Pat Flynn, author of How to Get Better at Almost Everything, says that becoming a generalist has made him both successful and happy. He believes that generalists are more marketable, more productive, and more flexible, making them better candidates for almost any job.
In a previous post, I wrote about Flynn’s concept of skill stacking, becoming pretty good at a variety of tasks to build a career. It’s a lot like becoming a decathlete, the track and field athletes who are the consummate generalists. They compete in no less than 10 events over two days: the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1,500-meter run.
If any decathlete chose to compete as a specialist in any one of these events, chances are, they’d be in the middle of the pack at best – almost never winning against other specialists. Recognizing that, or maybe just being interested in a variety of skills, they choose to generalize and become the best at being pretty good at a lot of things.
Generalists stack skills to build their career or business. You might not be the world’s best speaker, but when you stack social media skills on top of selling and research skills, you can build a nice business. A brilliant speaker without any marketing skills might never achieve the generalist’s success.
Flynn says there are some skills that are to every venture. These are the skills you need to build skills; Flynn calls them metaskills. Focus is an important metaskill. It’s the ability to shut out distractions and spend time learning and practicing a specific task until you get good enough at it to accomplish your task (play a song, build a website, or repair a car.) Without focus, you won’t be able to practice intensively and improve.
Focus is related to another metaskill that’s essential for success: discipline. Flynn writes, “Discipline, in other words, equals freedom—the freedom to express yourself, the freedom to do good things and make good things, and to know what good things are.” Discipline means getting out and looking for business, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s writing two pages every day until your book is finished. It’s going to class, working out, and taking on extra shifts, even when your inner child wants to play. Discipline keeps you on task, focused on the long term strategy instead of short-term feelings.
Persuasion, writing, and public speaking are skills that will make you more successful no matter what you choose to do for a living. In fact, these metaskills can double to length and profitability of your career. If you’re no longer able (or willing) to build homes, photograph kids, or run a restaurant, you can choose to teach others how to, start a consulting practice, or write a book. Communication skills help you expand your market while you’re building your career and profit from your experience after you leave your career.
Flynn even includes faith, which he defines as “…what keeps us going. It gives us a sense of surety when it seems the world has gone completely insane—which, trust me, it has. So maybe also trust me when I say you’re going to need faith and you’re going to have to work at it. It’s why we think of faith as a skill.”
You may still be working on your job skills, but you already have the starter kit for these metaskills. Build them, nurture them, and watch your career – and life – become better every day.