

            I super appreciate everyone’s input. Penelope, I’m serious when I say I would love to see a post or two for homeschooling moms that have dedicated themselves to their kids as far as how to address what’s next. I was only in the buisnessworld for 3 years before I became an at-home mom. My “best years” have been about educating my children. Now I need to learn about the business world and I want to do it *outside* of being an admin assistant.

          • Caralyn
            Caralyn says:

            YesMyKids…

            I noticed in another blog post you commented that you’re an INTJ, as is Penelope if I’m not mistaken.

            This, of course, flavours how you see life. As an ISFJ, you can understand the turmoil of me making the transition to the workplace – I was born to be an at-home mom and homeschooling mama. Since I was a teen I wanted nothing else!

            Knowing my personality type, does that further cement your advice to me? I don’t even know that I have the personality type to cut it in the business world.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I think the biggest problem with going back to school after you raise kids is that you risk making a formal announcement to the world that you feel like you had to justify yourself, and you want a degree to fix that.

          But a degree doesn’t fix that. That’s the bad news.

          The good news is that you don’t have to be in an administrative job just because you didn’t go back to school. You can be part of change right now. Or whenever you’re ready to start working. And you can find a job affecting public policy whenever you’re ready to do that.

          You don’t know very much about getting a job because you haven’t had to look for a job in a long time. And you’re just like every other person who has done one career for a long time and now you’re looking for another career. You are a career changer. And people should not go back to school for that.

          The reason I don’t do posts for parents who have been homeschooling and then have to enter the workforce is because they all want to go back to school and they don’t want to think about doing something else.

          Parenting is really hard. And getting a job is really hard. Going to school is really easy. So it makes sense that parents want a break from doing something hard. The problem is that putting school on your resume when you’re middle aged is like telling the world that you were scared to face getting a job because you thought it would be too hard. So you went to school.

          You email me to do a coaching session. Really. It will be so much less expensive than going to school, and you will be shocked to discover that pretty much everything you could do after you get a degree you could also do before you get the degree.

          Penelope

          Reply
          • Caralyn
            Caralyn says:

            Do you really think going to school is easy? I’m thinking it’s going to be hard!

            Parenting is hard, yes. Parenting AND teaching four kids is hard. Every year I planned and executed over 40 subjects for my kids, ensuring that 3 of the 4 kids with LD’s had their needs met. Never having a break – literally – for 20 years is hard.

            But what marketable skills do we homeschooling moms have for the work force? I get by with Word and Excel, hardly know PowerPoint. I can manage a group of children, plan ski trips for 100 people, but I’ve never been in a serious business meeting.

            A couple years ago I applied for a FT job at a place that looked so cool. Last I could see on Indeed over 100 people applied for the job. I got it. Lasted two days because I could tell the owner, while having built an incredible business, was incredibly unhealthy and treated his employees poorly.

            So yes, it’s risky announcing to the world that I’m going back to school because judgement may be upon me…but I don’t really care what “they” think. I can be vulnerable. I know that I don’t know a lot. I know that there’s so much out there I want to learn. Why does university at my age have to be a liability?

            And I don’t think it’ll be easy at all. I’m still a mom to four who need me. I’m still working part time.

            I would love to know the what else is that I could do. I was slated to do a life coaching certification next month but gave up my spot – and my deposit – in order to finish my degree.

            I’m kind of sad there’s no support here in that decision but I must press on and trust my gut that this is the right path. I didn’t have tons of support from those that didn’t know me well when I was homeschooling, but I trusted my gut all those years and I know I did a fantastic job. No regrets!

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            Getting a job is going to be hard work either now or later.
            The example of a bad boss isn’t something that should hold you back from achieving your career goals. It’s something to navigate, yes, but not change course completely to shift to going back to school.
            I think Penelope is right about the coaching session.
            My mother favors school too, but needed to make money after her divorce, so she threw herself into work. She went from zero income after being a 25 year stay at home mother, and two tough years building her reputation, to 150k per year as a freelance remote executive assistant to several clients- INFJ, if you’re curious. She hates in person interaction, and dislikes company politics. She prefers to work than keep in touch daily with the family and likes to be busy and feel full-filled and have her moment as a career-woman that she feels she missed out on while raising a family. The flip side is that she will openly talk about just how hard it is. She’s doing what she wants to be doing, and it is still incredibly hard.
            This is what we don’t know about you. I’m wondering what your real needs are too. Do you even need to work? Do you want to spend time with your grown family? Do you want to help your kids kids one day? Do you need more money? Do you need fast money? Do you want a 10 year career? Or a longer career? Maybe you’re more suited to helping professions or volunteering or traveling gigs.
            I do think Penelope can help people see the bigger picture, and where they fit into it so they meet multiple personal needs and don’t waste time doing what they think might work out only to be at square one in two years.

          • Caralyn
            Caralyn says:

            Jessica –

            My husband has been the primary income earner for the last 21 years. In no way are we financially set, so in 5 years I want to be at work full time. I’ll be 50 then and my youngest will be done high school.

            While I do want to spend time with my family once I hit the workforce I want to focus on a career. I’ll have 15 or so years (I’m 45 now). I would love to continue after I’m 65 in some sort of consulting capacity.

            When my career starts up, my husband’s will be slowing down. When I’m mid-fifties he’ll probably retire. But he’s super introverted. Not a lot of hobbies or friends and we won’t have tons of money for travel. And I’m not as introverted and don’t want to depend on him to have a fulfilling life. Yes, I want him to be part of it but I’ve never earned my own money and made my own way and for all these years I’ve purposely been dependent on him. I WANT to have more money, I want to travel, and really, I want a pool! Lol!

            I have two female friends that are executives that I admire. One is well-educated with her masters and is in the field I want to go into. She has worked like crazy for the past 20 years to build her career. The other has no degree but has a great working background and got a lucky break into a company that does design thinking. I don’t have either: no high education like the first and no skills like the second.

            But here’s the thing: I really don’t know what’s out there. I’m smart, I ask a lot of questions, I have deep empathy for people, I’m organized and I can learn. That’s my skill set. I don’t want to continue to be an admin assistant and since I work for this gentleman that co-owns so many pharmacies, I see such greed behind it, I don’t see myself staying long-term with him, either.

            So this is me: I want an interesting career but I really don’t know how to do it without school. And, I have 4-5 years now where I can do school part time, work part time and still be super available for my kids.

            I know I’ll still have to start at the bottom and work my way up, but when I look at any jobs that are remotely interesting, they’re asking for an undergraduate degree minimum.

            Why can’t I still like out when I’m done school? Even now I feel lucky because I have a job that fell into my lap that allows me to make my own hours and work from home. It just won’t take me where I want to go long-term, professionally or financially. And I got that full time job out of more than 100 applicants. There’s no reason I can’t be lucky again!

          • Sharon
            Sharon says:

            It really depends on what you want to do. While I agree that I also see people at this stage of life going back to school when they should just get a job, there are exceptions too. I went back because I wanted to be a teacher. A second university qualification was mandatory for this. One of my friends just graduated in nursing. Again, a university degree is mandatory for that if you want to be a higher level (at least here in Australia). So it really does depend.

  6. Morgan Jones
    Morgan Jones says:

    I’m trying to be a fantastic mom, while also launching my career as a filmmaker. It is tough, but part of the reason I am an entrepreneur is because I want to have flexible time with my kids.
    What I’m doing is hard and nearly impossible, but I think it is possible for me and that I’ll be great. Soon. It requires a lot of sleepless nights and the ability to work long focused days so that I can also have some days off. But it is my passion. And so are my kids.

    Reply
  7. Erin
    Erin says:

    Isn’t it the *trying* to be great and not the actually *becoming* great that is the important thing? I mean… for example: in motherhood it’s way more important to be trying to be a great mom than to “be” a great mom. Bc the person obsessed with what they are can never really see themselves accurately. But the person obsessed with what they want to move towards is more capable of an accurate self assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and much more able to see their mistakes and learn and grown from them.

    Being at the top or being great isn’t nearly as satisfying as recognizing you’re always at the bottom of the next challenge and that each challenge surmounted leads to another.

    Reply
    • Lindsey
      Lindsey says:

      I like this aspect so much. When I first read this, I thought about how the Olympic athletes that I worked with were actually quite boring–absorbed in the minutiae of the sport–no friends, no family, no hobbies or vacations. Just like PT says, they were irrelevant in social situations because they could discuss one topic (their path to their goals).

      I always thought in ten years, they’ll live (and die) alone…no one around them but their medals and the world would have moved on long ago. Would they care? Would it have been worth it? Does it matter?

      But, I think there is a middle ground somewhere…where you push yourself and it’s scary and difficult, but you also have some balance. To have the focus and dedication to attempt to be great is still quite hard and very interesting. I think Penelope’s story of reaching 17th is better and more interesting than if she had reached 1st. And, if so, she might have never started this blog.

      Reply
  8. Jasmeet Singh
    Jasmeet Singh says:

    This post is so impactful.
    Reading this makes one realize how much balance is needed in both, personal as well as professional life.
    Climbing up the stairs and reaching the top sometimes makes us lose where we came from, who we are and what are our roots. To earn money and to be big, we lost our connections with those close to us.

    Reply
  9. Robert Carocari
    Robert Carocari says:

    By definition,there can only be one “the best”, at anything.It seems to me,that rather than learning how to to set aside all the things that actually fulfill most human lives, a better skill to cultivate would be the art of satisfaction with a normal human existance. I thought that I learned this from reading your columns, maybe I misunderstood them.

    Reply
  10. Emily Kramer
    Emily Kramer says:

    This is how I feel about being a parent. But I worry that it will isolate my daughter because of how hard I’m trying to be so much better then other parents. It means we can’t hand with other kids as much because I don’t like how their parents do their parenting.

    Reply
  11. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    I was reminded of a nerd after reading the dialogue between Penelope and Caralyn, dialogue that speaks to two parts of me.

    A rich computer nerd blogger, Stevey, said that when he interviews computer-job candidates he looks for whether they can learn things on their own, outside of a job or school. Partly because if they can, then when they get hired they will be able to learn new things, such as a new improved computer language.

    I can relate to the guy because at my weekly toastmasters (public speaking) club, it is remarkable how so many are into further self development besides our club and their jobs. That makes them a lively peer group for me.

    Reply
  12. Peter Varhol
    Peter Varhol says:

    Well, let’s talk about doing something big. Jack Welsh, wildly proclaimed as the best CEO ever, is now roundly criticized for his rank and yank personnel policy. He probably set career development back by several decades, and was the person who ruined GE as we know it today. His three trained-for-life and handpicked lieutenants have all failed at their opportunity to be major CEOs.

    I more think that recognition and rank are byproducts of doing interesting things with your life, rather than a single-minded focus of being the absolute best at one specific thing. To turn your sports metaphor on its head, it’s the quarterback who can look away from his primary receiver yet still complete that pass that is most successful.

    Yet Tom Brady is married to a supermodel. You don’t have to be boring, or alone, to be the absolute best.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Tom Brady did nothing but play sports until his 30s. His whole childhood and college life was devoted to sports. He had no time for other things. Once he was a huge success, then he married a super model. But we are talking here about the singular, monotonous focus required to be a success. And Tom is a great example of that. He was a super hard worker.

      Penelope

      Reply
  13. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Four months ago I became a CEO in my perfect job.

    I earn $15,000 a year less than I earned 10 years ago. I took four days off in my first quarter and took five days responding to all the emails I didn’t read when I got back. The only reason I can switch off the phone over Christmas is because no-one is working until January. But I didn’t switch the phone off, which is how I know no-one is working.

    I don’t have a PA. I have a handful of overworked, underpaid part-time staff. I have a deficit of $150,000 to correct and the loss of three staff, though fortunately losing those staff will make up a lot of the deficit.

    The organisation I run needs better governance, better strategy and a better answer to the “so what?” question that everyone should ask every organisation about what they do and why. And yet, it’s been around for 100 years and is really highly thought of.

    I am the best person to do this job and I absolutely love it.

    I interviewed for this job 18 months ago and didn’t get it, until the woman who did get it left in a hurry and they asked me if I was available at short notice.

    I used to think that I hadn’t specialised, but in my 20s and 30s I spent all my spare time as a political activist, in a political party, a trade union and the women’s movement. I think I was figuring out how to make a difference, and I got good enough to be employed by a blue-chip company as a lobbyist and then by a trade organisation in my 40s.

    And then I was made redundant for the 7th time and it tore me apart. That was just over five years ago. I spent those five years in limbo, getting my Masters because as Penelope says, going to school is easy, applying for jobs and not getting them and then getting a temporary contract at a university.

    And in that time my peer group had changed and they were all younger than me and didn’t believe I had achieved any of the things that I had achieved at the blue-chip company – because they saw me as their age and not as 15 years older. And I believed them until I started mixing with people my own age again.

    Now I regularly attend networking events where people are inspired by me and are impressed by me and where I have been offered jobs at $250,000 or more – I earn a quarter of that right now. I have been asked to be the keynote speaker at five events, just on the strength of my job title and organisation.

    And I reflect that luck had a great deal to do with it, but also I just kept doing what I enjoyed. Most importantly, I fell in love with a man who had been my friend for many years and he has supported me and believed in me wholeheartedly.

    It’s taken a really long time, but I’ve got what I wanted, with a weird, random resume and a lot of support.

    Reply
  14. Diane
    Diane says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now and I have a question which I am afraid may come across as stupid: When you say that you have been trying to be the best, does that mean you are trying to be the best at this blog and the income you generate from it? ( your consulting and courses).

    I think your ideas are relevant and helpful, not irrelevant and fringe. Your advice is practical, just presented in a less conventional way. So I’m confused as to how you think you are aiming to be irrelevant.

    Thanks,

    Reply
  15. Mark
    Mark says:

    Think of Penelope as being locked up in a zoo with her readers who appear mostly rational and perhaps even top-of-the-bell-curve neurotypicals (non-ASD normal). She is forced to try and be relevant to cater to potential clients. But, if the blog-zoo were observable remotely she herself would be “irrelevant in any social gathering or reasonable conversation” going on, such as talk about going back to school to advance one’s interest. And other pedestrian topics handled by any self-help guru.

    Of course this is rather presumptuous on my part. I don’t think we are getting Penelope’s best or what interests her because to do so might make her very irrelevant. She can’t really be who she might be on the inside because of everyone else in the zoo.

    That’s the sacrifice most in business need to make…I guess

    Reply
  16. Istiga
    Istiga says:

    Hi Penelope,
    It feels great to read another great content like this on your blog.

    I total agree with you on the need to specialized early in one’s life as this usually have a lasting impact on the career path we choose.
    In most case, it results in career drifting and lose of focus.
    It happens to me for a number of years until I really sat down and analyzed my situation and decided to focus all my energy into what I did and suddenly I began to Spencerian growth and increase everywhere.

    Reply
  17. Maria Bing
    Maria Bing says:

    I get so crazy at some of the points you write. Because it’s true and I love that it’s true. I always tell the people that if you have a secret then you lose power and climbing up the stairs and reaching the top sometimes makes us lose. To earn money and to be classy, we lost our connections with those close to us. Thanks for sharing this article with us.

    Reply
  18. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    Challenged and reeling with “mind-shifty-ness,” as usual. Thank you!
    The difficult part for me, as a writer attempting to make some money at it, is deciding how high to aim.
    I’m a homeschooling mom of ten children, and that takes first place on the ol’ priority list. It will for twenty more years. So my writing will be, much to my chagrin, mediocre at times. I’m okay with that. Because I wake up each day with the intention to be the most kick-ass wife and mother I can be.

    Also, I detest when people refer to homeschooling as a “privilege.” In the way that every breath we take is a privilege, sure. But in the sense that only those who somehow hit the Ease and Luxury Jackpot get to homeschool, certainly not.
    We just prioritized and kept prioritizing.

    Reply
  19. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    This is a good post, and you make some very relevant points.
    With that said, I really hate the football analogy. Specializing in that one sport would work for a boy who wants a career in pro football, IF he’s one of that tiny fraction of a percent that would actually be a top player in the NFL. For everyone else, it would be a terrible choice. Even for someone who wants to be a top football coach, it would be better to be a three-sport athlete; a coach should understand physical fitness forward, backwards, and inside out. That kind of deep knowledge doesn’t come from just football. Combine football with basketball, track, and/or soccer and you’ve got a better background to teach physical education.
    However, the people who will do best in a non-sports field are the ones who are focused at an early age; I agree 100%. They should already have their college majors picked before they start freshman year. Hopefully by the soph year they should have a clear idea of what they will be doing when they get their bachelor’s degree, whether it be graduate school (a sine qua non in a scientific field), law school, military service (a four-year hitch as an officer is very good management training), or what kind of company to choose as a first employer.

    Reply
  20. carol of kensington
    carol of kensington says:

    Hi Penelope, I believe Patreon is evil and must be stopped from moving towards only letting marxist creators receive donations. I’ve cancelled my monthly donation to you today. Please put a donation button on your website as I love you so much.

    Reply
  21. Maria
    Maria says:

    The idea you are writing about here is horrible. Nobody focusing only on one aspect of life will ever have a truly fullfilling life. For There is always going to be something missing if one only focus is work disregarding family/friends or viceversa. The analogy in the post might be applicable to sports or to playing an instrument, but is definately not a good example to follow for a fullfilling life. I know many sucessful individuals who have interesting jobs while sharing and caring about quality time with family and friends.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      There is not one version of an interesting or happy life. We each decide on what that is for us. For some people, the only thing that is interesting is doing something huge and all-consuming. You see that in the media every day.

      Some people give everything to their family, and that is a happy and interesting life to them. We see it every day, when people leave the workforce to focus on their family. Those people don’t want to parent part time. They want to be full-time parents.

      And some people do a little of everything. Those people who do a little of everything are not full-time at anything, but that’s how they like it. You get to do the most wide range of things if you are part-time in a lot of things.

      There’s not one right answer. But I wrote this post because I’ve found that people want to do something big without devoting all their time and energy to it. And the world doesn’t work that way.

      Penelope

      Reply
  22. Francesca
    Francesca says:

    This is such an interesting and eloquent blog post. Lots to digest here. It’s definitely a case of balance for the most part, although of course this will mean something different for every individual… and that’s okay. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Reply
  23. Toby Macmann
    Toby Macmann says:

    “You’re always going to want 20% more”
    I’ve always been amazed about how people can’t accept a position that fit their needs. I’ve been deeply inspired by a local restaurant.

    They just celebrated their 30th anniversary and the building never moved, never grew bigger and the hostess is still the owner. She told me that she could have taken her retirement years ago, but she loves the people she works with, they are her family.

    She could have opened 20 franchises and many investors wanted to be on board with her restaurant. Instead, she’s hiring people in need and keep working nights as a waitress.

    I think this is inspiring:

    She stayed where she was happy, and in the process made thousands of people happy.

    Reply
  24. Nitha Thomas
    Nitha Thomas says:

    This post has given me some much needed inspiration.
    I’ve been toying with the idea of getting back to work after a career break of 10 years. Have been a trailing spouse and a stay-at-home mom all these years and I totally forgot how was it like to go out and work in a corporate office.
    I’m not biased to the idea of going back to school. Just trying to pick up from where I left in my four-year old career. Thanks for this post.

    Reply
  25. BK
    BK says:

    This is an interesting debate – one I am wrestling with a bit (particularly the part about specializing versus being more of a generalist). I am seeing two trends in the workforce that are polar opposites and so are causing people to become confused about how to further their careers. On the one hand, we have the cliché that employers prefer to hire specialists but actually tend to promote generalists. Employers seem to be looking for people with a laser-like focus on one field. They seem to want people who only know how to do one thing, are only interested in doing one thing and will only ever want to do that one thing in the future. In effect, they seem to be looking for employees who are idiot savants (idiots savant?).

    However, they also seem to be asking for the sun, the moon and the stars. Many jobs seem to be a combination of what used to be three or more jobs. For example, in the field I am trying to break into (learning and development), employers seem to be looking to combine facilitation, instructional design, e-learning, graphics design and videographer roles into one. It seems a little unrealistic what they want. The problem with actually going and acquiring those skills is employers then seem to treat you like you are unfocused and “all over the map.” It almost seems like you can’t win — particularly as a career changer. Another problem is if you are good at more than one thing and try to hedge your bets, it becomes very difficult to develop a coherent LinkedIn profile.

    Reply
  26. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Ooooh that’s an interesting one! Especially about specialising in sport… I think the thing about specialising too early is you limit your ability to learn other sports to teach complementary skills. Like in mathematics you don’t just get the kids to repeat the same equation to get better, you do different activities, different types of problems to learn the same skill in different ways… sport is the same. You learn to run faster, think strategically and get mental skills in different ways through different sports.. it’s not just the technical skills you need to be better. Some interesting points you make though

    Reply

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