Following yesterday’s discussion about whether some folks have a ‘people gene’ which makes them innately adept as social networking, I fell to pondering whether I have any special abilities….
I have always thought of myself as one of those people who is quite good at several things but not very good at any. I am an experienced manager of organisations which seem to become more successful while I’m in charge. But I am not very systematic or patient. I rely too much on drive and passion which can be exhausting for me and nerve wracking for my colleagues.
I like ideas and I communicate them reasonably well but I am not a proper intellectual who does his own research and writes original and authoritative work. I am an OK broadcaster but not good enough to become famous or be given my own programme. I am a political player, knowing and occasionally influencing politicians and their advisers, but I lack the intellectual and personal discipline to be a politician myself.
This certainly doesn’t makes me into a renaissance man, the kind who as well as being a prominent scientist, plays a musical instrument to concert standard, speaks five languages fluently and has set up a variety of innovative charities. All the things I do tend to be based of a similar core skill set – basically an ability to talk reasonably persuasively. This makes for a life which is interesting but wearing on the self esteem: I have varied days but spend much of them with people who are clearly much better than me at the thing they are good at. They will leave a mark on the world which will still be traced long after they are gone. My impression is a footprint in the sand; soon washed away by the next tide.
Being both self obsessed and a glass-half-empty kind of guy I tend to wish things were different. Wouldn’t it be great to be seriously good at something, even something quite obscure? But then I wonder whether I’m even thinking about this realistically.
Perhaps everyone, or at least most people, feel this way, spread thinly and never quite hitting the first grade at anything? Or maybe very few people do, and I should count my lucky stars for managing to be at least partially self-satisfied? Then again my unease may be well-founded: I need quickly to alight on some activity or enthusiasm which might give me the rare satisfaction of expertise or excellence without which life will always feel shallow. Or is it possible through counselling and positive thinking to add together all the ‘B pluses’ of my existence and say that together they represent a least an existential ‘A minus’?
What do you think, dear reader? Are you, or do you aspire to be, an all-rounder or a specialist. Have you moved from one to the other and how was it for you when you did?
And lest you be tempted, let me preempt your jibe by sharing the response already given to these musings by a close friend:
‘But Matthew, don’t be silly, there is one thing in which you excel and to which you have given decades of disciplined and focused attention- talking about yourself’
Al Mathers, former RSA Director of Research and Learning, explores the importance of introducing reciprocity into the work of social change organisations like the RSA.
Tamsin Hanke Sash Scott
Super-nature was one of 10 commissions to feature in the 2022 global exploration research project, Collective Futures. Learn about the work and its outputs in this field note.