Building Different Skills

People are often confused by the abundance of skills I developed over the years. And I guess what confuses them is the apparent spread of those skills over areas which are apparently incompatible or difficult to match together. For instance, if I bring into the conversation with a programmer an astrological opinion on some fact, chances are that I will get a “blue screen of dead” conversation. And if I bring into a fine arts conversation something about programming, I’ll be most likely left alone with that “mambo jumbo” sentence and labeled as an “unsolvable case of geekery”.

The examples above use extremely distant knowledge areas, but the confusion remains even on more closely related activities like business, marketing and sales. A marketing person will expect that I know nothing on entrepreneurship, since marketing guys are usually employed by somebody else in an established structure. And a sales person will expect that I know noting about marketing, since this should be a complete separate activity inside the company.

I can talk for hours with an astrologer only about astrology and have a fulfilling and entertaining conversation. I can do the same with a programmer and share a lot of the newest web 2.0 technologies and feel at ease with that. I can also talk about entrepreneurship and starting a company from scratch and never feel on moving sands with the person in front of me. But the moment I start to bring new perspectives on some topic and use other skills I have for that insight, my conversation partner becomes reluctant.

I acknowledge that I’ve been pretty affected by that. The moment I opened to somebody and let him know that I know more than what he expected, I was rejected. I came to the point that I felt ashamed of what I knew or learned so far. It’s better to stick on one topic of your life and seek only people who can understand you, I’ve said to myself. I do have the need for social acceptance, so if that’s the price to be paid, let’s pay it. Let’s stick with a limited set of skills, which at least will provide me with a comfortable environment and put me in touch with similar people, and bash all those new and interesting things I could learn.

But I confess I wasn’t able to do this. Although I did my best to succeed in limiting myself, I failed miserably. The dryness of such a life was simply unbearable. Limiting myself to only one major skill was just unconceivable for me and unfulfilling, at least.

It’s Not About Them, It’s About You

The moment I stopped focusing of what others think about me, things began to change. In fact, things were always pretty good to me, in terms of knowledge hunger, it was only the fact that I’ve been exposing what I’ve learned publicly that made me afraid. Whenever I felt the need to get a social approval of my knowledge bag, I started to feel the stress and pressure. Cumbersome, believe me. So, I just let that acceptance and approval need apart and started to see if I can do without it.

Guess what? I can. If somebody doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, well, that’s his problem. As long as I’m satisfied with what I know it’s ok. In fact, it’s more than ok, because having this abundance of perspectives offers me an incredible advantage. The advantage of being able to react in a far more flexible way than others. If there is some situation in my life that the usual psychology can’t explain, I can turn to astrology and see if I can get an answer. If there is a business strategy problem that I can’t break into smaller pieces I can always use some productivity techniques and find another perspective. If the marketing strategy I used doesn’t give me enough revenue, I can link it with other sales strategy.

Every time my current path seems blocked, I can come up with a new solution. And every time I move forward.

And it really doesn’t stop here. I develop new skills every day. During the last years I’ve learned a lot about my health, vegetarianism and raw food diet, for instance. I am on a raw food diet for more than 100 days now and I feel fantastic. Being raw vegan is by far the most socially impairing activity I’ve had so far, but also one of the most useful and precious to me. Because of that raw food diet my health and physical shape changed dramatically. I get a lot of “blue screen” from most of the people when it comes to the way I eat, but I really don’t take that into account. I’m no evangelist either, I don’t try to convince anybody to go against his set of believes, or to change their way of eating just because it proved beneficial to me. If we can’t have an interaction on any of the topics I can manage, then I simply move over.

And that is huge time saver. No need to excuse myself for knowing more than the other guy, no need to explain the benefits either. If it can’t be linked, it doesn’t exists, so move on.

Managing Unrelated Skills

The easiest way to understand how multiple skills can be beneficial to you is to imagine the world as a puzzle. Imagine the surface of the Earth like a fresh territory, with no roads and made of billions of puzzle pieces put together. Every piece you flip is like a part of a road that will lead your life. Every piece you understand, even if it’s miles away from your current location, will bring its meaning and shed light on your path. So, if you started to walk on a small road, this will tend to flip only pieces that are ahead of you. This is what “specialization” is: getting to a narrower path. Getting on a narrow path will have some advantages over time: you’ll meet fewer people and not be bugged by them, you’ll be the first to unfold some new places – like in making discoveries, you know – and will tend to be a little more relaxed, if not isolated.

But there are some disadvantages also. Suppose you meet on this narrow path of yourself, unfolded with patience and effort, another guy, who’s been on other foreign paths also. You’ll have little or no benefit at all from this encounter. Because the only language you’ll speak will be the language of your narrow path. You’ll understand only what’s related to your little path, and take everything else as a meaningless bubble. But chances are that those bubbles could have an enormous impact on your path. Chances are that you can unfold amazing new puzzle pieces and start to make new connections with other roads. Chances are that those roads will have unspeakable beautiful sceneries. And you will lose all that because you chose only one safer, easier and narrower path.

Hunting For Crossroads

This is what “hunting for crossroads” means. It’s a continuous search for new paths, for new connections and for new beautiful life experiences. Hunting for crossroads means flipping new puzzle pieces all the time, hoping that the new unfolded piece will build a new road and create a new path. I do encounter a lot of narrower roads on my journey, and meet with a lot of people who are only speaking the language of their own little path. In fact, most of the people I meet are on narrower paths. And most of the time I can only share what they are prepared to share, or what they understand as possible.

But that’s ok with me. I share my part and then move on, hunting for the next crossroad and enjoying my journey in each and every second. And I know that the most important part of my life is still unfolded and that the next skill I’m building will give me more happiness and joy of life.

35 thoughts on “Building Different Skills”

  1. After reading some of your blog, I suspected you were a polymath. You like to learn too fast and too often to not be.

    Perhaps you don’t know about Barbara Sher? Sher wrote a book “Refuse To Choose” for multi-talented people like us, calling us “scanners.” Fascinating book, because it shows how other multi-talents handle all their “unrelated” abilities at once in the unique lifestyles they have designed. With many flavors and styles, scanners are a mixture of many types – which Sher describes. Often each of us needs to design a unique variation of intermixed lifestyles that Sher discusses in the book. We need to take our many talents and interests for the ride they deserve, or these talents will act like achy muscles or spoiled pets… Always begging for our attention, merely bothering us like curses, instead of the blessings they really are. Other people don’t understand that forcing ourselves to choose which talent to specialize in – it is like deciding which child to feed.

    What helped me most, (aside from learning from other eclectics,) was to learn a little “friendly reserve” when talking to people who only had a job, a family, and a hobby. I could just chill and have it be OK that someone might never know all there was to know about me. If they have no idea there is so much to who I am, let them be surprised later when and if they find out. It’s pleasant to be surprised.

    That said, let’s play together! You don’t have to keep your multi-free range interests from those of us who have responded here… and that’s a celebrated relief!! (I’ll even understand your astrological interests.)

  2. I have a diverse range of interests and I know very few people who don’t – we’re a pretty complicated species!

    Going back to what Mike King said though, I think there is a danger that those of us who are perhaps of a more intellectual bent tend to get self-congratulatory at our perceived superiority.

    So we form mini-cliques with our own set of social rules revolving around discussions about how our “genius” is misunderstood. Using MBTI, I would hazard a guess that most people reading this are NTs which means we personally enjoy discussing visions and ideas – there are other typologies who don’t but that’s just because they’re different, not because they’re dumber.

    I think a key lesson for NTs is understanding the difference between intelligence and wisdom. We can learn all the disparate skills we want and become more intelligent, but it is only in recognising the inherent intelligence in people different to ourselves that we become wise.

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  7. Some people lack the interest talking about something new and different to them it can appear to be inferior.
    Where learning is always a plus in my eyes.
    What socializing I may do with clients is comfortable small talk outside of business it does build up over time.I guess I have the tendency to listen more to a client who is taking the time to share a experience or interest with me.
    I call it good PR.
    In the comfort zone of my friends where we all have certain areas of interest a good debate is always appreciated.
    Where you can get loud and offensive at times.To new comers like dates.I have witnessed many girls and guys look intimidated or look- ill at ease after a couple of minutes.I guess they just didn’t feel as if they fit in. Of course we always made them feel part of the conversation.So we could get to know them for our friend’s sake.
    I don’t watch TV either – does that make me a Martian? I wont stay either for the sake of fitting with anyone.
    Just be yourself.
    Great article. 🙂

    Bunnygotblog’s last blog post..Life With Mother

  8. @Angela: I liked the way you described your resume as being “all over the map”, it really clicks to the metaphor of life as a travel, one that is very close to my heart. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  9. @nutuba I’m glad we agree on the strategy here. I tend to buy more the diplomacy part: whenever I feel the need to actually give in and engage, I try to do it in a gentle way. People get scared if you present yourself with a 100 things you could solve, while their average solving capacity is at 25, for instance. Also, take a look at the response for Mike.

    Thanks for stopping by, always a pleasure to read your comments.

  10. Seems normal to me. Both my parents are polymaths, and I grew up thinking people who can only talk about or are interested in one set of things are dull as ditchwater!

    For example, my mother is a scientist, with a part-time professional singing career and a keen interest in literature and history.

  11. @Mike_King that’s certainly an interesting topic you’re opening here and before digging too deep I’d like to thank you for your comments and for constantly adding value to my blog.

    I’d like to tell you upfront that social rejection is based in fear and as ego is most of the time the center of our fears, yes, it can be said like this: social rejection is ego based.

    But at a very deep level, things are a little more complicated. Socializing is based on comfort and peace. Being together with other people is possible only if you are at ease, if you don’t see any danger coming out from them. You can’t relate in a constructive way if you feel pressure or if you’re threatened. This is happening at all levels, but deep down, social rules are the ones that are almost exclusively based on trust.

    Our modern society twisted this rule of trust by over inflating it. We tend to accept only what is “good” for us. We tend to reject what we feel is going to hurt us. But those tendencies are socially induced. We learn that some things are good and some things are bad without experiencing them directly. We learn for instance from social rules that things like astrology are heretical and not in line with our best values. So, we tend to reject them without experiencing. The need for comfort and acceptance created a world in which people are acting by what they are told rather by what they are learning directly.

    Of course, statistically speaking, some of the things we tend to reject are simply scams and out of common sense. Not all astrologers are astrologers and not all the priests are living in the light of God. Statistically speaking. But we can’t really live our lives on statistics. Because we’re different. We have different lives and experiences. The only way to accept or reject something is by experiencing it.

    Statistically speaking, all great masters teachings, like Jesus or Buddha teachings, were scams compared with the common sense of the society they lived in. They were the exception and they had to pay the price for this. If people wouldn’t turn to them and experience their teaching, experiencing love and forgiveness and kindness, they would reject them forever. Because they were the exception at that time and the current society rejected them.

    The biggest obstacle in having and acquiring different skills is the lack of desire to experiment at the society level. People feel comfortable and they don’t want to “go there”, they’d rather take most of their lives for granted.

    This is what I meant by flipping puzzle pieces. You experiment, you learn, you discover. When you share your discoveries you’ll most of the time hit a wall because not all the people are ready to experiment what you did. And that’s pretty much ok.

    As I also wrote in the article, I’m no evangelist either, I think everybody should be free to live his life as he see fit. For me, flipping puzzle pieces is the most rewarding way to live it. And as I watched your writing closely, I think you too share this passion of flipping puzzle pieces.

  12. @Jontahan Blogging is indeed a challenging endeavor, it forces you to acquire and manage a lot more different skills than most of the other regular activities. I liked the word “thirst” in the context of knowledge, very powerful 🙂

  13. This is a good way to think about my resume, it is all over the map!! Indeed life has taken me on many journeys I never imagined and along the way have accumulated many varied skills that all continue to serve me one way or another. Nice way to look at this, thanks!

    Angela’s last blog post..Links Added 4/22/09

  14. Having multiple skills is a huge thing, imho. Back in my management days, I loved having developers who could work in a variety of areas … and this usually meant they were happy working on whatever needed to get done. This made managing software projects a whole lot easier, and we could “turn on a dime” if we needed to because the team was pretty flexible.

    Personally, I’m interested in a wide variety of stuff (engineering, free lance writing, playing tuba, gardening, fishing, playing tennis, raising kids, and being a dad) …

    You’re right, too, about the problem of getting buy-in in an area that’s not your “official” domain of expertise. To some extent, that will always exist. I think a couple things can be done though … one is to develop the reputation of being a jack of all trades, a really successful one in fact. What you want is for someone to whisper, “Hey, Dragos is in the building …. I’ll bet if we tell him what we’re struggling with, he’d be able to help us.”

    The other thing is to focus on diplomacy and developing a relationship of trust with the person you’re trying to convince. The problem is that people get turf-protective. If I’m a (somewhat paranoid) manager, running a project, and you come in from the outside with some wild idea, not only do you have to convince me of its merit, but you have to convince me that you’re there to help me and not to oust me from my position.

    Nice post, sir! Keep writing!

    nutuba’s last blog post..Writings of Glynis Smy

  15. Hey Dragos, I like all your thoughts and details on this subject and I do see how in many cases social rejection occurs. Yet, at the same time, I’m a bit disturbed by this and wonder how much of an individual’s method of portraying their skills impacts their social environment. I have always been one who explores many skills and I love to branch into new areas as well, yet I’ve come to realize its entirely how I present those to others that sets up the rejection you outline.

    I’m certainly not without past experience of my own ego based “advertising” but I’ve also learned now to present only what others are interested in or curious about in a conversation. I personally believe this type of social rejection you mention is ego based, both from the rejector’s insecurity and because of the rejected’s boastfulness. What do you think?

    Mike King’s last blog post..True Forgiveness

  16. It seems that some peoples interests are so limited that they get uncomfortable with any subject outside of their narrow field. I love to listen to the interests of others even if it’s not my thing. It helps me see where they are coming from.

    Like you Dragos, I have a thirst and a passion for constant learning. I can’t imagine life without the quest for increased knowledge about all kinds of things. One nice thing about a blog, you can talk about whatever it is interest you, and you will attract readers who like that conversation.

    Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills’s last blog post..Are Your Beliefs Assets or Liabilities?

  17. @Daniel Brenton thanks for stopping by. Oddly enough the main obstacle in acquiring and deploying multiple skills is social rejection. If you can get pass this, you’re set. I know I was. 🙂

  18. Dragos —

    I like your observations about having different skill sets in our lives, and why this is a good thing. Oddly, I’ve wrestled with this at different times in my life and hadn’t come to the positive conclusions you have. Good to see this.

    — Daniel

  19. Well, someone’s problem could be somebody else’s opportunity. Crisis are well known for their growth potential and in fact many of the big fortunes were made during crisis periods…

    If I would you I’d probably pat more attention to what’s around me and trust my intuition. It must be easy and not spectacular. You will find a way, an idea, a partnership, a person, a thing that will help you.

    And I will focus more on how I will feel if my profits were bigger than now, not on the “how to do it”…

    How would you feel if your income will be four times bigger than now? What would you do every day? How will you shop? Where you will spend most of your time? Who are the persons with whom you’ll be hanging out?

  20. Hi Dragos,

    Thank you for these insights! It’s very useful to find there are still people open to challenge their limits and build a complex successful identity.
    Since yesterday, I started to concentrate on how to be more profitable. I remember from your previous posts and from the self-developing books I read, that it’s very good to concentrate on the goal you want to achieve and not on the limitations or restrictions. As I said my “theme” is quite new, and I didn’t come up yet with any idea. My question is: on this crisis environment what can be done to obtain profit? The news regarding the influences on the financial crisis is becoming more and more alarming, and every one of us would feel more comfortable with a plan B in case the present situation (job) stops. Any insight is welcomed.


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