Water skimmers vs. deep sea divers

by | May 21, 2018

No doubt everyone on the planet is or has been both. And it seems pretty obvious that people generally prefer one over the other. But I have a question about the amount of time we spend in both, because it’d be difficult to either live deep in the bowels of detail, or multitask all the time. And I also wonder about whether jobs shove some people into becoming essentially monocular in how they operate. Does it lessen one’s ability to be adaptable?

When I was in my twenties and eking out a pitiful living in New York City while pursing the brass ring of a position in a ballet company, I ate because I worked in restaurants. This would be a fixture in my life for the next 10 years. And I was awful at it, mainly because I was terrible at multitasking.

The reason I failed at waitressing was because the only other things I’d done in my life required intense, maniacal, targeted concentration: classical piano and ballet. I never found myself reminding myself to pick up a quart of milk on my way home from class, or thinking about going out later that evening. I was there, body and soul.

That was for roughly half the day. The other half asked completely different skills of me, to mentally juggle, sort and prioritize hundreds of tasks and requests that came my way. I repeat that I was exceeding bad at this line of work, and there finally came a day when I left that world behind. But not before I had gained an intense respect and appreciation for anyone who mastered those skills. Often, working in a restaurant is deemed a low level occupation, but I would challenge anyone who hasn’t done it, to spend a week at it – they might not like it, but they would think twice before belittling anyone who does it. It’s a tough job to do well. Especially with a smile that you mean.

All this to say, as people move along in life, learning new skills, are most people shunted into either jobs requiring unrelenting concentration, or are they moved into positions where the number of things they juggle increases? And what does that do to them?

I have a feeling that many find themselves pulled toward careers that appear to have attractive characteristics, only to find later on that the larger part of that job is just the opposite – boring and meaningless, at least, to them. That may be why so many people switch careers later in life, often to the dismay of their parents, who’ve paid for an expensive education.

If one starts off in professions that seem to ask an almost OCD-like level of concentration (think coding), then what happens to that person later on in life. Can he or she switch to a career that juggles ever-fresh information, happily? I guess it really depends on the makeup of the person to start with.

In my trajectory, I’ve gone from tunnel-like professions, to water-skimmer, back to plumbing the depths, and now, a mixture of both. Which is complete madness, but I don’t really see a way out of that. Running a small company, especially a production company, means I wear many hats. We all do here.

Compartmentalization of tasks is what brings specialization. The larger the company, the more specialized its staff. Being in a small company has a certain wild west feel to it – you have to be very, very flexible and make choices that mean you never, ever stop learning.

I admit that there are times when I would really love to simply clock in and clock out. But I am kidding myself if I think I could last more than a month like that. And so I, and my fellow Arkitekites are doomed to straddle the worlds of generalization and specialization.

And if we’re being completely honest, we wouldn’t really have it any other way.



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