Jack(Ass) of All Trades?

Lots of us have made this mistake. Yours truly included. Let’s take a look at your business card or online profiles. Is your name followed by many especially disparate titles? Artist, Revolutionary, Web Developer, Massage Therapist, and Real Estate Agent. “Here’s the business card for the law firm where I’m a paralegal but this here is the myspace page for the wedding band that I sing for.” No bueno. (And why are on earth are you still on myspace? But that’s a whole other topic.)

You’re multi-talented and have many interests. That’s great. But unless you’re WalMart, you may have a tough time promoting yourself convincingly as the one-stop shop. You might as well tell everyone you’re a Money Chaser. Now, making money is no bad thing. But having all these very different offers dilutes your brand – how people relate to you. It gives off the impression that you lack commitment, or that you’re a cheap opportunist.

I’ve had to deal with this myself, having a wide range of experiences and skills. If I wanted, my card could easily read: Writer, Performer, Teacher, Event Coordinator, Program Manager, Marketer, Lecturer, and Life Coach. What’s a Renaissance man or woman to do? The obvious answer: Choose one.

Plant a Tree

That’s not to say that you would give up all your other abilities. But a person must have enough distance and discipline to know which of these is core and which is merely decorative. The metaphor I like to use is that of a tree. If you had to assign priority to these services by defining each as a body part on a tree, where would they all go? One may be the leaves, another a limb, something else the trunk, and then of course, the roots.

A tree can afford to shed its leaves and not necessarily suffer and die. It may even lose a limb and still do pretty well. On the flip side, no tree can really sustain much damage to its trunk or roots.


* And to be clear, this is an occupational mapping, not an emotional meaning-of-life one! For example, I have met a few cardio addicts, people who fall apart psychologically and physically if they skip a week of running. Obviously, it’s absolutely important that these folks get their exercise. But being a fitness geek doesn’t warrant announcing it on your card. Unless you’re a professional marathon trainer or aspiring Olympian, plain and simple, Runner would have no place on your business ID.

Fertilize Your Future

The question to ask then is: Which of your talents feeds or makes possible the other? Which would cripple your economic engine or career advancement if you hacked away at it? These would be your roots and trunk. For me, I identified Marketing Strategy as my primary offer. From there I’ve been allowed plenty of room to flourish, to meet powerful new partners, to develop income strategies, and yes, to pursue all those other dear things that I enjoy and also do well in.

The Flaw of “Do What You Love”

Had I followed the opposite (and I have), i.e. America’s individual-centric “Do what you love” mantra, I would have stunted my growth, watering the leaves and pruning the roots, and eventually may have killed the tree. Why would you focus on promoting yourself as a Rapper if your ace – your proven track record and future gold mine – is in Architecture for instance? You wouldn’t. And this is just an example by the way. I could just as easily recommend that a Photographer catching some career traction stop announcing herself as a Server at a restaurant. Whether you choose your art or another skill to lead with has to be specific to your own circumstance.

Committed But Flexible

It’s also likely that these may shift over time. So no need for “commitment pressure”. Commit now to ONE thing. Pursue it with certainty. When the field requires you to evolve, do so, and then commit again with focus and determination to that latest arena and job title, that new ONE thing. But don’t switch so often that you prevent yourself from becoming expert or worse, from being recognized as expert in your particular domain.

The next time you’re at some social function and someone asks, What do you do?, enjoy the refreshing lightness and confidence that comes with knowing exactly how you will respond. “Hi, I’m Anthem Salgado, I’m a marketing consultant for arts organizations and small businesses.”


I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! Please let me know what you think. And naturally, feel free to share it with those who may also benefit from it.