Hi! I am a Broken Comb. Nice to meet you, letter T!
I was randomly scrolling through the social media feed today, and I stumbled upon an open Product Marketing Manager position at Webflow. I'm not an expert in marketing, but I was curious to know what qualities and responsibilities someone applying to this position should have. After reading through the description, I thought that if I at least understand what all of this means — all is not lost for me.
This made me think: there are people have lived the entirely dissimilar life to the one that I'm living. Most of them are specialists at something, and they do it day to day: agriculture, management, design, welding, marketing... Are they passionate about what they are doing? I doubt that all of them do it just because they want to. Maybe they don't want to change, or want to change but haven't done it yet. Others may simply not know that they could do something else, they accept the things as they are and continue to live their life.
We take many different roles during our life: one could be a great railroad worker at day, awesome artist at night, and a loving parent and spouse everywhere in between. These roles come and go. When we are growing up, we play a role of a child, then we mostly become parents ourselves. So at every moment everybody has a set of roles they are playing, and these roles might change completely in the next millisecond.
Having and changing roles is interesting as it fills our lives with diverse experiences, but let's talk specifically about roles in career. You somehow became a marketer: maybe you wanted to do it because your mom did it and often took you to work, maybe you went to some university to get a degree and it made you a marketer, maybe you were inspired by such people as Seth Godin and followed their example. There are a lot of ways one could reach the level of knowledge and experience necessary to get that position at the beginning of the post. But in the end you've gave yourself a specific role — a marketer.
In the essence all of these ways are very similar: you study one thing for some time, go through several jobs at similar positions, maybe get a huge upgrade or switch the career entirely. Some interesting people manage to get two or more careers in their lives: you can be a telephone operator who became a ballerina, a designer who became a computer programmer, or a confectioner who became a farmer. It's even more interesting when you can apply skills learned in one area in the other one. However, the sad truth is, no matter what roles you played in life, you are going to die.
So why am I talking about all of this? I think that while giving yourself a specific role opens a lot of opportunities, you also are limiting yourself. And you have to limit yourself, because your time on this planet is limited. That's why we all should succeed at least in one role, not try to become great in everything at once.
Or should we?
I like a lot of things, they are uncountable. I love doing all of them. Everything from drawing to coding, from public speaking to bookbinding, from writing to branding. I can certainly focus on just one thing and make it my career, and probably make a lot of money doing it. But how do I give up all of my other things that I love? Several months ago I cut out everything, and decided to focus on two things: design and development — that I can put into a single activity: entrepreneurship. Designing and developing my own products, and then launching them is exciting. Still, it doesn't fulfill me completely, and I'm not making any money with it yet.
There is a concept of a T-shaped skillset. People say you should have a wide area of thought (the top of the T) and be specialized in one specific area (the leg of the T). I represented it in a simple abstract bar chart:
It's a great model, and it's amazing if it works for you. I can say that it works for everybody I know. It's liberating compared to the “I” model, in which you are expected to only be proficient and knowledgeable about one thing — it's in the past. A person with a T-shaped skillset could be a great marketer, but also understand a bit of graphic design, basic development, be good at writing and have some experience at entrepreneurship.
It's great, but my skillset looks more like a broken comb:
This broken comb was with me for the whole life! I can do a lot of things quite well. A sum of the skills is larger than the T, yet on their own they are not that good.
I'm fine at coding, because I graduated an IT-school with the 1st place diploma. I gave about 30 public speeches at university and other places in 2018, and people seemed to have enjoyed them — not bad at public speaking. I learned UX research the hard way by interviewing more than 100 people in 30 days together with Olesya. We also created some interesting UX concepts and prototypes together. I'm good at entrepreneurship as I bootstrapped a successful local online bike shop when I was 16. In less than a half of a year I wrote almost 1000 responses to questions about Figma in the Russian Figma community — I enjoy helping people!
Oh, and to illustrate even further how much of a broken comb I have: at high school I had an individual schedule, because I wanted to study both humanities (languages in particular) and mathematics while everyone else was studying something specific. So sometimes I had a bit more classes per day than others.
It's possible to continue this list even further, but you get the idea. I do everything, and at the same time it looks like I do nothing specific. There is no focus or consistency. Just a lot of seemingly separate activities, although I always find ways to use ideas from one field in a different one. It's very helpful, it boosts my development in two areas at the same time, and I'm very thankful that my brain is able to pull off such things. Abstract thinking is powerful! Nevertheless, I'm good at everything and great at... Nothing?
I like playing various roles not only in personal life, but in the career too. I don't want to become a master of one craft, and I'm quite satisfied with being average at many things instead. I guess I'm aiming to become a multi-expert (a term I just found on the internet). And there are at least two ways to achieve this goal:
First: approach your interest one by one. Focus, then pivot. Forget about everything else until you've reached a decent level at one thing, then move on. Simple strategy, yet there a danger of forgetting your initial wish and getting stuck in one sphere. To prevent that you should have a clear understanding of what “decent level” means. But if your choice to stay in one area satisfies you in the end — that's totally fine. Just be cautious and flexible, because one day your may become outdated and not valuable anymore.
Second: do everything at once, like I'm currently doing. It will take a lot of time and creates a lot of confusion, however you are developing your skills equally. Adding a strategy and organization to this approach helps to stay on track. For example, it would be wise to choose areas of interest more specifically, as well as define what exactly is important to me in those areas.
After organizing and categorizing everything I created and did in my life in different areas, I find this approach viable. Knowing everything I did would help me find patterns and choose the points of focus.
People say you have to focus, but who said you should focus on only one area? (I did in one of my posts about focus, but let's pretend nobody said it.) Focus just means that you know what you are doing. It's a strategy that should bring clarity to the actions you do and give you the ability to set and achieve goals.