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Become an Expert While Honoring Your Renaissance Soul: It Ain’t No Oxymoron

Last month, I attended a pretty fantabulus webinar where Seth Godin, marketing genius guru extraordinaire deity, was interviewed about career stability in relation to the launch of his new book, Linchpin. While I’ve yet to read the book, I knew that the overall message was that you need to make yourself indispensible by becoming an expert (read: forsake all other things besides the One Thing). As a Creative, my ears perked up and my brows furrowed when I heard this. Many Creatives are also Renaissance Souls, and not only do they not want to be put in a box, but they experience major Sophie’s Choice-itis when forced to do so. With myself, my clients, and poor Jewish Meryl Streep in mind, I pounced on the opportunity to ask Seth a question:

What if I have so many interests that I can’t decide which to devote expert status to?

His response included some tough love. He immediately mentioned The War of Art, and all the excuses we make that feed Resistance. “It’s the Resistance talking, which is trying to keep you safe! Write down all the things you’re interested in, circle one to do, and do it until you get through it. That’s the purpose of our lives!” Easier said than done, right fellow Creative Renaissance Soul? Well, here are my ideas for becoming an expert while honoring your many loves:

Find out the ideal conditions for your Renaissance Soul to be happy. For example, I have a client who learned recently that her Renaissance Soul is happiest immersing herself in one project until completion, but only if that project has an end date no more than three months in the future—and she knows in advance the next project to switch to. Because of those quarterly goals, she knows she’ll complete four projects every year, which is a high (and motivating/exciting!) number for her. Personally, I enjoy having my hands in two or three projects at a time, working on them each for about an hour a day or longer (when inspiration strikes). If I had to work on 1 project continuously until it’s done, I might go insane. To figure out how you work best, ask yourself:

  • How long can I work on something until I get antsy?
  • How would I react if I was told that I had to work on 1 thing until it gets done? What about two things? three things? four things? Find your optimal number.
  • Where do you feel the biggest sense of accomplishment/happiness/growth: starting a project, working on it, or finishing it? When you have the answer, do some brainstorming as to what type of structure will let you live in that place the longest. I had a client who started projects to prove to herself that she could do it, but once she got to that place (”Knitting a scarf is so easy! I can so do this!”), she abandoned the project and made herself feel guilty in the process. Once I asked her to get her half-finished projects outta her sight, her Guilty Vampire left her alone. She even finished the next project she started by ensuring it was challenging at the start and that it had a purpose (to give the scarf to her sister as a birthday gift) ’til the end. She’s also able to start and abandon projects guilt-free, to scratch that I Can Do It itch anytime she wants.

In The Renaissance Soul, Margaret Lobenstein speaks of umbrella careers—which encompasses many interests and rolls ‘em up into one career—being great options for us. For example, even though I’m a life coach, as an entrepreneur I’m also a marketer, a writer, a speaker, a publicist, an admin, and a bookkeeper, which keeps my Renaissance Soul happy. Except for the math stuff. Blech. To figure out your possible umbrella career, write down all the things that you’re interested in and then put your Nancy Drew hat on. Is there anything you can think of that rolls ‘em all into one career (i.e. gardening + entertaining = Bed and Breakfast Owner)?

Take Seth’s advice by writing down your interests, but instead of picking just one, prioritize ‘em. #1 needs to be the one that makes you super duper psyched to be thought of as an expert (beekeeping! urban gardens! poetry slams!). Then, work from the optimal place you discovered above. Whether it’s focusing on interest #1 for three months and then moving to interest #two, or working on interests #1-four simultaneously, structure it so that you thrive. You can also dive into #1 until you feel the itch to change directions, and then reassess. At that point, ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to change directions?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • Is this something I still want to explore? If so, how much time/energy do I want to give it?
  • Do I want to revisit this interest at another point in time? If so, mark a date in your calendar a month from now and switch gears. Then, on that date, reassess again how you’d work best and don’t feel guilty about taking Interest #1 entirely off your plate.

What’s the one consistent thing that you bring to the table no matter what? Is it your infectious energy, your eternal optimism, your sarcastic streak, your Big Ideas, your perfect time steps? Dig deep (or go directly to the work reviews, the report cards, the thank you notes, the congratulatory emails) and see what it is that you’re known for. Now, make sure you bring that strength into whatever you do, or make it something consistent that you can be counted on to provide. What could be bad about being known as the web designer whose blog features Tap (Dancing) Tuesday? Or the artist whose line of cards are only appropriate for those who never leave home without their sarcastic tone? Or the dancer who only works with punk rock music? Instead of focusing on the actual field or position, focus instead on the traits that come with it and make yourself known by your uniquity. As Seth said in the webinar, “It’s all about finding your specialness and using it.”

Overall, Seth describes being a linchpin as someone who changes things for the better and is missed when they’re gone. And who can do that better than us Creative Renaissance Souls (This is a hypothetical question, as the answer, obviously, is “nobody” followed by “duh”)? So forget the stress of becoming an expert and boxing yourself in. Instead, focus on making a connection, enjoying what you do and using your specialness as a Creative Renaissance Soul to share your awesomeness with the world!